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Building a trauma informed care approach for afterschool programs & community-based organizations

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Building a trauma informed care approach for afterschool programs & community-based organizations

By Jennifer Smith, afterschool program manager at the Center for Community Health Advancement, Marshfield Clinic Health System.

Recently, schools, afterschool programs, and community-based organizations have shared the increasing numbers of disruptive and challenging youth in their programs. Developed in 2018, the Wisconsin Afterschool Network has been part of the solution by providing the Trauma Informed Care course, designed to elevate the level of programming provided to youth by helping staff learn how to understand, address, and mitigate that behavior — with practical recommendations for every day on-site use.

Quinn Wilder, Linda Eisele, and I spent a summer synthesizing research and resources to create the course. Much of previous Trauma Informed Care training focused on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the implications associated with those experiences, with very little information on what to actually do about it. We wanted to create a course with practical strategies staff could implement in their programs right away to help address the struggles many programs were experiencing.

Initially funding was provided by the Wisconsin State Department of Children and Families and later by the Charles Mott Foundation. The course is 15 hours, delivered through pre and interim independent work and two half day in person sessions. This extended delivery allows for greater processing time and more time to apply the concepts while allowing staff to return for discussion and feedback.

The trauma informed environment

We needed to be able to model the kind of space and place where the principles we were refining could be put into play. One of the essential questions we faced was “What does a trauma informed care environment look like?” Along with well-regulated adults, this environment includes the implementation of the Trauma Informed Care Principles (adapted from Wisconsin Department of Human Services and Department of Public Instruction).

Safety – An environment where kids feel physically, emotionally, and culturally safe; helps kids regulate and fosters relationship building. Important components of this are staff to youth ratios and physical space. Fifty youth with two adult leaders in a large open area does not create an environment of safety; smaller ratios and access to soft, comfortable spaces creates a safer environment and helps to support youth’s ability to better regulate.

Trustworthiness – Programming is predictable and consistent; youth know what to expect when arriving at the program. Staff “walk the talk” to alleviate any fear or anxiety that may be created by the unknown.

Choice – Abuse and neglect are experiences which steal an individual’s autonomy and ability to make choices for oneself. Providing opportunities for youth to have choice within programming (youth can choose from activity options) and choice in directives (it’s homework time, you can sit at the table or grab a clipboard and go to the rug) can help fill that void. These choices allow for autonomy while giving youth multiple options to get to where it is we want them to go (getting out their homework).

Collaboration – The understanding that learning happens in relationships; staff who intentionally work to make all youth feel like they belong and help youth to develop new skills allows for greater social-emotional learning. In addition, supporting parents and working with other agencies (such as schools, therapists, or social workers) builds a net of support for youth.

Empowerment – The lifting up of youth’s strengths and an understanding that troubling behavior patterns have served the youth in some capacity. Acknowledging the behaviors they have developed and helping them reframe those behaviors can be an incredibly powerful message. The idea that “sassy” is the strength of advocating for your needs and helping youth to find more successful ways to exercise those strengths is empowering and more likely to illicit skill development than rewards or punishment.

Building staff capacity

A significant portion of the coursework also asks staff to do some self-reflection. We encourage staff to ask questions like

  • How regulated are you?
  • Are you modeling behaviors you would like to see reflected by youth?
  • How did you learn your social-emotional skills?

Social-emotional learning is a lifelong journey. Adults modeling their own learning by openly articulating their thought process when trying to solve a problem, or talking about how they are managing challenging emotions, can be transformative for youth —particularly youth whose familial models may not have strong social-emotional skills themselves. All social-emotional learning happens through modeling and observation, along with reinforcement at the right times.

As extra-familial adults in the lives of youth, we can be a strong influence through our modeling and reinforcement of social-emotional skills. For example, do you yell across the room to redirect youth, or do you respectfully approach youth who may need some behavior guidance and ask them what is going on and how you can help? Along with the understanding of the importance of social-emotional learning is the notion that challenging behavior is often the result of a lack of skill. A child who becomes upset and acts out often doesn’t have the ability to more skillfully manage their emotions; this provides an opportunity for guidance and learning rather than a time for punishment. The lens through which we view children who have challenging behaviors shifts, making us more empathic and more likely to take the time to slow down and help kids understand and manage their feelings more effectively.

After teaching seven separate sections of the course throughout the state of Wisconsin, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. As stated by one recent participant, “This is the best training I have ever attended!”

Afterschool programs help boost vaccination efforts

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BY: Nicole Pettenati      10/15/21

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Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash. By Daniel W. Hatcher, director of Community Partnerships at Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and Michelle Owens, national advisor at Alliance for a Healthier Generation. As out-of-school time (OST) and summer-learning programs adjust to operating...

