"The city at large is trauma-filled. Parents are experiencing trauma every day. It has become normalized … and they don't understand how it impacts not only them but their children," said Jennifer Maddox, executive director of Future Ties. The nonprofit provides year-round mentoring, tutoring, and enrichment programs to low-income and at-risk youth and helps parents build technological and other life skills, escape domestic violence, and mentor young people in their community. Future Ties is based in Parkway Gardens, where the risk of exposure to multiple forms of traumatic stressors, including community and domestic violence, is very high.
Last week, Maddox and the Future Ties staff participated in a two-day training session on trauma-informed care organized by the University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement and its Community Programs Accelerator. The training was led by specialists from La Rabida Chicago Child Trauma Center (CCTC) and made possible through a grant from Allstate Corporation that supports strengthening trauma-focused services for youth who reside in Parkway Gardens by enhancing and more fully integrating social-emotional learning into Future Ties’ programming.
Trauma can impact children and adults in many different ways. For example, trauma can affect a child's health and brain development, self-esteem and problem-solving, and ability to form healthy relationships. Trauma-informed care is a system in which caregivers and service providers develop an awareness of trauma and its potential effects. In the training, seven elements of trauma-informed care were introduced, including, safety (physical and psychological), relationships and trust, empowerment, and historical trauma and structural inequity.
"For kids and families that experience a lot of trauma that often means your power and your voice has been taken away. You want to try to give as much power as possible back to families," said Dr. Catharine Thomann, clinical supervisor of CCTC.
Maddox believes the training will help her staff get Parkway Gardens parents the help they need to process their trauma so they can, in turn, help their children and other youth in the community.
"Many of our young people are not talked to in a way where they will open up. We figure because you're not an adult you don't have things that impact your life. But things that impact your parents impact you," said Maddox.
"There's a history and legacy of trauma in this country that we've built our communities upon. Understanding Chicago's history of segregation and discrimination and how that has led to complex trauma reactions within the population" is a critical starting point, said Theresa Valach, clinical director at CCTC.
As a member of the Community Programs Accelerator for three years, Future Ties has received a range of support that has changed as the organization’s needs evolved. In the first few years, the Accelerator helped the organization with basics like creating a budget, securing grants, writing its first strategic plan, and building its board. Now that the organization has built that solid foundation, the Accelerator is assisting as it seeks to expand its programming to reach more kids and address their full range of needs.
“We were thrilled to connect the Future Ties to this opportunity to advance its strategic goals through Allstate’s generous support. Under Jennifer’s determined leadership, the organization has grown from a small after-school program to a major force in Parkway Gardens,” said Ryan Priester, director of the Community Programs Accelerator. “The trauma-informed care training is in perfect alignment with her interest in using a best-in-class approach to directly address the high levels of trauma exposure the youth they serve experience.”
During the session, Valach stressed that while building safe, healing relationships can be difficult for people who experience trauma. It's a critical element of recovery. The trusting relationships that Maddox and her staff have built with children and youth through Future Ties has helped to promote resilience in children and families and put the organization in a strong position to begin to reverse the pattern of trauma that afflicts many residents.
"We have to [be] that calming voice to get them to feel more comfortable so that we can get them help if need be," said Maddox.
Dr. Brad Stolbach, co-founder of the CCTC, now an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the UChicago Medicine, joined at the conclusion of the training. He discussed violence recovery initiatives at the hospital and provided insight into how Future Ties can tap into the many trauma-focused services UChicago Medicine offers to the community.
By Tonia Hill