When it comes to trauma-informed practice, communities are leading the way for the country

Nico Connolly

Last week, America’s Promise Alliance brought together an impressive gathering of leaders from national youth-serving organizations, community organizations, philanthropy, schools, districts, and state education agencies to share how their work in research, practice, communications, and policy is furthering a whole child approach and, in the process, impacting young people’s lives.

To further the momentum we sparked that day, my colleagues at the Center For Promise released a new research brief, Creating Cultures of Care: Supporting the Whole Child through Trauma-Informed Practice about an essential component of better supporting the whole child: trauma-informed practice. I am hopeful that this publication will be a helpful resource for folks in communities across the country.

At America’s Promise, one of the best parts of my job is that I get to work with six community partners across the country that along with several key national partners represent a joint effort called the Every School Healthy campaign. One fundamental purpose of the Every School Healthy campaign is to identify and elevate promising solutions and useful insights that other changemakers working to improve learning environments for youth can learn from and even build upon. This is the first of several research briefs that identify and elevate what we are learning together.

The six Every School Healthy community partners, or acceleration sites, are working to create school and community environments that support the wellbeing of youth and adults, and where every young person feels safe, supported, and empowered to be their whole selves.

We believe that this aspirational vision of positive developmental settings can’t be accomplished without reckoning with the obstacles that exist in too many young people’s lives and the effect that those obstacles can have on our young people that often determine how they show up in school and in their communities. Given the prevalence of both adversity and related trauma in many young people’s lives, it’s our opinion that trauma-informed practice is essential for all youth-serving settings.

We know that to promote both healthy development and positive educational outcomes for youth, youth-serving professionals, community leaders, and policymakers are increasingly infusing trauma-informed practice into their efforts to serve young people in schools and in the broader community. Creating Culture of Care takes a deep dive into the literature related to positive youth development, trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s), and toxic stress. The brief combines that existing research with two case studies on how community-based organizations in St. Louis and in central Oregon are each partnering with schools to support youth and adult wellbeing.

Creating Cultures of Care is also jampacked with helpful resources from organizations like Child Trends, Turnaround For Children, and the US Department of Health and Human Services. The authors also provide ideas and helpful perspective on how we as a field can measure assess the impact of trauma informed practice moving forward.

At the very least, I’d urge you read closely and carefully about the work happening in St. Louis and central Oregon. There is power in the lessons that are our partners in those communities have learned. These folks, together with their local partners, are doing groundbreaking work that holds the potential for shifting how we think about both educating and healing our youth in schools.

We should all follow their lead. Only by working together can we heal as communities and, heal collectively, as a country.