Sunday, March 18, 2007

Just Ask What’s the Matter

I want to remind you that there is a major way you can implement trauma informed care without needing any committees, any program change, and without eliminating your points and levels system.

When a kid is upset, ask them what is the matter.

Don’t talk about consequences. Don’t talk about better ways they could be handling it. Don’t try to get them to take responsibility for their actions.

When you ask, be prepared that their response will be about something that someone has done wrong at your "stupid place" (that’s if they are putting it mildly). Don’t argue. Don’t tell them why the person was right to do what they did- even though you know they were.

Paraphrase what the kid said: so you are very angry about being sent up from school? It doesn’t seem fair to you? You can add an element of the possibility of change by introducing such phrases as: "Right now" as in: "right now you don’t like any thing about this place?" or "at the moment it seems impossible that you will ever have any friends?"

Emphasize any feelings they impart, especially any besides anger: you are discouraged, you are sad, you are frustrated, you were hurt.

Ask what else is upsetting them?

Stay for as long as you possibly can at the exploring and paraphrasing stage. No suggestions of how they could have handled it better, no mention of consequences that will happen, no taking responsibility for their action, just explore what are they upset about.

During all this keep your breathing slow, your voice calm, yourself regulated.

And this takes patience. You may have to keep doing this for a long time.

And then when (and only when) you notice some de-escalation on their part, some slowing of breath, and reduction of yelling, willingness to talk, then start considering: so where can we go from here? The kid is upset and wants this, the adults think this is necessary, how can we go forward? Where ever you can compromise, be creative, use unique solutions, do so.

At this point also slip in some discussion of other, non-problem related things: how the room floor is hard, how its cold in here, how you remember they had their basketball game yesterday, how did it go- chit chat. If the child is really much calmer, some humor can often help.

Once the child has regained some sort of regulation, you will often be surprised how easily the next steps can be figured out.

Try this today.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Recent Conference Presentations

I have just returned from presenting at the Black Administrators in Child Welfare Conference in Baltimore and at the Child Welfare League of America Conference in Washington, DC.

At BACW I was struck by the power of inspirational stories and of invoking past heroes and heroines to create courage for the current struggle. Presenters repeatedly told their own and others’ stories of triumph after trauma, prejudice and adversity. Heroes such as Rose Parks, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King were called forth to bring energy to current problems. How can we use these methods more in our own agencies, and in our own change efforts? All of us in this field know inspirational stories of kids and families who have changed, programs that have been transformed, and treatment that has been effective. Many agencies have their own founding heroes and heroines. While we do turn to these rich legacies for help, I felt after attending this conference that we could do so more and with greater emphasis. Also, in this conference I experienced more acknowledgment of the struggle of this work, and the need to comfort and care for each other.

In my presentation I referred to the kids we treat as "damaged". Joanne V. Rhone, Ph.D., Professor at Clark Atlanta University suggested I would be better served by referring to them as "wounded" because as we know, wounds can heal. Damage, she stated, sounds more permanent and unchangeable. I thought this was an excellent point and will adapt my language in the future.

I attended a workshop on "Working Between Circles & Lines: Using the Restorative Circles Process to Create Effective Collaborative-An African Centered Construct for Organizational Prosperity". This workshop includes an introduction to Restorative Justice as a best practice in Child Welfare and how to use it to create paradigm shifts in organizational culture and practice. Restorative Justice is a set of values that guide decisions on policy, programs and practice. The Circles process restores the collaborative effort of agencies working together for the greater good. It was led by Saleem Hylton, CEO, President; K. Ivy Hylton, MSW, LICSW, Youth & Families in Crisis, LLC, Washington, DC They described and demonstrated the power of a Circle to bring people together and hold meaningful discussion. They gave examples of the use of this circle in creating agency collaborations, as well as in offender/victim encounters. I hope to utilize this technique further.

I also purchased two useful small books: The Little Book of Restorative Justice (Little Books of Justice & Peacebuilding Series) by Howard Zehr and The Little Book of Restorative Discipline for Schools: Teaching Responsibility; Creating Caring Climates (Little Books of Justice and Peacebuilding) by Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and Judy H. Mullet. Both have clear explanations and many practical implementation ideas.

At my presentation at CWLA I had participants from all over the country, and it was very interesting to experience this national change in treatment approach. Many agencies are starting to implement trauma informed treatment and to move away from point and level systems. One agency expressed concern about whether such a change led to longer lengths of stay. Others talked about child care workers indoctrinating each other to "be tough" and not show feelings. It was clearly helpful to connect with others doing this work, and reinforced my hope to start more email net works and communication mechanisms.

Altogether it was a very interesting and inspiring trip.