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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!”

"I want every girl to know that her voice can change the world": An interview with Girls Empowerment Network

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BY: Maria Rizo      10/24/22

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BY: Maria Rizo      08/11/22

From afterschool to the White House: A conversation with Life Pieces to Masterpieces alum Cateo Hilton

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BY: Matt Freeman      07/12/22

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BY: Ursula Helminski      06/06/22

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BY: Charlotte Steinecke      04/28/22

MAP: Where are COVID funds supporting afterschool & summer programs?

If you’ve been following our COVID work, you know we’ve been working to track how and where federal COVID relief funding has been tapped to support young people with comprehensive afterschool and summer enrichment programs. Three major funding bills – the Coronavirus Aid, Relief,...

BY: Ursula Helminski      04/19/22

Giving a big #AmeriThanks to AmeriCorps VISTA members!

It’s AmeriCorps Week! Organizations around the country are taking this opportunity to acknowledge the work of national service members that participate in programs such as AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA, Senior Corps, and National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). In that spirit, we want to...

BY: Alexis Steines      03/18/22

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In the American Rescue Plan, funds are allocated specifically for “the implementation of evidence-based interventions aimed specifically at addressing learning loss, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive afterschool programs, or extended school year...

BY: Charlotte Steinecke      01/21/22

Afterschool supports LGBTQ students

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...

BY: Guest Blogger      06/28/22

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BY: Dan Gilbert      06/14/22

Guest blog: Social and emotional learning in the spotlight

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BY: Guest Blogger      04/21/22

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BY: Christopher Echevarria      03/15/22

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BY: Guest Blogger      02/28/22

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Tips for afterschool to support trans and gender non-conforming young people

Photo courtesy of The Gender Spectrum Collection. Thanks to a growing number of supports for transgender and nonbinary youth to feel safe within their school settings, afterschool programs have more resources than ever to ensure that every young person who enters their doors between the hours of...

BY: Shaun Gray      02/14/22

Mentorship "show[ed] me my self-worth... the value that I have as a human."

Photo by Josh Sorenson on Unsplash The impact of afterschool and summer programs last well beyond a student’s formative years. The relationships that afterschool youth build with the adults in their programs often lead to academic success and future leadership opportunities. Mentored youth...

BY: Tierra Easter      01/25/22

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This article was originally published on The Wallace Foundation blog on January 19, 2022. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, educators around the country are seeing an increasing need to support young people who may be struggling with anxiety, depression, fear, trauma, food insecurity or...

BY: Guest Blogger      01/24/22

Understanding “comprehensive afterschool” in the American Rescue Plan

In the American Rescue Plan, funds are allocated specifically for “the implementation of evidence-based interventions aimed specifically at addressing learning loss, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive afterschool programs, or extended school year...

BY: Charlotte Steinecke      01/21/22

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Photo: Courtesy of YMCA of Honolulu at Herton Branch By Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. This article originally was published as a Mott Perspectives piece on the Foundation’s website. It has been reposted here with permission. This is a...

BY: Guest Blogger      06/21/22

Philanthropists MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett invest in a host of afterschool programs

As part of a larger series of gifts to nonprofit organizations, this spring, philanthropists MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett announced the contribution of a combined investment of more than $500 million towards at least 29 afterschool, summer learning, and positive youth development organizations....

BY: Erik Peterson      04/18/22

Afterschool community mourns passing of Rep. Don Young

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BY: Erik Peterson      03/24/22

Giving a big #AmeriThanks to AmeriCorps VISTA members!

It’s AmeriCorps Week! Organizations around the country are taking this opportunity to acknowledge the work of national service members that participate in programs such as AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA, Senior Corps, and National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). In that spirit, we want to...

BY: Alexis Steines      03/18/22

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BY: Maria Rizo      02/01/22

Mentorship "show[ed] me my self-worth... the value that I have as a human."

Photo by Josh Sorenson on Unsplash The impact of afterschool and summer programs last well beyond a student’s formative years. The relationships that afterschool youth build with the adults in their programs often lead to academic success and future leadership opportunities. Mentored youth...