BY: Guest Blogger      05/11/21

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Photo by Emilio Garcia on Unsplash By Christina Li, student, writing for YCteen magazine, published by Youth Communication. Youth Communication is a nonprofit youth media organization that promotes youth literacy and civic engagement through youth-led media. The organization provides...

BY: Guest Blogger      05/10/21

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I've never been prouder to be an advocate for afterschool programs than I have been since the start of this horrible pandemic. Through thick and thin, afterschool providers have been genuine heroes in their communities. They've helped children and their families through the hardest of...

BY: Jodi Grant      09/28/21

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BY: Guest Blogger      08/17/21

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By Isaac Garcia, a high school sophomore and afterschool student at Aptos Community Youth Program. At a time when national issues seem to be the most important and engaging problems in our lives, it is important to remember where you come from. Recently, my youth group, Aptos Community Youth...

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Source: YMCA of Greater Long Beach By Sam Piha, founder and co-director of Temescal Associates and The How Kids Learn Foundation, both organizations dedicated to promoting the learning and healthy development of youth. Involving older youth as workers within afterschool programs makes a great...

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Art by Aidan Ventimiglia/VOX ATL By Kalliope Samaltanos, high school junior and student at VOX ATL's afterschool program. This article was originally published on VOX ATL on August 25, 2021 and is republished with their permission. We are sharing this opinion piece as part of our...

BY: Guest Blogger      09/07/21

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BY: Ursula Helminski      09/03/21

How the pandemic sparked my passion to help people who are homeless

By Genesis Strother. Genesis, 15, attends North Atlanta High School and wrote this article as part of her work as a student at VOX ATL's afterschool program. This article was originally published on VOX ATL on July 21, 2021 and is republished with their...

BY: Guest Blogger      08/17/21

IRS: Monthly Child Tax Credit payments began July 15

A message from the Internal Revenue Service. We are publishing this information about the Advance Child Tax Credit so that afterschool and summer learning programs can share this information with the families they serve. The families served by your afterschool  or summer program may be...

BY: Guest Blogger      08/09/21

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By Asia Rodney-Collins, 13. Asia is a student at Emma Willard School and wrote this article as part of her work as a student at VOX ATL's afterschool program. This article was originally published on VOX ATL on June 24, 2021 and is republished the article with their...

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There is still time to apply to be a 2021 Afterschool Alliance Youth Ambassador!

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BY: Maria Rizo      11/16/21

An interview with The Wooden Floor, a New York Life Foundation Aim High grantee

As the pandemic changed the learning landscape in and out of school, afterschool programs had to adapt. We spoke with Dawn S. Reese, Chief Executive Officer at The Wooden Floor, to discuss how her organization has pivoted to support students and families, and to hear more about what they undertook...

BY: Maria Rizo      09/24/21

Policy recommendations to promote youth employment in afterschool programs

Source: YMCA of Greater Long Beach By Sam Piha, founder and co-director of Temescal Associates and The How Kids Learn Foundation, both organizations dedicated to promoting the learning and healthy development of youth. Involving older youth as workers within afterschool programs makes a great...

BY: Guest Blogger      09/13/21

Tips for safe, positive sports in your afterschool program

Are you ready to get kids active and playing sports this year? Our partner Coaching Corps is ready to help with free tools and resources from coaching tips based on youth development principles, to operating safely and supporting social-emotional well-being. Read on to sample some of their top...

BY: Ursula Helminski      09/03/21

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BY: Guest Blogger      08/31/21

An Apology in Action

By Maddy Goldstein, student, writing for YCteen magazine, published by Youth Communication. Youth Communication is a nonprofit youth media organization that promotes youth literacy and civic engagement through youth-led media. The organization provides teen-written stories and curriculum...

BY: Guest Blogger      07/27/21

New guide for programs serving youth in out-of-school time: Indiana Afterschool Network's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tool

By Maria Rizo and Bri Gaston-Bell. In this Q&A with the Afterschool Alliance, Bri Gaston-Bell of the Indiana Afterschool Network, talks about how Afterschool Standards are outlining the path to drive high-quality and equitable OST programs for youth state-wide. What are the Indiana...

BY: Maria Rizo      07/19/21

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BY: Guest Blogger      07/06/21

$1.5M awarded to middle school out-of-school time programs

The Afterschool Alliance is proud to announce the winners of the New York Life Foundation’s 2021 Aim High grant competition, representing a $1,500,000 investment in middle school out-of-school time (OST) programs serving disadvantaged youth in communities across the nation. The Aim High...

