Creating organizational compassion is essential
by Meaghan Barone Toft, LCSW
Organizations providing services for vulnerable children face enormous challenges, in an age of fast changes and tight budgets. When interacting with a child and their trauma experience(s), our top priority is to provide emotional, physical, and spiritual safety within our entire agency. New Directions Youth and Family Services has invested significant resources to address this need, by developing a comprehensive trauma-informed orientation for every employee.
Our hard work was recently recognized by the McSilver Institute at New York University. The Institute is renowned for new discoveries about the root causes of poverty, developing evidence-based interventions to address its consequences, and moving quickly to put research findings into action through policy and practice.
Our collaboration with McSilver was part of a statewide collaboration to identify trauma-informed and resilience-based best practices. The collaboration also involved the Community Technical Assistance Center of New York and the Managed Care Technical Assistance Center of New York, which help human service agencies across the state strengthen their clinical and business operations.
The experience working with these organizations was particularly helpful in enhancing our trauma-informed orientation. When we first developed our plan for introducing the information, we focused specifically on direct-service workers. Through the collaboration, we learned that every employee needs the information, including those who are not providing direct services to children and families, such as administration, finance, and maintenance departments.
We believe every New Directions employee fosters resiliency and it is our duty to equip our full team, with the tools of trauma-informed practices. The dining staff serving warm nutritious meals, the support service teams that keep our grounds clean and beautiful, and the receptionists who might be the first person a visitor encounters, all contribute to a comprehensive trauma-informed setting.
Having every employee, in any role, grounded in a clear understanding of trauma-informed practices, is a critically important component in providing impactful services to vulnerable children and families.
The training opens the door for all employees to view others more inclusively. For example, when trying to understand the results of trauma, we are asking our staff the pause in their reaction to a negative behavior and consider what is behind the behavior, and think, “what’s happened to you” instead of “what’s wrong with you.” In tweaking the approach, we look at the whole person, instead of a behavior or poor choice. We are confident that our orientation will open new paths for conversations and compassion between employees, children, and families.
The number of children in our communities surviving trauma is growing. Delivering impactful services requires innovative approaches at a time when financial resources are limited. With dwindling government support, human service agencies are taking matters into our own hands, to ensure that we are meeting the needs of children, families, staff, and community.
Meaghan Barone Toft is the Adventure Recreation Director at New Directions Youth and Family Services.
Carolyne DeFranco, CEO of our affiliated agency, Gateway-Longview, receives YWCA of the Niagara Frontier award
Carolyne DeFranco, CEO of our affiliated agency, Gateway-Longview, is this year’s Management Award winner given by the YWCA of the Niagara Frontier at their 2018 awards ceremony, “A Tribute to Women.” Carolyne was nominated by New Directions Board President, Christine Weeks, who also serves on the YWCA board.
The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Lifetime Health
“The Deepest Well”, a new book by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D., brings new insight to the life-long effects that exposure to adverse childhood experiences can have, while highlighting the growing role of medical science in the understanding and treatment provided by New Directions.
“We are at a very exciting place in time where advances in scientific research are giving us greater understanding of what drives behavior,” says Joseph Gallagher, chief administrative officer. “And this knowledge is helping us create new strategies for helping to prevent and heal the effects of trauma.”
New Directions’ success in integrating Trauma Informed Care into all aspects of agency operations involves training staff in a variety of models, over an extended period of time. The training we provide is tailored to the different roles staff may have in a child’s treatment and care, and allows clinicians to choose from a variety of models the one best suited for them and the youth that they are working with. The agency has also made significant investments in consultations and trainings with nationally known trauma experts, and has formed on-going collaborations with local universities developing trauma informed treatment practices.
“Through our on-going relationship with the University of Buffalo’s School of Social Work’s Institute on Trauma and Trauma informed Care, we have engaged a highly-trained clinical consultant to provide guidance on the development of our trauma related practices and to supervise clinicians in the utilization of trauma informed treatment strategies. These clinicians then work with our front line treatment teams to incorporate these practices in their work as well.” says Lynn Siradas, director of foster care and adoption services, and a driving force in the agency’s trauma treatment efforts.
In addition, New Directions has been involved with the UB institute on a collaborative comprised of seven university/agency teams across the country to explore how trauma informed practices are implemented within organizations. Based on annual surveys conducted by the Institute, New Directions is showing significant increases in the number of staff knowledgeable of trauma informed care.
“Clearly, a light is being shone on the path we need to take,” says Gallagher. “and fortunately, we are well prepared to make the journey.”
For more information on the effect of adverse childhood experiences, here are two great resources:
“The Deepest Well”, by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D
Dr. Burke Harris’ Ted Talk (Highly recommended!):
The Ted Radio Hour: How genes and experience collaborate — and compete — to make us who we are.
Campus School Gets Excellent Reviews
New Directions has a wide variety of programs, each of which provides assistance in the most effective way for the people that they serve. The importance of education though, is a core value that is shared throughout the agency. We couldn’t be happier then that the educational services provided by the Henrietta G. Lewis Campus School (HGLCS) and the Wayne E. Secord Therapeutic Preschool at our Lockport campus continue to receive outstanding feedback from the parents of our students. Read More
Families play key role in addressing children’s needs
Helping youth with mental health and behavioral challenges thrive in home and community settings is one of the most challenging issues in our mental health system today. In the past, a child might have been removed from their home simply because few better alternatives were available. Now, however, New Directions Youth and Family Services is participating in a new program that integrates evidence-based High Fidelity Wraparound with the state’s Medicaid Health Homes Serving Children program, to better serve young people ages 12 to 21 with serious emotional disturbances.
The new program, New York State Systems of Care, is supported through a federal grant and is being implemented by the New York State Office of Mental Health, as part of the state’s health care reform efforts. Locally, the Erie County Department of Mental Health is collaborating with various agencies, including New Directions Youth and Family Services, to serve these at-risk children. Erie County was selected in part based on past successes in implementing systems of care initiatives for at risk children, including incorporating youth and family voices into policies and practices.
The program is intended to better serve youth and young adults with the highest and most complex needs in home and community settings. and is based on the evidence-based High Fidelity Wraparound model. National data supports the effectiveness of this model in which families work with a team facilitator to establish their own individual child and family team.