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Local Collaboration to Enhance Prevention Efforts Through Shared Messaging

Shirley Ritter directs Kids First, an early childhood resource center serving Pitkin County. Read her reflection on promoting local collaboration for preventive efforts and how Kids First used Early Childhood Shared Messaging as a tool to support these efforts.

by Shirley Ritter, Kids First in Pitkin County

“We live in such a beautiful place. Look at the blue sky, the aspen trees, the mountains, even the babbling rivers; what could possibly be stressful about living here?”

This is often the first response I get from community members when I begin a conversation about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) or toxic stress. No matter where you live, we know that young children are at risk for stress, triggered by multiple sources, that can have life-long consequences. We also know that with supportive, responsive relationships, these effects can be prevented.

I’d thought about this issue, and worked with other local agencies to plan for prevention programs for children and families; our agency also provides family education based on “emotion coaching” and the work of John Gottman. It still felt like this issue was not getting the attention it deserved. When I heard about the efforts of the Early Childhood Colorado Partnership (ECCP) to share common messaging across the state, that partners have been working on positive and effective messages, and that there was a mini-grant available, I was sold.

We used the mini-grant funds to pay for a graphic artist who used beautiful pictures of children incorporated into the shared messages developed by ECCP and stakeholders, who by the way know a considerable amount more about this topic than do I! The shared messaging having to do with children who thrive, about prosperity, and about resilience really resonates with families. I am writing this in the hope others might be inspired by have done in other communities; that we will all approach families in a way that shows we understand. Toxic stress is described as prolonged adversity, such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate adult support. In addition to the ECCP, there is a wealth of information at Center for the Developing Child at Harvard to help you understand and convey important information about what children need to thrive.

Our next steps included adding a page to our website with basic information, local resources, and websites with helpful information for families. We used the materials we developed on social media, local newspaper advertising, and on our website.

I asked our local partners that serve children, youth and families to link to our webpage and share our message on their social media. There seems to heightened awareness lately for prevention programs, but not everyone knows just how young that starts, or exactly what that could look like. I am a big believer in collaboration, and this effort has reinforced that for me, and given us all so many ways to paint the picture of what it looks like for kids to thrive in our communities, and our state! Let me know what you’ve found to be successful so we can continue to share in this success.

Reach out to Shirley at shirley.ritter@cityofaspen.com

Moving from Surviving to Thriving in the Child Welfare Workforce

As part of an ongoing series on Colorado’s early childhood workforce, and in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention month, the ECCP is highlighting voices of those working to support the child welfare workforce. See Lorendia Schmidt’s post from earlier this week, and now hear from Kim DuBois, a partner working in Pitkin County, on challenges and possibilities connected to supporting a strong child welfare workforce.

by Kim DuBois, Adult & Family Services — Pitkin County

Research shows that the health or “well-being” of the child welfare workforce is directly tied to safety and permanency outcomes for children served.  In our small county of Pitkin, we have grappled with this issue for some time.  This issue is not a “new” problem in child welfare—we know this because decision makers are constantly looking for solutions for this great challenge at the local, regional, state and federal level. We all realize that this work is difficult and that caseworkers often do not make it beyond 18 months on the job.  If a caseworker remains beyond 18 months, we know that secondary trauma (stress caused through learning about the first-hand stress and experiences of another) that caseworkers experience poses a great threat to their own health.  This “burn-out”, in turn, results in working in environments where the workforce is in “survival mode.”  Decisions are sometimes based out of emotion—fear or lack of emotion—numbness.

We know the problem, we know the impact, but we are really having a hard time figuring out a solution.  There are no black and white answers for this and it does not fit into a neat package.  How do we even define workforce well-being and how does this relate to the definition of child, youth and family “well-being?” This issue sometimes seems too big to tackle.  Why? Maybe because we are looking at this through a limited lens. In our field, we all understand safety and permanency—we can measure that. The health and well-being of children, youth and families is not so easy to measure. So maybe it is easier to look at it this way: safety + permanency = well-being. The reason for this is that safety (not being physically or emotionally harmed or neglected) and permanency (consistent connections and a sense of belonging) provides a sense of well-being (in the 14th century this meant to “fare well”, more recently this means “welfare”.)

What if our child welfare workforce (and the broader early childhood system serving children and families) “mirrored” and integrated safety + permanency = well-being into our organizations?  Some may call this the “X factor”—“a circumstance, quality, or person that has a strong but unpredictable influence.”  Or, maybe it is not “unpredictable influence.”   Maybe it is predictable–who we are, what we value and how we show up with the people that we work with makes the difference. How are people their “best selves?”  Well, if we look at our model for child welfare it is:  Safety first. What happens when people feel safe?  They trust, they connect, they move out of reaction into healthy action.  They move from surviving to thriving.  Once we have safety, we build trust and then we feel belonging, connectedness.  Let’s call this permanency.  All of this does not change the work that we are called to do, but it changes how we do our work.  And, that creates workforce “well-being.”  The work that we are doing matches up with what we know and how we do it—congruency, integrity.

We are learning these things in our small county because we heard this message a few years ago.  We were struggling with issues of recruitment, retention, reactive decision making, increased out-of-home placements and fractured relationships with each other and with our families.  When we heard this message shared by Amelia Franck Meyer, (CEO of ALIA), we could not “un-hear” it.  We had no choice but to move forward.  That is when our work with ALIA began.  ALIA is an organization that partners with public agencies to guide them through personal and leadership transformations to create healthy cultures to increase the stability of the workforce and advance outcomes for children and families.  The tag line of ALIA is to “KNOW Better, DO Better and BE Better.”  We KNOW better and we are starting to DO Better and, ultimately, we will BE Better.  We don’t know if this is THE solution.  It is the best solution that we have right now and the beauty of this is that we are always learning and transforming.

We are not trying to “sell” this—we want to “share” this because we (those who work with children and families) are all in this together and we all understand the challenges.

We would love to share more you about this process.  If you have questions, please contact me at kim.dubois@pitkincounty.com or the team at “ALIA.”

 

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