Tagged: trauma-informed care

Back to School: Addressing the Collective Trauma in Our Classrooms

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School is back in session, in-person! Over the past few weeks, many schools across the country have opened their doors to welcome students back into the classroom. This highly anticipated return comes after an incredibly difficult year of grief, loss and isolation for children and families everywhere. Though the pandemic has been stressful for all – the past year has been particularly traumatic for students.

To equip educators with the tools necessary to support students, Dr. Evelin Gomez and her team have been implementing trauma-responsive trainings through the Kempe Center’s Trauma-Responsive Implementation and Practice (TRIP) program. As we approach an uncertain school year, we wanted to know the latest with the TRIP program and how they’re working with schools to support students in Colorado. We sat down with Dr. Gomez to get an update on what’s in store this fall.

When we talked to you in February, TRIP was making great strides. What’s the latest on the TRIP program?

Dr. Gomez: Since our last update, TRIP’s trauma-informed practice team has continued to connect with childcare professionals through our partnership with the Colorado Cross-Systems Training Institute (CSTI) and the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health. This partnership has connected us to educators and administrators across the state. As school districts transition to in-person instruction, many teachers and administrators are overwhelmed.

Recently, we’ve begun performing consultations in school districts here in Colorado. These shorter sessions have given us an opportunity to adapt to the needs of the schools and look at our trainings in a new way. Going back to in-person instruction has been a challenging adjustment for students and teachers, so we’re trying to be sensitive to their needs while still sharing this essential training.

It’s important to acknowledge the pandemic’s lasting impact on youth mental health. Can you talk about how this intersects with your work?

Dr. Gomez: While many students have struggled with mental health and trauma in the past, it has only recently become a focus due to the pandemic. For the past few years, our team at TRIP has provided educators with tools to help students who are dealing with feelings of anxiety, depression, loss and grief. We know these struggles aren’t new, but they’re magnified from the pandemic.

Because of COVID, students have experienced increased instances of isolation, separation and unfamiliarity. This was our collective experience. Though it is always essential to equip educators with tools to support students, we’re anticipating that staff and teachers will have an increased sensitivity and awareness of the mental health and traumatic effects of the past year. The social emotional component of learning that was previously reserved for subjects like English and social sciences will make its way into every subject. The trainings that we provide through TRIP will become the norm for schools across the country due to this increased awareness.

Take a moment to reflect on the last year. What have you and the TRIP team learned? Is there anything that really stands out to you?

Dr. Gomez: One of the most important takeaways from this year has been the importance of taking care of our teachers. A teacher’s job is difficult in a normal year. Every day, teachers are responsible for managing a classroom consisting of anywhere from 15-30 kids, each of whom has specific social and emotional needs. When you move this job online, things get more difficult. After the last year, many teachers left the profession because of burnout. For those who have stayed, it is essential that administrations provide them with adequate support to deal with the growing stress. When we give teachers the tools they need to feel heard and helped, they can return the favor to their students.

One story that really stands out to me is from our time with a school in the Montezuma, Cortez School District. In this district, the administration really took the time to build and enhance relationships with their teachers. They asked what the teachers needed to succeed, and they really listened.

When the teachers came back to school, they knew they had a leadership team who truly cared about them. By implementing small changes – hosting a yoga class for teachers, opportunities to eat together and discuss their work– the team grew stronger, and we hope that teachers were able to better support students.

What’s up next for the TRIP program?

Dr. Gomez: We are currently working with a community sponsor to bring TRIP trainings to Weld County, CO. As the year progresses, we’ll have a much more accurate understanding of what we’ll be able to accomplish in school districts both in and outside of Colorado. For now, we’ll continue to implement these programs in schools and behavioral health organizations in whatever capacity possible. We’re happy to be putting our expertise into practice with the professionals who work most closely with children and families.

 

The Kempe Foundation applauds the work of Dr. Gomez and the entire TRIP team. We’re excited to watch as they continue to build a more trauma-responsive environment for students in Colorado and beyond. To support TRIP’s work, give to the Kempe Foundation today

 

International Impact: Bringing Colorado’s Child Welfare Training System to Belize

 

Last month, two of Kempe’s Child Welfare Training System (CWTS) professionals traveled to southern Belize to lead the first-ever international CWTS training opportunity. Michelle Mares, Foster, Kin, Adoptive Family Learning Manager and Paula Haugerud, Learning Logistics Coordinator spent a week at the Laugh Out Loud (LOL) Ministry orphanage providing their diverse team of program directors, educators and foster parents with professional guidance and educational training.