BY: Dan Gilbert      05/26/21

Reengaging young people with insights from the Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the entire education and youth development field is going through a turbulent time right now. Afterschool and summer programs, schools, and districts are all scrambling to figure out how to meet the needs of young people and their families this summer and...

BY: Dan Gilbert      05/21/21

Prioritizing youth voice in COVID-19 recovery strategies: An interview with Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation

We spoke with Summer Haran, Chief Developmental Strategist of Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation to discuss how her organization adapted to meet youth needs throughout the pandemic, what aspects were most important when thinking about the future, and how Snider Hockey was able to expand critical...

BY: Maria Rizo      11/16/21

Afterschool programs help boost vaccination efforts

Photo by CDC on Unsplash The approval of COVID-19 vaccinations for children age 12 and older has provided a ray of hope to families and schools nationwide as way to help ensure students’ health and safety as they return to the in-person classroom. In August, the Biden administration...

BY: Nicole Pettenati      10/15/21

My hometown is fighting a hidden opioid epidemic, and so is my family

Art by Aidan Ventimiglia/VOX ATL By Kalliope Samaltanos, high school junior and student at VOX ATL's afterschool program. This article was originally published on VOX ATL on August 25, 2021 and is republished with their permission. We are sharing this opinion piece as part of our...

BY: Guest Blogger      09/07/21

Tips for safe, positive sports in your afterschool program

Are you ready to get kids active and playing sports this year? Our partner Coaching Corps is ready to help with free tools and resources from coaching tips based on youth development principles, to operating safely and supporting social-emotional well-being. Read on to sample some of their top...

BY: Ursula Helminski      09/03/21

Learning ecosystems are essential threads in our nation's fabric

By Gregg Behr, executive director of The Grable Foundation and co-chair of Remake Learning, and Ryan Rydzewski, science and education reporter.  It started in Pittsburgh like it started everyplace else: A one-off school closing, just for a day or two. Then a district-wide closure —...

BY: Guest Blogger      05/06/21

ACT Now: Afterschool as a substance misuse and violence prevention tool

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BY: Guest Blogger      03/22/21

COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout: What is the role of the afterschool field?

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BY: Alexis Steines      01/28/21

Access to COVID-19 vaccines for out-of-school time program staff

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BY: Erik Peterson      12/22/20

My afterschool experience: Before and during the pandemic

By Malika Ali, an 11th grader in New Jersey. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. I wake up around 6:30 AM to the sound of my blaring alarm clock and hear birds chirping faintly in the background. I somehow manage to get out of bed and start getting ready for school. I wake up my siblings, brush my teeth, change...

BY: Guest Blogger      12/14/20

Civic engagement and activism in afterschool programs: An interview with a youth development researcher

By Sam Piha, founder and co-director of Temescal Associates and The How Kids Learn Foundation, both organizations dedicated to promoting the learning and healthy development of youth.   According to the Afterschool Alliance, “The afterschool field is an essential...

BY: Guest Blogger      11/15/21

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If you’re an afterschool program director looking for educational resources that relate to culturally responsive programming, WHUT - Howard University Television may be a great source to check out. WHUT is the first and only public broadcast television station, owned and licensed to...

BY: Shaun Gray      11/08/21

How the pandemic sparked my passion to help people who are homeless

By Genesis Strother. Genesis, 15, attends North Atlanta High School and wrote this article as part of her work as a student at VOX ATL's afterschool program. This article was originally published on VOX ATL on July 21, 2021 and is republished with their...

BY: Guest Blogger      08/17/21

Critical Race Theory: A dangerous ideology? [Opinion]

By Asia Rodney-Collins, 13. Asia is a student at Emma Willard School and wrote this article as part of her work as a student at VOX ATL's afterschool program. This article was originally published on VOX ATL on June 24, 2021 and is republished the article with their...

BY: Guest Blogger      08/02/21

An Apology in Action

By Maddy Goldstein, student, writing for YCteen magazine, published by Youth Communication. Youth Communication is a nonprofit youth media organization that promotes youth literacy and civic engagement through youth-led media. The organization provides teen-written stories and curriculum...

BY: Guest Blogger      07/27/21

New guide for programs serving youth in out-of-school time: Indiana Afterschool Network's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tool

By Maria Rizo and Bri Gaston-Bell. In this Q&A with the Afterschool Alliance, Bri Gaston-Bell of the Indiana Afterschool Network, talks about how Afterschool Standards are outlining the path to drive high-quality and equitable OST programs for youth state-wide. What are the Indiana...

BY: Maria Rizo      07/19/21

There is still time to apply to be a 2021 Afterschool Alliance Youth Ambassador!

By Leah Silverberg, STEM Projects and Field Outreach Associate at the Afterschool Alliance, and Juliana Montell, a student at The Boys & Girls Club of Kennebec Valley.  Applications close June 30 to become one of the next Afterschool Alliance Youth Ambassadors. Each year, we...

