Two weeks in my life working in the world of juvenile detention

This post describes some heart warming events that happened when I visited a juvenile detention center last week. 

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Testimonials from Riker's Island

My Center has been providing intensive training in trauma-informed practices using an abbreviated version of TARGET. We recently completed another day-long training for 75 officers and teachers in the adolescent unit. Here are some testimonials from those we've trained:

[The training] is not about talking to inmates it's about talking to yourself.
I've learned that I cannot always count on others to respect my feelings, even if I respect theirs. Being a good person doesn't guarantee that others will be good people too. You only have control over yourself and how you choose to be as a person. 
[The training] is not about changing the world. It's about creating a space of consciousness. 

I've met so many inspiring people working at Riker's to turn a life around and improve their communities. Even in the darkest places, people work to shine a light.

My definition of a trauma-informed child serving system

This was quickly written as a homework exercise, but i like the sentiment (even if I'll dislike the flourishes by the third re-read). 

A trauma-informed child and family service system respects the dignity of all human beings and recognizes that people are always more than the worst thing they have ever done (paraphrasing Bryan Samuels) and that these "worst things" are often survival-based alarm reactions and adaptations to a world filled with threat and violence, inequity and oppression. It recognizes that the best way to combat the impact of trauma is to band together in a courageous belief in the possibility for healing and recovery. The system remains compassionately vigilant to the persistent and infectious nature of traumatic reactions and everyone's vulnerability to it. The system negotiates a balance of urgency and patience, righteous anger and forgiveness, sobriety and hope in spirals of progress buoyed only through our collective effort. 

Helping the NYC Citywide Oversight Committee & Upcoming Talk

Lsat week, the NYC Citywide Oversight Committee, which helps implement the NYS Children's Plan and NYC's system of care, invited me to provide an introductory training on child traumatic stress to launch this years focus on spreading trauma-informed care. The presentation was received with rave reviews and the COC is now asking me to figure out how to spread this training throughout all of the boroughs and beyond. We are starting with a presentation the the Queens Borough Based Council in Jamaica, Queens, on 10/27/14 from 9:30-11:30. All are welcome to attend.

The address is 90-27 Sutpin Blvd, 2nd Floor, Queens, NY 11435.


A snippet of a recent training on trauma-informed practices

I was explaining trauma reactions as an over-active alarm system. One of the women looked deep in thought. I asked what she was thinking about. She was thinking about her 5-year-old, adopted niece and how she might use what she was learning to react differently to her niece’s meltdowns. She explained that when her niece has a meltdown, she immediately just wants to get away from her. She now sees this as her own alarm reaction leading to a flight response. She said she felt guilty for responding this way because she knows that her niece probably feels abandoned by her when she walks away because of her history of abandonment and loss. She wanted to not run away but didn’t know what else she could do. I commended her for recognizing that her alarm was being triggered and also helped her see that her feelings of guilt were also an alarm reactive feeling. I then explained that the alarm is meant to help her notice that something was happening that activated an important value for her. So, when her alarm is triggered, the best way to calm it down is to think about what really matters most to her in that moment. She said, being there for her niece.

Me: Okay, then how does thinking of being there for your niece make you feel?

Her: I feel a little calmer.

Me: And how do you feel about your niece when you are thinking of being there for her?

Her: I feel love for her.

Me: Great, now from that place of calm and love, what would you want to say to her?

Her: I don’t know.

Me: How about if you just walked into that room, sat next to her with that calm and loving energy, and just said, “I’m sorry you are having such a hard time right now. Seeing you like this makes my alarm go off, but I’m not going to leave. I don’t know what to say, but I’m just going to sit right here and stay with you until you calm down.” How would that feel?

Her (tearful): Better. 

(some of this technique must be credited to TARGET). 

At the end of this training, another participant's adopted son posted this on his Facebook page.