The Trauma-Informed Communities: Overview-Part 1

The trauma-informed communities I’ll be visiting over the next 3 weeks are:

  • Portland, OR
  • The Dalles, OR
  • Columbia River Gorge, OR
  • Walla Walla, WA
  • Coeur D’Alene, ID
  • Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Here are a few overview tidbits about the Oregon and Washington communities. I’ll post brief overviews about Coeur D’Alene and Calgary later this week, then once I’ve met with the various people in each place, I’ll post separate detailed updates about each community.

Portland, OR: Portland State University is serving as the lead agency for “Trauma-Informed Oregon”, a  statewide collaboration to promote and sustain trauma-informed care across child- and family-serving systems. They started in 2014 and expanded in 2015 to include adult-serving behavioral health systems. Portland State serves as a centralized source of information and resources and coordinates and provides training for healthcare and related systems. They work with state agencies, state and local providers, communities, family and youth organizations, and diverse constituents to bring many voices and perspectives to the table to learn from one another and to advocate for informed policies and practices to promote healing and support well-being for all of Oregon’s children, adults, and families.

The Dalles, OR: Their efforts started in 2008 with a 5-year SAMHSA Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant. The grant specified that law enforcement, mental health, juvenile justice and education agencies work together to make schools safer and students healthier.   This city of 13,000 is the first in the nation to seek certification from the Sanctuary Institute— (created by Sandra Bloom at Drexel University), a model of organizational change that challenges every part of the community to examine and remake itself through an understanding of trauma..

Columbia River Gorge, OR: The Multnomah County Department of Community Justice is incorporating a trauma-informed approach into their juvenile & adult criminal justice and reentry systems. While I’m visiting them, I’ll be attending a day-long forum on trauma-informed criminal justice that happened to be scheduled for the same timeframe as my visit!

Walla Walla, WA: Their “Trauma-informed community” effort started in 2008 when local non-profit executive Teri Barila attended a conference where she learned about ACEs. She came back to Walla Walla & organized a community meeting in early 2008 and brought Dr Robert Anda in for a two-and-a-half-hour seminar.  165 people came. Walla Walla is featured in the documentaries “Paper Tigers” and “Resilience”. Walla Walla has a population of 32,000 people. They have 3 colleges, yet one out of four of their children live in poverty, 65% of its residents have not attended college, and gangs and drugs are common.

Again, these are a few initial bits of info. Much more to come! Stay tuned!

Trauma-Informed Criminal Justice

I woke up this morning feeling deeply grateful (and a bit tired . . . and relieved) for the experience this week of offering trainings about trauma to the staff of Lancaster County Prison and Lancaster County Adult Probation & Parole. And, as has been the case throughout my career, I feel like I learned more from them than they did from us.

Six days, eleven classes, 261 trained LCP staff and 44 trained Probation & Parole staff later, here are a few insights from this week:

  • Corrections professionals have some of the most stressful and under-appreciated jobs in our community. The situations they are exposed to and required to handle are often traumatic, yet there’s a general sense that they have to just “deal with it” and “be strong.”
  • One of the things Grace Marie Hamilton taught me is that she always made sure she showed as much care and concern for the people who worked within the criminal justice system as for those caught up in it – and I was reminded time and time again this week of how absolutely wise and essential it is for me to maintain that perspective.
  • Most of the people who came to this week’s trainings take their jobs very seriously, take pride in their profession, and care deeply about doing their jobs thoroughly and well. Many of them already do some of the things suggested in the training. Yet, the nature of the work can take a huge toll on them, and for some, can lead to cynicism, detachment, diminished capacity to show empathy or compassion, and a belief that nothing will ever change – including the people under their “care, custody and control.”
  • The lack of adequate mental health treatment and resources is a genuine crisis in our criminal justice system (not just here in Lancaster – this is a problem in prisons and jails across the entire country – see https://stepuptogether.org/) – and as a result, staff are placed in the untenable position of having to deal with the significant mental health issues of incarcerated people without access to the necessary mental health expertise and resources to truly address people’s underlying needs. This creates an enormous amount of additional stress and trauma for the staff.
  • As we talked about the connections between trauma, addiction and mental health issues, we acknowledged that much of what’s historically been done for people with mental health and addiction issues is like giving someone aspirin and an ice pack for a broken leg: while those measures might temporarily relieve the pain and reduce the swelling, the leg is still broken – and if what’s broken inside is never addressed, it may continue to “cripple” the person.

I’m deeply grateful to my training team: Allison Weber (SACA), Vanessa Philbert (CAP), Jen Strasenburgh (CompassMark), & Angela Keen (CCP), and my fantastic RMO interns (both Millersville University students) Lindsay Mays (MSW candidate) & Beckah Shenk (BSW candidate).

We are also very grateful to the Walters / Unitarian Church Trust, an endowment from Art and Selma Walters to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster (UUCL) for funding part of this training through a grant to the RMO. In awarding this grant, the UUCL Board has acknowledged the contributions of the RMO to achieving the vision of inclusiveness among all humans as well as respect for the dignity and worth of each individual, as promoted by the Walters Trust and UUCL. We are deeply honored to have been awarded this grant from the Walters Trust and UUCL.

This first round of trainings for prison and probation/parole staff is the beginning of the RMO’s effort to build the foundation for a trauma-informed criminal justice system in Lancaster County. There’s more to come…but I’m hopeful that this week’s trainings helped to start the conversation.