All across the country advocates, social service programs, health clinics, child welfare agencies and other providers are taking action to help children and their parents address the impact of violence and abuse. Since the 1980’s providers have been exploring different methods of serving children and there are many lessons to learn from. Whether you are doing group work, individual work, play therapies, collaboration or recreation, there are lessons to learn. Here are a few themes that have emerged:
- Leadership, Relationships and Culture matter
- Not all kids need clinical services, but all need advocacy
- Research and Evaluation don’t have to be scary
- Trauma informed Care applies to Advocates too
- Sustainability of programming should be considered early on
In almost every community that is implementing programming for children or collaboration efforts with child protection, similar themes seem to re-emerge. Of course, there will always be unique differences given demographics, geography, size of programming etc- but many communities can find similarities and can pass on wisdom to other programs.
Leadership. We all know that leadership matters and that different types of leadership exist. Almost all programs say that they need the Directors of their program to be on board if something is to truly succeed, but what are some other examples of good leadership? One advocate talked about how her excitement (leadership) for the project got the best of her and she found herself steamrolling over people to get them to do the right thing. Once she realized that wasn’t effective, she had to look at herself and do a course correction. That’s leadership. She noticed dramatic positive changes in the advocates practice with children once she slowed down and met them where they were at.
Relationships. What can we say? Not much gets done without them. Create opportunities for people who need to work together to know each other and find common goals. In one of the communities, people from child welfare, domestic violence and tribal communities had to figure out how to start relationship building and they had great histories of distrust. (Sound familiar?) They chose to shadow each other and spend a day in the life as a way to really understand the others perspective. It works!
Culture. All of the communities are working with different cultural groups, with different languages, histories and norms. Make sure you include culturally specific partners from the beginning of your project if you can. Bringing people along to an idea once it’s already been decided is likely to be difficult. If you don’t have a choice, it’s ok to admit that you wished you had asked earlier. Keep the door open for partners to add and adapt the idea. Hiring staff from and including members from the community you are working in on all program decisions including training and tool development is essential to ensure relevance and buy in. And don’t forget to document any changes to model so you can measure the outcomes based on the adaptations.
Advocacy Vs. Clinical Services. We know more than ever about the impact of violence on children’s emotional and physical development. This knowledge has swung the field towards developing mental health based clinical interventions for children and parents – and while SOME families need mental services, not all do. Services should be driven by what the family wants and should include advocacy and support for parents and children as they navigate complicated systems. Mental health services are only one possible part of the intervention picture.
Research and Evaluation. It’s really important to keep asking ourselves, “Is this working” and “how do I know”? It may be that you have the capacity in house to figure out these questions, collect necessary data and document the answers- or you may have to look outside. Do you have any college or university in your community that can partner with you? Advocates have learned that these relationships work best when partnerships between researchers and advocates are built on mutual respect and understanding.
Trauma-Informed Care. Learning how to practice advocacy with a trauma lens helps everyone, including advocates. One of the sites who is implementing trauma informed care strategies saw great changes in self-care for the advocates working with children. There is no better gift you can give yourself than to take care of you while you take care of others.
Sustainability. Funding for children’s programming is often the first to get cut and all of the hard work to develop new services and partnerships can quickly disappear. It is essential that programs are strategic from the very beginning of new grant cycles to consider how to embed the new programming into existing structures that will carry on after the grant is over. Think creatively about other funding streams – what is your community already funding that have similar goals that might take on some of this work? Can you blend funding to ensure staff positions are able to be sustained if one funding source is lost?