BY: Guest Blogger      06/23/21

Working on afterschool program's podcast "helped me find a future for myself."

By Elizabeth Lencioni, high school freshman and student at Aptos Community Youth Program. Elizabeth is one of the hosts of the Aptos Community Youth Program's Gen Impact Podcast. Hi, I’m Elizabeth. I joined the Aptos Community Youth Program about a year and a half ago now. I wanted to...

BY: Guest Blogger      06/22/21

5 things you can do today to support LGBTQ youth

By Tran Tonnu, marketing manager at School's Out Washington, and Janell Jordan, King County program manager. This article originally appeared on School's Out Washington's blog on June 17, 2021. It has been republished here with their permission. For LGBTQ folks, June is an...

BY: Guest Blogger      06/21/21

Reengaging young people with insights from the Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the entire education and youth development field is going through a turbulent time right now. Afterschool and summer programs, schools, and districts are all scrambling to figure out how to meet the needs of young people and their families this summer and...

BY: Dan Gilbert      05/21/21

Civic engagement and activism in afterschool programs: An interview with a youth development researcher

By Sam Piha, founder and co-director of Temescal Associates and The How Kids Learn Foundation, both organizations dedicated to promoting the learning and healthy development of youth.   According to the Afterschool Alliance, “The afterschool field is an essential...

BY: Guest Blogger      11/15/21

Culturally responsive programming resources from WHUT for afterschool educators

If you’re an afterschool program director looking for educational resources that relate to culturally responsive programming, WHUT - Howard University Television may be a great source to check out. WHUT is the first and only public broadcast television station, owned and licensed to...

BY: Shaun Gray      11/08/21

Critical Race Theory: A dangerous ideology? [Opinion]

By Asia Rodney-Collins, 13. Asia is a student at Emma Willard School and wrote this article as part of her work as a student at VOX ATL's afterschool program. This article was originally published on VOX ATL on June 24, 2021 and is republished the article with their...

BY: Guest Blogger      08/02/21

New guide for programs serving youth in out-of-school time: Indiana Afterschool Network's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tool

By Maria Rizo and Bri Gaston-Bell. In this Q&A with the Afterschool Alliance, Bri Gaston-Bell of the Indiana Afterschool Network, talks about how Afterschool Standards are outlining the path to drive high-quality and equitable OST programs for youth state-wide. What are the Indiana...

BY: Maria Rizo      07/19/21

There is still time to apply to be a 2021 Afterschool Alliance Youth Ambassador!

By Leah Silverberg, STEM Projects and Field Outreach Associate at the Afterschool Alliance, and Juliana Montell, a student at The Boys & Girls Club of Kennebec Valley.  Applications close June 30 to become one of the next Afterschool Alliance Youth Ambassadors. Each year, we...

BY: Guest Blogger      06/23/21

5 things you can do today to support LGBTQ youth

By Tran Tonnu, marketing manager at School's Out Washington, and Janell Jordan, King County program manager. This article originally appeared on School's Out Washington's blog on June 17, 2021. It has been republished here with their permission. For LGBTQ folks, June is an...

BY: Guest Blogger      06/21/21

$1.5M awarded to middle school out-of-school time programs

The Afterschool Alliance is proud to announce the winners of the New York Life Foundation’s 2021 Aim High grant competition, representing a $1,500,000 investment in middle school out-of-school time (OST) programs serving disadvantaged youth in communities across the nation. The Aim High...

BY: Dan Gilbert      05/26/21

Program Spotlight: Positive Tomorrows providing a wealth of opportunity for families experiencing homelessness

“My favorite thing about Positive Tomorrows is being able to talk to anybody and they won’t judge you. Everybody is just like you. They all went through the same or similar situations.” - Josiah, 4th Grade Located in Oklahoma City, Positive Tomorrows is a dual elementary school...

BY: Maria Rizo      05/17/21

From feeling safe to feeling like a stereotype

Photo by Emilio Garcia on Unsplash By Christina Li, student, writing for YCteen magazine, published by Youth Communication. Youth Communication is a nonprofit youth media organization that promotes youth literacy and civic engagement through youth-led media. The organization provides...

BY: Guest Blogger      05/10/21

Standing with the Asian-American Pacific Islander community

By Lauren Smith, Program Sustainability VISTA (AmeriCORPS) at the Georgia Statewide Afterschool Network. Learn more about the AmeriCORPS afterschool VISTA program. One month ago, eight people were murdered during a horrific shooting in Atlanta, Georgia. Seven of the victims were...

BY: Guest Blogger      04/26/21