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Afterschool programs and a trauma-informed approach

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Afterschool programs and a trauma-informed approach

“A trauma-informed, culturally responsive lens must be a part of everything we do.” This statement by Laura Norton-Cruz, Director of the Alaska Resilience Initiative, sums up the key message of last week’s Senate Afterschool Caucus briefing for Congressional staff which focused on “Afterschool Programs and a Trauma-Informed Approach.”

On Wednesday, Sept. 11, the Senate Afterschool Caucus, in partnership with the Afterschool Alliance, Alaska Children’s Trust – Alaska Afterschool Network, American Institutes for Research (AIR), America Scores, Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, Boys and Girls Clubs of America,  California AfterSchool Network, Coaching Corps, Communities In Schools, Forum for Youth Investment, Girls, Inc., National 4-H Council, National Recreation and Park Association, National Summer Learning Association, Schools Out Washington and the YMCA of the USA, , held a briefing on the importance of implementing a trauma-informed approach, how afterschool and summer learning programs are incorporating such an approach, and the supports needed to sustain these efforts. More than 40 Hill staffers and representatives of national and local education and health organization attended, with an additional 25 attendees joining in by livestream.

Moderator Tiffany Miller, chief of staff and vice president of Policy for Communities in Schools, opened the session by outlining what is at stake when we talk about trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). As Tiffany explained, “Trauma induces powerlessness, fear, hopelessness, and a constant state of alert.” Trauma and ACEs affect the developing brain and body – leading to short- and long-term negative effects. To address children dealing with trauma, it requires a comprehensive approach along a continuum of supports that reflect the diverse needs of each child and population. “While afterschool and youth-serving organizations are not a magic wand to prevent or respond to trauma,” Miller said, “the role they are playing nationwide is a critical one – and one that too often gets overlooked.”

Allison Dymnicki, principal researcher at the American Institutes of Research (AIR), followed Tiffany by discussing how high-quality afterschool programs are uniquely positioned to provide trauma-informed care through four key elements of support, which were reiterated throughout the briefing. Those are building trusting relationships with caring adults, providing opportunities to learn social-emotional skills, a safe and supportive environment, and trained, trauma-informed staff.

Laura Norton-Cruz went on to share how Alaska and the Alaska resilience Initiative made trauma-informed care a priority in her state by passing one of the country’s broadest statutes on trauma-informed care in 2018. In doing so, Alaska is now positioned to provide more sustainable funding, ensure consistent messaging across youth-serving agencies, garner cross-sector buy-in, and enforce a legal impetus to ensure they are holistically addressing childhood trauma in their state. Laura concluded by emphasizing, “Policies are important for shaping the funding streams, mandates, and supports that help shape these [afterschool] programs, and programs like these must be a part of this conversation.”

The briefing concluded with Erin Spaulding, senior vice president of Youth Development and Family Strengthening at Old Colony YMCA; and Elena Gustafson, MSW, MPH, Girls Inc. coordinator YWCA Minneapolis, who spoke from the afterschool providers’ perspective of what a trauma-informed approach looks like in practice.

Erin described that taking a trauma-informed approach at the Old Colony YMCA meant fundamentally shifting their mindsets and treating a trauma-informed approach as one of their “core values.” Erin went on to talk about how this shift affected how their staff looked at youth and behaviors, saying, “It is our job to understand their behavior. Their behavior is language – and that young person is trying to tell us something. It’s our job to figure out what is the root cause, so we can better serve them.”

Elena shared how Girls Inc. works to create a supportive environment for young women by creating a space they can feel comfortable in, surrounded by peers and role models they can relate to. “We see youth coming out of their shell and flourishing because of those connections,” Elena explained, “and from forming those positive healthy relationships with peers and adults they make in the program.”

As each panelist explained, a trauma-informed approach requires a total commitment from every stakeholder from top to bottom. High-quality afterschool programs are modeling what this should look like – including trauma-informed staff trainings, culturally-responsive practices, and a robust SEL curriculum for students to feel safe and supported – but a greater investment is needed to ensure every program can provide high-quality trauma-informed care. The Afterschool Snack blog previously covered federal legislation that supports afterschool and summer learning programs taking a trauma informed approach.

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Afterschool programs and a trauma-informed approach

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Get the latest afterschool STEM news in your inbox

The next issue of the Afterschool Lab Report is coming in just a few days. Brought to you each quarter by the Afterschool STEM Hub, a project of the Afterschool Alliance, the newsletter provides the latest STEM education policy updates, new resources, upcoming opportunities for advocacy, and new...

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Afterschool makes a difference for middle school career exposure in CTE

“Imaginations are what will carry us to the future, and (for me) Digital Harbor helped to expand it,” 7th grader Jacob Leggette proclaimed in front of the full room at the Senate Career and Technical (CTE) Education Caucus  and Afterschool Alliance Briefing on June 25. The...

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BY: Guest Blogger      06/25/19

Get the latest afterschool STEM news in your inbox

The next issue of the Afterschool Lab Report is coming at the end of April. Brought to you each quarter by the Afterschool STEM Hub, a project of the Afterschool Alliance, the newsletter provides the latest STEM education policy updates, new resources, upcoming opportunities for advocacy, and new...

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New toolkit for partnering on career and technical education

In July 2018, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, or Perkins V, was passed by Congress and signed into law. The legislation reauthorizes the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and provides much needed updates to the law that reflect the...

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For successful advocacy efforts, slow and steady wins the race. Advancing legislation or budget requests at the state or federal level requires resources, content expertise, and a dedication that often spans a timeframe far longer than originally anticipated. As we enter the third year of a...

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What does the Trump administration’s 5-Year STEM Education Strategy mean for afterschool?

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine On December 4, the White House released their five-year STEM education plan, entitled Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education. The plan is a required component of the America COMPETES Act of 2010, which mandates that the...

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Afterschool goes to college

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