BY: Tierra Easter      01/25/22

Understanding “comprehensive afterschool” in the American Rescue Plan

In the American Rescue Plan, funds are allocated specifically for “the implementation of evidence-based interventions aimed specifically at addressing learning loss, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive afterschool programs, or extended school year...

BY: Charlotte Steinecke      01/21/22

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BY: Guest Blogger      01/20/22

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BY: Tierra Easter      06/17/22

Youth mental health is top of mind for voters

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Arts education and training program at Riverzedge Arts helps students earn credit

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You're invited: Help amplify youth voices in afterschool!

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BY: Charlotte Steinecke      02/25/22

Tips for afterschool to support trans and gender non-conforming young people

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BY: Shaun Gray      02/14/22

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BY: Charlotte Steinecke      01/04/22

Ohio Afterschool Network is unleashing student creativity, and fostering pandemic recovery, through entrepreneurship

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BY: Guest Blogger      12/14/21

Afterschool programs can help young people access vaccines

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BY: Nicole Pettenati      12/06/21

"I want every girl to know that her voice can change the world": An interview with Girls Empowerment Network

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BY: Maria Rizo      09/29/22

Resources to help you Engage Every Student from wherever you sit

New parent data shows that for every child in an afterschool program, there are now four more who are waiting for an available program. It is more important than ever to amplify ways for programs, communities, districts, and states to connect every student to an afterschool program that wants...

BY: Maria Rizo      09/08/22

Guest blog: Foundations, Inc.'s REACH model accelerates learning recovery in afterschool

By Elizabeth Cieri and Paula Houghton of Foundations, Inc.  Educators across the nation are dealing with academic losses due to the pandemic -- mitigating those losses requires inventive thinking and better practices. “Coming out of the pandemic, we knew all kids suffered learning...

BY: Guest Blogger      08/29/22

Ensuring access to school meals this fall

As we approach the upcoming school year, school nutrition programs are increasingly important in ensuring children are fed during the hours they are in and out of school and addressing food insecurity exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the Afterschool Alliance participated in the...

BY: Maria Rizo      08/11/22

Guest blog: Council for a Strong America identifies afterschool as key policy to help next generation succeed

By Barry Ford is the President & CEO of Council for a Strong America. Council for a Strong America has long advocated for high-quality afterschool programs as a way to strengthen communities and our country. Our organization is a national, bipartisan nonprofit that unites membership...

BY: Guest Blogger      08/08/22

Guest blog: Advancing equity and inclusion in hiring and staff development in OST

By Angelica Portillo, National AfterSchool Association’s Director of Advocacy and Workforce Initiatives, and Shawna Rosenweig, Camp Fire Chief Strategy Officer and member of the National AfterSchool Association's Board. For the last 20 years, out-of-school time (OST) has...

BY: Guest Blogger      07/28/22

US Dept. of Ed calls for afterschool & summer for all

Today marks an incredible moment for the afterschool and summer program movement. For the first time ever, federal leaders are calling for afterschool for all. Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona launched the Engage Every Student Initiative, a bold new call to action to...

BY: Jodi Grant      07/14/22

The future of learning

Photo: Courtesy of YMCA of Honolulu at Herton Branch By Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. This article originally was published as a Mott Perspectives piece on the Foundation’s website. It has been reposted here with permission. This is a...

BY: Guest Blogger      06/21/22

$1.8M awarded to middle school out-of-school time programs

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BY: Dan Gilbert      06/14/22

Guest blog: A book about everyday superheroes inspired Girlstart campers to pursue world-changing careers in STEM

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BY: Guest Blogger      09/12/22

Afterschool supports LGBTQ students

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...

BY: Guest Blogger      06/28/22

Celebrating Juneteenth in afterschool programs

Image by William Adams from Pixabay Juneteenth National Independence Day also known as Freedom Day, or Jubilee day honors the emancipation of slaves in the United States. More than 150 years after its first celebration, the Juneteenth holiday provides an opportunity to learn and teach about the...

BY: Tierra Easter      06/17/22

$1.8M awarded to middle school out-of-school time programs

The New York Life Foundation and the Afterschool Alliance are pleased to announce the 2022 Aim High grant recipients. In its sixth year, the Aim High grant has provided a total of $7.95 million dollars to help fund afterschool, summer and expanded learning programs as they help middle school...

