Trauma-Informed Care and Youth Voice

June 30, 2020 | Ohio

Trauma-Informed Care and Youth Voice

June 30, 2020

By Kim Eckhart, KIDS COUNT Program Manager

Every young person should be able to find a counselor, peer support group, a meditation room or other interventions to support them as they navigate the traumas of life. Schools should be safe places where people and spaces enable students to access this support freely and willingly. Unfortunately, stigma and unconscious bias continue to create barriers for youth accessing services.

Engaging youth voice in the way behavioral health services are designed creates a shared awareness of what trauma-informed care means in practice. This idea was the theme of a presentation by Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio to school behavioral health professionals gathered last week at the School SUCCESS Conference, hosted by Miami University’s Center for School-Based Mental Health Programs. (Read more here…)

Kim Eckhart, KidsCount Project Manager, presented findings from our recent report on Cultivating Opportunities for Youth to Flourish in Franklin County and elevated its focus group methodology as a model for others to use in their trauma-informed practices.

Tracy Nájera, Executive Director of CDF-Ohio, described Appreciative Inquiry and Human-centered Design, the concepts on which the focus group protocol was built. The participants received a toolkit with the protocols for hosting focus groups for both youth and staff, along with other resources for trauma-informed care.

Putting youth at the center of the design process

“By focusing on the contributions of young people and putting them at the center of the process of creating solutions, we create an environment of collaboration,” Nájera said.

Kim Eckhart highlighted key findings from the report: that adolescence is a key time for our community to invest in our youth; discrimination and historical legacies of institutionalized racism continue to affect the accessibility of opportunities for youth; youth need policies, programs, and practices that are responsive to their life circumstances; youth insights, perspectives, and lived experiences are integral to designing policies and programs aligned to their needs.

Changing the narrative: from victim to asset

“When we give youth an opportunity to participate in focus groups, we are changing the narrative about them. They become contributors rather than victims. They begin to see what they have to offer and their role in making things better for their brothers and sisters and others growing up in their community,” Eckhart said.

Counselors, social workers, psychologists and prevention specialists who work in schools are on the front lines serving the needs of the children in our communities. Empowering them to engage youth voice in the process of designing those services moves us a step closer to making schools places where all children feel safe and supported.

Youth voice plays an especially important role in process-mapping. A process map allows those who use a service to describe the steps they take to access it. In our report, youth walked through the process of securing services like housing, which often has a wait list and requires them to have a cell phone to receive follow-up calls. Nájera led the conference participants through a process-mapping exercise to demonstrate the value of using this lens with students. Participants were encouraged to consider the services provided in their school, and what a student would experience while trying to access that service.

Youth voice can help dismantle systemic racism

As momentum builds in efforts to dismantle white supremacy in our society, youth voice can play an important role. Engaging youth voice about experiences with white supremacy in schools can create a shared awareness about how unconscious behaviors contribute to underlying racism. Participants were encouraged to talk openly with students about the topic of racism. The approach is not to ask them to recount traumatic experiences of racism, but to acknowledge the importance of the topic and to communicate a willingness to listen to experiences without dismissing them, and to self-critique both individual behavior and organizational culture.

Youth leading the way

Our youth have surprising insights that can lead the way toward the school climate we all want for our children. As one youth stated in our focus groups,

“I’d be happy if everyone was safe – a safe world for marginalized folks – women, LGBT people, people of color, people with disabilities, things of that nature.”

The full presentation can be found here.

The full report and toolkit can be found here.

Read about our research here in light of COVID-19