Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Miracle of Love Wins

Today I can only write about what has been occupying my time and my heart for the last few weeks- the miracle of our Love Wins Conference.

It is a week before the event even takes place, and already so many incredible things have taken place. In no particular order, they include: 

·         It is sold out

·         Three Universities are cooperating to make this happen- Central Connecticut State University, the University of Hartford and Western Connecticut State University

·         The University of Hartford, in addition to all their other support, is supplying student volunteers who will direct and escort people throughout the day. The University has purchased purple hats, scarves and gloves for all these volunteers.

·         We have wonderful sponsors such as Stanley Works and Siracusa who have enabled families, foster families, and Klingberg employees to attend, as well as helping us in many other ways.

·         We are actually streaming the morning session to the three universities and our Risking Connection agencies

·         Bruce Perry is speaking in Connecticut for the first time

·         Jimmy Greene, Ana Graces father will be performing with some friends, and there will be dance and other music

·         The wonderful breakout speakers will bring us news of compassion at work in many arenas: schools, university, therapy provision, urban settings, the larger community and in the family

·         The parking and logistics have been worked out and are manageable

·         There are over 80 Klingberg volunteers, and I am proud to have so much talent and passion to draw on for moderators, table hosts, facilitators, registration workers, and many other jobs. People are saying they are honored to participate.          

·         There are beautiful centerpieces, gifts, hearts, and decorations and purple is everywhere

·         The audience is incredibly diverse, from teachers to federal employees to Deans of Universities to families to church members to Sandy Hook community members to representatives of foundations to therapists to judges. 

And most importantly, we have the miracle of the Márquez-Greene family, whose event this is.

Nelba, Jimmy and Isaiah will bring their message of hope, of wrestling good from this tragedy, of the importance of love. Jimmy will bring the music which will lift our hearts. Nelba will speak of her experience. Isaiah will attend, and he is the only boy I know who is a hockey goalie and a musician and can defeat someone in Connect Four in six moves while singing the Star Spangled Banner. 

And the conference above all represents the miracle of Ana Grace, whose goal for her year was to tell stories, and whose story the conference both tells and epitomizes.


I am so proud to be part of this!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Trouble in the Team

Angela is very upset. As the Coordinator of the Group Home she has worked hard to be supportive and caring towards her staff. She has been proud of her team, their good relationships and their low turnover. She has provided many staff recognition and fun activities. Now she is hearing only complaints. A recent staff survey revealed that staff feels that management undercuts them with the youth. Staff have issues with her, the unit supervisor, and the therapist. Furthermore, Angela is starting to not like the staff much either. They are so ungrateful. What have they got to complain about anyway. Don’t they realize how hard she works and how she is always on call and responsive to them? She notices that they are getting more punitive in their responses to the kids. Naturally she has to step in and change what they have put in place. She is not going to allow the kids to be mistreated.

As a consultant in this situation my first impulse is to work on the content of the complaints. How could the team improve its cooperation when the girls do something wrong? What should the management do when the girls approach them? What should be the response when the gir;ls hurt others? Especially because I  am concerned that our responses are becoming punative, I want to jump in and discuss that.
But wait-consider the parallel processes. All this is a symptom. It is adaptive. It is solving a problem. What is the problem? How is it adaptive? I know this team. They are caring, intelligent, thoughtful and compassionate. What is happening here?

When I ask about their recent experience, I discover that the entire client population of this group home turned over within two months. Several were wonderful positive discharges. In a couple of cases girls were finally placed in a higher structured environment which they needed. So all of the youth are new, scarey, feeling unsafe, and acting in dramatic and extreme ways. Several staff have been assaulted. And the atmosphere has been non stop drama and intensity. Furthermore, the new clients are quite a bit younger than the previous clients. Younger, needing more help, with less ability, with fewer skills.

It became clear to me that we needed to start with sharing how each of us had been impacted by these last few months.

We started by remembering the girls who had left. What were we proud of that had happened with a those girls, including those who left for more restrictive environments? Were there ever moments when we could not imagine that they would ever change?