As one of only three orphanages throughout Belize, LOL Ministry has become a mainstay social justice organization for the country and leads the way in child welfare, human rights and other advocacy efforts. At any given time, LOL Ministry is caring for approximately 40-45 Belizean children. The orphanage is part of a 50-acre community featuring single family homes where children live on-site with their foster parents, as well as transitional housing for foster children that have aged out of the system.

Michelle and Paula worked with Melissa Fisher, Founder and Vice President of LOL Ministry to train the LOL team using curriculum from CWTS’s Foster Parent Fundamentals and Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TRBI) programs. Foster Parent Fundamentals helps parents better understand children who come from trauma backgrounds and how to look beyond their behavior. TBRI is a more holistic training focused on addressing foster parents’ own trauma and offering practical tools to support a child’s physical and attachment needs.

Over the course of a week, Michelle and Paula trained 15 foster parents and employees from LOL Ministry and will continue to stay in touch with the team to provide additional support as needed. They are also exploring the opportunity to offer direct coaching for LOL Ministry next summer, working side-by-side with Belizean foster parents in their homes to build and improve on the initial CWTS trainings.

To learn more about CWTS and the resources available to child welfare professionals, foster parents and family serving personnel, visit www.coloradocwts.com.

De-Bunking the Myths of Mental Health

Over 200,000 children and adolescents in Colorado have diagnosable and treatable mental health conditions. Alarmingly, less than one quarter of these children and adolescents receive any type of professional care. Only in recent times are social services and community resources focusing on the prevention of toxic stress, its impacts on mental health, and the promotion of healthy social and emotional development.

On February 7, 2019, we convened a group of pediatric and mental health experts to help educate our supporters and partners on mental health issues facing Colorado’s children and their families. Here, we de-bunk the four most common myths of mental health and share what we learned from this important discussion:

Myth #1: Behavioral health and mental health are the same thing.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, to do so is incorrect. Mental health focuses on a person’s psychological state, whereas behavioral health is a broader term that includes mental health. Behavioral health looks at how behaviors impact an individual’s physical health and well-being, but does not necessarily address all of the external, environmental factors that may influence an individual’s well-being, such as poverty, discrimination or abuse.

The negative stigma that surrounds mental health has pushed many healthcare and education professionals to reference behavioral health when talking to individuals and families because it’s an easier entry point into a discussion about mental health. Ultimately, the most important thing is to engage people in conversation and identify the appropriate treatment, regardless of how the topic is presented.

Myth #2: Mental health issues are hereditary.

Some psychiatric diagnoses, like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and ADHD, are likely to be hereditary, meaning they are caused by a gene mutation that is inherited from a parent. But other mental health issues are likely a combination of genetics and lifestyle, which means that certain genes may increase your risk of developing a mental illness, and environmental factors may trigger it.

The vast majority of children and youth in mental health treatment programs have histories of maltreatment, traumatic exposure and chronic stress or adversity. These adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can damage the developing brain and lead to problems in learning and behavior, as well as increased susceptibility to physical and mental illness. So, although hereditary and genetic factors can influence mental health, our environments, relationships and external supports are significantly more impactful.

Myth #3: If you have a mental illness as a child, it’s something you must live with for the rest of your life.

There has been significant progress in developing trauma-informed and evidence-based treatment programs that can shift negative trajectories and improve outcomes for children. Here locally, Children’s Hospital Colorado is home to a wide array of outpatient, day treatment and inpatient services that provide a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to evaluation and treatment for children and adolescents ages 5 to 17.

While medical professionals can effectively treat most children, it is more challenging to address the environmental factors that trigger mental health issues in children. There has been a movement toward mental health treatment providers working collaboratively with patients and their families to identify the underlying triggers and help them through crises together. When everyone in the family is provided with the resources and skills to help a child get better, the positive outcomes are considerably more sustainable.

Myth #4: When a child acts out, it is clearly a behavioral health issue.

Dr. C. Henry Kempe often remarked that if you do not understand someone’s behavior, you do not understand their history. When someone acts out violently or aggressively, it is likely because they have experienced a traumatic event or series of events. Breaking the stigma of mental health requires us to look at the issue through a different lens – one that considers an individual’s history and recognizes the myriad of factors contributing to their current well-being. As a community, we can help build up children’s resilience and promote healthy behaviors by ensuring they have supportive relationships and positive environments that nurture their growth and development.


The mental health crisis is one of many threats to the healthy development of Colorado’s children. Over the next few months, Kempe will continue to bring together community partners to help shine a light on these connections and how we can partner as a community to end the cycle of abuse and positively impact child development. We appreciate your support of our efforts to give all children the opportunity to thrive.