What is research-informed practice? Simply put, it’s being informed about current research on what helps children (and their mothers), what doesn’t help, and using this knowledge in your practice and in your organizational decision-making. That’s it. Whether you have a big program, a small program or no program, research-informed practice can help you get started or enhance what you are already doing. Research can help you be informed about your decisions about practice with children and also support the ordinary magic that can happen when you spend time with a child or teen in your program.
Every day, there are multiple situations that advocates have to respond to when it comes to children and youth. Sometimes you provide planned and structured activities but often your everyday interventions and decisions seem to just happen. Particularly, if your program is a residential program, the majority of time for children is about just living each day. Some models have been developed such as the Sanctuary Model, to look at complete organizational change that supports children’s healing in residential settings but if you’re not ready for that, there are other things advocates can do.
So, how do we get started? Research from trauma theory and protective factors for children exposed to violence tell us some important and similar information when it comes to helping children. Look at list below, can you identify activities that you already do that promote these things for children? Can you identify ways that you already support mothers in promoting these things for their children?
- Culture matters (cornerstone of identity)
- Mastery is important (doing something well and finding control)
- Promote soothing (emotional and physical)
- Fostering Connections with peers
- Talking and other forms of expression (art, music, dance) are critical
- Safety is not just physical or individual, but it’s emotional and matters in group settings
- Telling the story and making meaning out of the experience-(understanding what happened)
- Reclaiming power
- Supporting mothers and children together
Here’s an example- Maria- is a children’s advocate who currently had 6 children (ages 3-7) living at the shelter. She asked one of her colleagues, Kary to help her with a field trip for the kids so they could have fun and the moms could have an afternoon of respite. Sounds like a good idea…Where should they go? Is two staff adequate for 6 young children that have undergone great stress? Will there really be safety in that group? Will kids feel in control? Will this exacerbate separation anxiety or issues of mistrust?
Here’s the counter example, Maria brings her list of research tips to staff meeting/supervision/team meeting and says I want to plan a field trip for the kids this weekend. I just want to make sure we’re being intentional about all the ways a field trip can not only be fun, but build kids assets in ways we know are important. Can we brainstorm this together? They come up with a plan to have two staff and a volunteer (safety ratio) take the children to a puppet show. Perhaps not all of the children go on the field trip, as it may be too much for some to be separated from their mother (emotional safety). They continue to use the puppet theme for the next month, by making sock puppets- that are culturally relevant (culture matters), and work on a script that children make up (sense of control), they practice (mastery) and perform (expression) for the staff and parents (praise for children’s performance)
There are countless examples of how to use research to inform our practice. Overtime, this becomes easier and it gives us a way to talk about our work and look at the outcomes and make changes as necessary. Every activity or interaction with a child doesn’t need to hit every indicator but safety (emotional and physical), culture and control always matter.