Then we did the following exercise. Each person in the team had a large piece of paper. Their instructions were:
On your large piece of paper make 8 shapes- squares, circles, hearts, combinations, whatever. Then at the bottom make one more shape different from the rest.
In one shape, write some words about things that have made you happy at work in the last three months.
In one shape, write some words about things that have made you sad at work in the last three months.
In one shape, write some words about things that have made you hopeful at work in the last three months.
In one shape, write some words about things that have made you doubt yourself at work in the last three months.
In one shape, write some words about things that have made you feel energetic at work in the last three months.
In one shape, write some words about things that have made you feel tired at work in the last three months.
In one shape, write some words about things that you have enjoyed at work in the last three months.
In one shape, write some words about things that you are proud of at work in the last three months.
In the lower shape, write what your hopes are for the next three months. What would you like to do, learn, accomplish, experience? 
Decorate your paper, showing connections, illustrating your ideas, making it reflect your experience at work in the last few months.
When you are done we will share our pages with each other.

As each person shared their responses, several themes emerged. There is a great deal of caring and connection in the team. People take care of eachother, joke together, have fun together. There is a small beginning of hopefulness. People have been very worn out by the last few months, and some have been hurt. Everyone has had moments of doubt. Everyone has also had moments of delight with the girls.

We made no attempt to find solutions or simplify our complex responses. It was enough to share it.
It was clear that we had fallen into the all too easy practice of judging our day by how the girls acted. We talked about how we could shift to judging our day by what we did.

There are still specifics to be worked out and more discussions to be had. But we will start these discussions from a more connected place and with a better awareness of the importance of our mission.

When you experience troubles in your team (and you will) I urge you to look beneath the symptoms and focus on how the work is affecting the people who are doing it. Share that before considering action steps. Share your experiences and thoughts by clicking on "comment" below.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Restorative Approach Training in Yukon Territory, Canada

I have just returned from a trip to aw hitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. What a delightful place! It is beautiful, and the people are kind, caring and compassionate.  Of course they also pride themselves on being a little crazy, especially when it comes to extreme sports and pastimes. The Yukon Government has initiated a system wide implementation of Risking Connection and the Restorative Approach. They started with their residential and in home mental health services and their drug and alcohol treatment program. Soon to come are foster care, juvenile justice and protective services. The people in the system are deeply committed to understanding behavior as adaptive. They work creatively with a lack of resources and long standing, multigenerational trauma and economic stress.

I taught a two day Restorative Approach training, newly revised and based on my book. I taught in a museum of Yukon history. The suggestions for improvement that I received concerned making it more locally focused and culturally relevant.  Also, a couple of people suggested that I include more tips for how line staff can facilitate the change to Trauma Informed Care and influence their team mates. Good ideas.

Here are some of the comments I received on the training:
  • Knowledgable speaker 
  • Reinforced that Child care is treatment
  • Provided Useful strategies and Resources
  • Great content, good philosophy
  • Interesting and practical
  • Good tools for working with youth
  • Instructor was knowledgable and had the ability to talk through dilemmas and utilize the theory
  • People felt comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas
  • Training was wonderful
  • Wealth of knowledge, ease in delivery, good examples
  • You have been there and know our struggles
  • Liked info on pulling the team together
  • The whole two days were organized and flowed well
  • I feel I have a better understanding and will be able to talk to my co-workers differently
  • You took the mystery out of making amends and restorative tasks
  • Can't think of any way to improve, it was great
  • Having language and recognition for what we do
  • Very important model
  • Great training!
  • Pat you area great teacher- caring, respectful, and on task. Just what group workers need. Good balance of academic and personal information. A lot of practical applications.
Could your agency use this training?

We got to visit two museums and an art gallery, and we swam in a hot springs. Much thanks to our host Mike Healy who made our trip both useful and enjoyable. Our travels went smoothly
until the last leg, from Montreal back to Hartford, was cancelled. We ended up driving back from Montreal.

We both made friends with the Police manequin in our hotel lobby.

Altogether a very satisfying trip.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Building Healthy Future Recap

Recently my colleague Steve Brown presented a training on Promoting Sexual Health Amoung Youth. The Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Alliance hosted this training as a part of their Building Healthy Futures series. Laura Palumbo, Prevention Campaign Specialist of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)

Wrote the following blog post summarizing the conference.

