By: Mary-Russell Roberson
June 1, 2023
A 2023 Preventing Child Trauma Summit Series Article
Representatives from dozens of organizations working to help children and families shared their accomplishments and experiences at the statewide summit “Leveraging North Carolina’s Assets to Prevent Child Trauma,” with the goal of sparking new ideas and coming together to create change.
Here are some highlights from a variety of community groups, foundations, and nonprofit organizations that attended the summit.
Community Treatment and Services Centers
The Center for Child and Family Health in Durham and the Kellin Foundation in Greensboro are two community treatment and services centers with funding from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). Not only do these organizations support individual children and families, they also collaborate and provide services to other organizations and state agencies, and are leaders in the field of preventing and treating child trauma.
During a keynote address at the summit, Kelly Graves, PhD, the co-founder and executive director of the Kellin Foundation, shared the foundation’s Resilient NC Report, which includes eight strategies necessary to build resilience across the entire state: backbone support, public awareness, training, public-private partnership, cross-sector partnership, policy and advocacy, shared measurement, and local coalition support. Many of those eight strategies relate to ways of aligning and supporting current efforts with more coordination and infrastructure. “We’ve got a lot going on in North Carolina, but sometimes it’s not so coordinated,” Graves said. “We can take all this momentum and intentionally work to synergize it and mobilize it.”
North Carolina Chapters of National Organizations
Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina (PCANC) focuses on solving upstream problems to prevent child abuse and other types of child trauma. Sharon Hirsch, president and CEO of PCANC, pointed out that while incidents of physical and sexual abuse have declined since the 1990s, neglect has hardly budged. Neither has the percent of U.S. children living in poverty nor the minimum wage, adjusted for today’s dollars. “Nationally, 75% of child protective service cases are from neglect,” she said, “yet our policies and practices are not targeted to reduce those numbers.” She said policies that include economic supports for families result in significant reductions in child protective services reports and substantiations. “Parents can parent better when they are supported by their community and have the resources they need for their children to thrive,” she said.
In addition to advocating for policy change, PCANC also works with agencies and communities across the state to build capacity for providing evidence-based parenting programs and developing community prevention plans.
Family Connects International (FCI) is a home-visiting program for families with newborns that was first developed in Durham and is now being used in 52 communities in 20 states. In participating communities, all families with newborns receive a visit from a nurse. Kimberly Friedman, JD, managing director of external relations at FCI, explained the universal approach: “Every family has needs at the time of birth. When you offer services to everyone, you remove the stigma.” The home-visiting nurses can answer questions and direct families to local resources that they might be too overwhelmed to find on their own. A community alignment specialist creates and maintains connections with all the groups providing family-support services in the area so that the nurses know what’s available for families. The alignment specialist also helps facilitate collaboration and cooperation among community groups.
Local and Regional Efforts from the Mountains to the Sea
In Buncombe County, the mortality rate for Black babies was 3.8 times that of white babies. “It’s unjust; it’s unfair,” said Frank Castelblanco, PhD, the director of the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC), headquartered in Asheville. “I knew we had to do something different.” The first step was listening. “We started asking questions in the community,” he said. “We asked them how can we do this better? The community knew.” The result was a team of Black doulas who provide support to women before, during, and after labor and delivery, working alongside MAHEC’s physicians and nurse midwives in the hospital. Since the program began, the mortality rate of Black babies in Buncombe has dropped, although it is still more than twice that of white babies. “It’s still unjust; it’s still unfair,” Castelblanco said. “However, it’s a move in the right direction. It takes asking better questions.”
Robeson County is the home of many of the 55,000 enrolled members of the Lumbee tribe, the largest American Indian tribe east of the Mississippi. Jada Brooks, PhD, associate professor at the UNC School of Nursing, who is an enrolled member of the Lumbee tribe, does much of her health inequities research among the Lumbee in Robeson County. “Historical or intergenerational trauma undergird many of the health inequities experienced by American Indians,” she said. To promote mental health in American Indian youth, Brooks and her colleagues are training youth development specialists and Boys & Girls Club staff to use the Talking Circle, which was developed in consultation with tribal community members. “These types of approaches that are informed by indigenous culture show promise for supporting healing and wellness,” she said. “It’s important to offer culturally relevant programs.”
In New Bern, Peletah Ministries distributes healthy food, runs a private school (the Peletah Academic Center for Excellence), and provides mental health support to adults and children, in addition to a host of other activities supporting people in eastern North Carolina. “The work we’ve been doing is a holistic approach to doing the work of ministry,” said Gail Baldwin Gibson, PhD, the executive pastor of Peletah Ministries. “It’s not simply about having church on Sunday and Wednesday nights, but meeting the needs of people in the community.” Peletah was launched by Gibson and her husband just six weeks before Hurricane Irene hit in 2011. Peletah stepped up to provide crisis help. “We saw that whatever [need] was in the community at the time of the disaster, it was amplified by the disaster,” she said. During the pandemic, the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, recognized Peletah for its work to encourage vaccination among community members.
In Wilmington, Leading Into New Communities (LINC) helps people released from prison heal and grow into productive citizens by providing shelter and services. Among many programs at LINC is an urban farm. “We have it primarily because it creates a hymnbook where we can communicate effectively,” said Frankie Roberts, executive director and cofounder of LINC. “All the principles of life operate on the farm―sowing seeds, keeping the weeds and negative thoughts out. You can’t cram a seed in the ground and expect a good response the next day; it takes time.” LINC also works with young people to support them as they work to heal from trauma and achieve their potential. Roberts explained that LINC builds relationships and a community to provide a foundation where people can grow. “I don’t like the word help,” he said. “It’s arrogant. We should use the word support―how we can support this person?”
HopeStar is a grant-making foundation founded by Elizabeth Star, who spoke to the role that philanthropy can play. “One thing philanthropy is good at is seeding,” she said. “Seed a small idea and get something off the ground with the hopeful intention that funding will come to sustain it.”
Among other projects, HopeStar has helped fund some of the activities of the Chief Justice’s Task Force on ACEs-Informed Courts, which is seeking to educate and train members of the court system about the effects of trauma on children and launch some new programs such as Safe Babies, which reduces the trauma of going through the child welfare system for families and children under three. [Learn more about the Safe Babies program and other ways state agencies are addressing child trauma in our web article, Addressing Child Trauma in North Carolina: What State Agencies are Doing.]
“There is so much exciting work going on,” Star said. “Tying it together is something we can have as our North Star.”
The UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute's (FPG) FRONTIER program sponsored a statewide summit, “Leveraging North Carolina’s Assets to Prevent Child Trauma,” April 27-28, 2023. Nearly 150 representatives from academia, community and state organizations, lived experience, philanthropy, government agencies, and governing bodies convened in person, and approximately 230 people joined virtually. The summit was organized by Diana “Denni” Fishbein, PhD, director of translational neuro-prevention research at FPG, and Melissa Clepper-Faith, MD, MPH, translational research program and policy coordinator at FPG. This article is one of a series dealing with issues discussed at the summit; find the full series here.