Trauma informed care enters spotlight


By Sue Cody


The Liberty Theater was abuzz April 5, as people snacked on hors d’oeuvres and anticipated the first local screening of the documentary “Paper Tigers.” A crowd of 286 people gathered around displays from The Harbor, Northwest Parenting, the Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization and The Way to Wellville.


“Paper Tigers” tells the story of Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington, where students had a history of truancy, violence, expulsions, dropout rates and drug use. Through trauma informed care, students had a dramatic turnaround in their behavior. Violence decreased, attendance increased and more students graduated.


Dr. David Labby, retired medical director of Health Share of Oregon, gave an introduction that included statistics from Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) studies and the positive influence of educators who implement trauma informed care that takes into account childhood trauma.


The film revealed the harshness of difficulties students faced at Lincoln High. One young woman was kicked out of her home. A young man who didn’t see the point of going to school became engaged in school when teachers showed they cared. Then he had difficulty accepting success.


One repeated message was: Every student needs one caring adult.


Following the showing, there were few dry eyes. The stark frankness of the students’ stories struck many viewers on an emotional level.


After a break, a panel of professionals talked about the film and addressed questions from the audience as Master of Ceremonies Greg Peterson read them.


The panelists and audience members seemed to agree this model of compassionate trauma informed care is a good one to follow. The question was: How do we implement it?


The local picture


Debbie Morrow, The Way to Wellville advisory board member and Warrenton-Hammond School Board member, said, “A paradigm shift is happening.” She said she has talked to all Clatsop County school superintendents about setting aside the discipline behavioral plan, shifting from punishment to starting a conversation centered on trauma informed care.


“All five school districts in Clatsop County have children who are weighed down with issues that keep them from learning. Many are hungry, lonely, abused or neglected. Our kids are living in trauma,” she said.


“This movement is somewhat like the Civil Rights Movement,” said Liz Covey, a local trauma counselor. “We live in a society with a high rate of trauma across the entire population.”


“Trauma informed care is gaining tremendous momentum across the country,” said Diane Yatchmenoff, director of Trauma Informed Oregon. “Many adults have had adversity across their lifespan. A few years ago, it just exploded, especially at health clinics.”


“Statistics on overall health show why we must focus on trauma and disease,” said Sumuer Watkins, CEO of Clastop Behavioral Healthcare.


“Clinicians are in schools now so children have greater access to behavioral health help. Parents don’t need to take off work to get their child to a clinic,” she said.


Beginning early


Covey said, “All research shows we need to intervene as early as possible. Well-funded public health is where this will occur. Kindergarten readiness is not about reading or math skills, but about preparing children to control their behavior so they are ready to learn.”


“Many children are kicked out of the system before kindergarten,” Labby added.


When asked how to change, Covey gave some advice on the individual level. “Don’t give a child a tally sheet, saying this is good or this is bad. Don’t label them. Don’t keep them in from recess. If a child is acting out, engage them in changing their behavior. Ask, ‘What are you going to do to calm down?’”


Working together


Addressing ways to help, Morrow said, “The superintendents are on board. Let them know you want to be involved.”


Yatchmenoff offered, “Advocate for your school, get ACEs training to parents. Work on understanding and not activating trauma.” She suggested being pragmatic and going where your strengths are. “Not everyone will be on board, but keep going, keep talking.”


“You have a great opportunity here, because the community is well defined,” said Labby about Clatsop Conty. “It is a huge asset. It will happen because we will all go back to our organizations and tell them we care. We all need to hold each other accountable.”


Astoria High School Principal Lynn Jackson was in the audience and said, “The Astoria Alternative School is at the table with you. There are many stresses that affect us. We cannot do this alone. I commend the educators and health care professionals who are working with us.”


Watkins said there is guidance through the Sanctuary Model. It is an evidence-based, trauma-informed model that teaches step by step how to change organizational culture. She would like to secure funding for training. “We all have to do this,” she said.


Clatsop Community College’s Lives in Transition Director Margaret Frimoth stood in the theater and said, “We do this by treating each other humanely. Feel good about what is happening. This work feels good because it gets us to our place where we are at our best.”


The event was sponsored by The Way to Wellville, Providence Seaside Hospital and Columbia Pacific CCO.