I just wanted to share a blog post I wrote for NSVRC about the recent Building Healthy Futures training.

A few short weeks ago I was able to attend an incredible training on Promoting Sexual Health Amoung Youth. The Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Alliance hosted this training as a part of their Building Healthy Futures series, and it was awesome. The focus of this training was all about young people with two topics in mind: promoting healthy sexuality and healing from trauma. It was two days packed with prevention! We learned, practiced and envisioned together. This training was totally relevant to the SAAM 2014 focus on youth too. Healthy sexuality + trauma-informed care = a vision for success. Let’s dig into what this training covered and what we can do to strengthen our work.

First off, the training brought together mostly Virginia-based sexual violence advocates and preventionists. The expertise on sexuality in the room ran the gamut. Some participants actively saw sexuality education as vital to their work, and others never had formal training or education on sexuality in a culture where it’s not often discussed in a healthy context. To lead us on this journey of health promotion, two dynamic speakers represented each field: Alison Bellavance, M.Ed. of Planned Parenthood Keystone and Steve Brown, Psy.D. of the Traumatic Stress Institute.

Healthy Sexuality 101

To start-off our training, our group explored the definition of healthy sexuality, and put our experience into practice with the Circles of Sexuality exercise. This activity was followed by a reflective exercise that explored our own sexual learning. By answering questions like “What do you wish someone had told you growing up about sexuality?”, participants were able to discuss our personal history, experiences and values. Other great tools like SEICUS’ Characteristics of a Sexually Healthy Adult were shared to guide the group in learning more about sexuality, and many of these tools could easily be adapted by participants to teach others including parents and youth.

Why healthy sexuality?
Once our group was up and rolling talking about sex, sexuality, and culture, it was time to make some key connections between this framework and sexual violence prevention.
• Healthy sexuality represents the vision of what we want instead of what we are against. It’s a positive outcome that we can engage individuals and communities to work toward.
• For youth, healthy sexuality and the opportunity to discuss sex with trusted adults is informative and empowering. Our legitimacy and support of youth grow when no topic is off-limits, and it’s important for young people to hear a message other than “no” when it comes to sex.

Understanding Trauma
This section provided a great overview of the impact of trauma on an individual’s overall health and well-being. Cue the ACE Study – a one-stop shop for research on the connection between trauma and health challenges. Trauma takes a toll on our biology and psychology, and it’s vital to consider this background whenever you are in a support role. A trauma-informed approach asks, “What happened to you?” not “What’s wrong with you?”.

 Why trauma-informed?

By understanding trauma, anyone in a support role and treatment environments can respond to trauma in helpful rather than harmful ways.
• Trauma has an impact on sexual development, and it’s very important to promote healthy sexuality with traumatized youth.
• Individuals who have experienced trauma and abuse may need additional support in navigating questions and needs related to sexuality. At times problematic behaviors that express trauma can make this challenging but all the more vital to recovery and growth.
Healthy Sexuality + Trauma-informed

As our understanding of both topics grew, participants began to make some insightful connections.
• A trauma-framework can support positive sexual development in those who have experienced trauma. For young people, it’s a vital opportunity to promote positive behaviors, relationship skills, and identity.
• Understanding trauma can help us to understand how high risk sexual behavior and other challenges can be an expression of trying to meet a non-sexual need or act as a coping mechanism.
• Trauma can lead to distorted beliefs about sexuality and many cultural values are reinforcing negative attitudes about sex. Healthy sexuality informs a more positive approach to sexuality and identity, and it can support healing and growth.

This recap scratches the surface of the rich conversations at Building Healthy Futures. The discussion was not only about making these great connections, but we also took time to identify barriers to incorporating these frameworks. Many advocates identified limitations in their communities, school environments and attitudes and politics that would be a challenge. As a group we brainstormed possible opportunities and ended our day with action steps to move us forward in making these connections in our work. After-all, our goal is to build a healthy future!

Kudos to an amazing group of participants, the fantastic hosts at VSDVAA, and our incredible trainers. If you couldn’t make it to the training, be sure to check out this podcast of the conference.