All across the country advocates are taking action to help children and their mothers address the impact of violence and abuse. Since the 1980’s advocates 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. The four sites that have received funding under the FVPSA Expanding Capacity for Children program are implementing various programming for children but some similar themes have emerged. They recently had an opportunity to come together, share experiences and learn from one another. Here’s a few things they want you to know:
- Leadership, Relationships and Culture matter
- Research and Evaluation don’t have to be scary
- Trauma informed Care applies to Advocates too
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. Below you can see a sampling of what were learning in Alaska, Idaho, New Jersey, and Wisconsin
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. And don’t forget to document any changes to model so you can measure the outcomes based on the adaptations.
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.