Professional Development

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What You Need to Know About Trauma-Informed Practices: A Conversation with Dr. Jamie Freeny

You've heard about trauma-informed practices, but you may not be sure of what they are, the benefits, and how to integrate them into your work. Recently, Dr. Jamie Freeny from the Center of School Behavioral Health at Mental Health of America Greater Houston joined Heidi Ham, Vice President of Programs and Strategy of NAA, to answer questions about supporting young people through use of trauma-informed practices.

Dr. Freeny began the conversation by giving a presentation to participants to provide context and offering background on what her work focuses on. Dr. Freeny shared the three things to know about trauma:

1. Contributing Factors.
2. Key Implementation Components
3. Whole Family Support.

Upon showing images of fast food restaurants and cigarette advertisements next to a school, Dr. Freeny pointed out that all the things participants were seeing and naming are the built environment for your neighborhood.

"So when we talk about social determinants of health, they are those things that affect everyone," said Dr. Feeny. "They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, play, pray or worship. and age. These are the things that surround us or that really have an impact on our daily lives and also have short- and long-term impacts on our health."

The five major components of the social determinants of health, according to the CDC, include: Education Access and Quality; Health Care and Quality; Neighborhood and Built Environment; Social and Community Context; and Economic Stability. When it comes to education access and quality, Dr. Freeny stressed how these factors could impact children and youth's ability to thrive.

"Not only are we talking about children's access to education, but also the quality of education that they're able to access," Dr. Freeny said. "Do they have the most recent textbooks? Do they have access to computers to access the things they need to learn? Does that school have funding in order to promote and provide those resources for students to learn and grow? The connection between education and health is that those who have more education tend to be healthier and those that are high school dropouts or don't have a GED or college degree tend to be on the less healthy side."

Dr. Freeny asked participants to think about what drives these factors, noting overall access is also a huge issue when it comes to additional areas like insurance, healthcare, food and transportation.

"Food insecurity is very real and is something that has always existed and is now being exacerbated by the pandemic," said Dr. Freeny. "We know that the childcare world and afterschool programs that really support children have also truly been affected for various reasons."

Continuing on with her presentation, Dr. Freeny shifted to discussing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which include three types: Abuse, Neglect and Household Dysfunction. She also described what some of the common causes and long-term impacts are, in addition to how to take an ACEs test.

"For children, those that have a score of four or more are two times more likely to develop depression, three times more likely to develop anxiety disorders and some of the more long-term impacts including an underdeveloped brain and/or damage to our under-activated brain," said Dr. Freeny. "Over time, their brain tends to normalize that fight, flight or freeze response, so they're always in survival mode and never really end up in the mode to listen, learn and absorb."

Dr. Freeny notes that 48% of children and youth have at least one ACE, while 22% have at least two ACEs.

"There are various types of trauma, but we don't talk about historical trauma as much anymore because I think people easily kind of dismiss it," said Dr. Freeny, using racism and discrimination as examples. "There'a genetic component to trauma that research has found can be passed on through generations and through families."

Dr. Freeny described the definitions of trauma and trauma-informed care, and stressed the importance of addressing each.

"Not only is this a method that we can employ to support people, but it is systemic," said Dr. Freeny. "This is something that has to be embedded in the system in order to truly make a difference. And it's not difficult to embed in the system! It's an ongoing process. It's something that's at a system level that everyone plays a role in."

The Guiding Principles to a Trauma Informed Care Approach include: Safety; Collaboration; Trustworthiness and Transparency; Empowerment; Peer Support; and Humility and Responsiveness.

Following the presentation, members were able to engage in a Q&A session with Dr. Freeny to further explore the topic of trauma-informed practices.

View the webinar in its entirety and access the resources mentioned in the conversation to learn more.

Courtesy of NAA.