BY: Dan Gilbert      06/14/22

You're invited: Help amplify youth voices in afterschool!

Join us next week for Youth Voice Week! We want to hear from, and amplify, the perspectives and experiences of young people.  From Monday, March 28 to Friday, April 1, we will be sharing pieces by youth about their afterschool experiences, and what youth need after school. Afterschool...

BY: Maria Rizo      03/21/22

Celebrating Black History 365 with Howard University Television

By Keisha Nelson, Education and Outreach Manager WHUT- Howard University Television. Black History Month may only last 28 days, but opportunities for learning don’t end in February. There are many ways to celebrate the past and present contributions of Black people to U.S. history,...

BY: Guest Blogger      02/28/22

Tips for afterschool to support trans and gender non-conforming young people

Photo courtesy of The Gender Spectrum Collection. Thanks to a growing number of supports for transgender and nonbinary youth to feel safe within their school settings, afterschool programs have more resources than ever to ensure that every young person who enters their doors between the hours of...

BY: Shaun Gray      02/14/22

Anti-discrimination Take Action guides are available for free from Nickelodeon!

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BY: Shaun Gray      01/18/22

Highlights from #AA3PM Rural Tweet chat

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BY: Tierra Easter      01/10/22

Racial equity: Learning for justice

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BY: Guest Blogger      01/06/22

Supporting young people to engage at the intersection of STEM & society

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BY: Anita Krishnamurthi      09/27/22

Guest blog: Advancing equity and inclusion in hiring and staff development in OST

By Angelica Portillo, National AfterSchool Association’s Director of Advocacy and Workforce Initiatives, and Shawna Rosenweig, Camp Fire Chief Strategy Officer and member of the National AfterSchool Association's Board. For the last 20 years, out-of-school time (OST) has...

BY: Guest Blogger      07/28/22

Afterschool supports LGBTQ students

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...

BY: Guest Blogger      06/28/22

Celebrating Juneteenth in afterschool programs

Image by William Adams from Pixabay Juneteenth National Independence Day also known as Freedom Day, or Jubilee day honors the emancipation of slaves in the United States. More than 150 years after its first celebration, the Juneteenth holiday provides an opportunity to learn and teach about the...

BY: Tierra Easter      06/17/22

Meet Kaiya Jones, Afterschool Youth Ambassador

Welcome to Youth Voice Week 2022! All during the week, we'll be amplifying the voices of our Youth Ambassadors, as they share their stories and speak about the impact that afterschool has had on their lives.  Kaiya Jones is a 15-year-old student from Howard County Library System Teen...

BY: Charlotte Steinecke      04/01/22

Meet Zhonghui Zheng and Kyla Anderson, Afterschool Youth Ambassadors

Welcome to Youth Voice Week 2022! All during the week, we'll be amplifying the voices of our Youth Ambassadors, as they share their stories and speak about the impact that afterschool has had on their lives.  Zhonghui Zheng is a 17-year-old student at Global Kids Afterschool Program in...

BY: Christopher Echevarria      03/31/22

Meet Brock Brewer and Juliana Montell, Afterschool Youth Ambassadors

Welcome to Youth Voice Week 2022! All during the week, we'll be amplifying the voices of our Youth Ambassadors, as they share their stories and speak about the impact that afterschool has had on their lives.  Brock Brewer is a 16-year-old student at Youth and Family Link Afterschool...

BY: Leah Silverberg      03/30/22

Tips for afterschool to support trans and gender non-conforming young people

Photo courtesy of The Gender Spectrum Collection. Thanks to a growing number of supports for transgender and nonbinary youth to feel safe within their school settings, afterschool programs have more resources than ever to ensure that every young person who enters their doors between the hours of...

BY: Shaun Gray      02/14/22

Mentorship "show[ed] me my self-worth... the value that I have as a human."

Photo by Josh Sorenson on Unsplash The impact of afterschool and summer programs last well beyond a student’s formative years. The relationships that afterschool youth build with the adults in their programs often lead to academic success and future leadership opportunities. Mentored youth...

BY: Tierra Easter      01/25/22

Afterschool as a teacher pathway

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. Our national teacher shortage predated COVID-19, however there is growing evidence that suggests that the...

BY: Guest Blogger      01/20/22