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Creating organizational compassion is essential

by Meaghan Barone Toft, LCSW

Organizations providing services for vulnerable children face enormous challenges, in an age of fast changes and tight budgets. When interacting with a child and their trauma experience(s), our top priority is to provide emotional, physical, and spiritual safety within our entire agency. New Directions Youth and Family Services has invested significant resources to address this need, by developing a comprehensive trauma-informed orientation for every employee.

Our hard work was recently recognized by the McSilver Institute at New York University. The Institute is renowned for new discoveries about the root causes of poverty, developing evidence-based interventions to address its consequences, and moving quickly to put research findings into action through policy and practice.

Our collaboration with McSilver was part of a statewide collaboration to identify trauma-informed and resilience-based best practices. The collaboration also involved the Community Technical Assistance Center of New York and the Managed Care Technical Assistance Center of New York, which help human service agencies across the state strengthen their clinical and business operations.

The experience working with these organizations was particularly helpful in enhancing our trauma-informed orientation. When we first developed our plan for introducing the information, we focused specifically on direct-service workers. Through the collaboration, we learned that every employee needs the information, including those who are not providing direct services to children and families, such as administration, finance, and maintenance departments.

We believe every New Directions employee fosters resiliency and it is our duty to equip our full team, with the tools of trauma-informed practices. The dining staff serving warm nutritious meals, the support service teams that keep our grounds clean and beautiful, and the receptionists who might be the first person a visitor encounters, all contribute to a comprehensive trauma-informed setting.

Having every employee, in any role, grounded in a clear understanding of trauma-informed practices, is a critically important component in providing impactful services to vulnerable children and families.

The training opens the door for all employees to view others more inclusively. For example, when trying to understand the results of trauma, we are asking our staff the pause in their reaction to a negative behavior and consider what is behind the behavior, and think, “what’s happened to you” instead of “what’s wrong with you.” In tweaking the approach, we look at the whole person, instead of a behavior or poor choice. We are confident that our orientation will open new paths for conversations and compassion between employees, children, and families.

The number of children in our communities surviving trauma is growing. Delivering impactful services requires innovative approaches at a time when financial resources are limited. With dwindling government support, human service agencies are taking matters into our own hands, to ensure that we are meeting the needs of children, families, staff, and community.

Meaghan Barone Toft is the Adventure Recreation Director at New Directions Youth and Family Services.

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