By: Mary-Russell Roberson
June 1, 2023
A 2023 Preventing Child Trauma Summit Series Article
The necessity of making connections and supporting one another’s efforts came up frequently during a recent statewide summit focused on child trauma.
Melissa Clepper-Faith, MD, MPH, agreed. “We’ve forgotten we’re social animals,” she said. “We have to connect to survive and thrive.” Clepper-Faith is translational research program and policy coordinator at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG).
Just as connecting individuals can help heal psychological wounds, forging connections across organizations can lead to larger, possibly even population-level, impacts on healing from historical wounds and making progress in reducing their effects. “Collective action has the greatest potential for collective impact,” said Diana “Denni” Fishbein, PhD, director of translational neuro-prevention research at FPG.
Many of the dozens of organizations represented at the two-day summit, “Leveraging North Carolina’s Assets to Prevent Child Trauma,” are highly collaborative and inclusive in their work, building relationships to bring to the fore all the necessary voices, skills, and experiences needed to protect children. However, for some organizations and agencies, collaboration is the mission: they aim to seek and foster partnerships, host networks, support community coalitions, or provide technical support.
Collaborating with North Carolina State Agencies
At the state level, there is an office dedicated to fostering collaboration. “The work we do is 100% with partners across state government and research institutions, including universities and community colleges, and philanthropy,” said Jenni Owen, MPA, director of the North Carolina Office of Strategic Partnerships. Owen encouraged summit attendees to reach out to her office if they have a need that could be met by any of these groups.
For those who have information they want to share with an agency, she issued a plea for co-creation, “Don’t wait until you’re done with the incredible journal article with policy-relevant findings. If you’re about to do a set of interviews with children in Durham, come to government and say, ‘We’re going to do interviews; would you like us to add any particular questions?’” This sort of inclusive approach ensures that the data collected reflect a fuller range of perspectives and interests.
Connecting, Aligning, and Supporting
Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina (PCANC) is creating a network to support local family-support organizations statewide. Crystal Kelly, MSW, who is vice president for programs and policy at PCANC, said these kinds of networks are popping up all over the United States, with the aim of providing local family resource centers with funding (or advocacy for funding), professional development, networking opportunities, and evaluation support. “Our organization launched the family resource center network last month and we have over 20 [family resource centers] that have joined,” she said.
The Resilient NC Collaborative Coalition (RNCCC) is a voluntary group that gathers communities and organizations to help advocate for policy change and implement new policies. As part of their support for communities, RNCCC created a proclamation announcing Resilient and Thriving Communities Week (April 29-May 6) and provided templates for local governments to use. “We have created a beautiful resource guide, which we share freely and willingly,” said co-facilitator Tamra Church, MAEd, a faculty member at East Carolina University (ECU). RNCCC helps organizations interact with policy in both directions―advocacy and implementation. “We want to be that connection in letting people understand what your role can be in advocacy as well as empowering individuals and communities to be able to implement policies [promoting resilience] across the state,” said co-facilitator Jennifer Matthews, PhD, professor in the Department of Health Education and Promotion at ECU. For example, RNCCC can be a resource for organizations wanting to get involved in community decisions about how best to use funds from the opioid settlement.
On a national level, PACEs Connection provides a community of individuals, groups, and organizations working on initiatives related to PACEs, which stands for positive and adverse childhood experiences. Ingrid Cockhren, CEO of PACEs Connection, said, “We have 58,000 members and you are invited to join.” She spoke about the hard but necessary work of forming community coalitions to change systems. “PACEs Connection believes as we travel the path to a just society, we have to move all our systems and sectors from being trauma-unaware to being trauma-informed―and PACES-informed when we understand positive experiences act as buffers.”
Providing Data: The Healthy and Resilient Community Dashboard
Mebane Boyd, MSW, of the NC Partnership for Children has repeatedly heard the same questions from communities working to reduce trauma and increase resilience in their communities: “How do we measure this? How will we know that we’ve made a difference?” To meet this need, Boyd worked through the NC Healthy and Resilient Communities Initiative to develop a list of metrics for measuring the results of trauma prevention efforts. For technical expertise, she turned to the Cape Fear Collective, a nonprofit with six data scientists who support organizations working for social change.
The result of their work is the Healthy and Resilient Community Dashboard, hosted by Smart Start. The dashboard includes indicators related to the needs of young children as well as indicators that help form a picture of a community’s resilience. The data can be viewed at a county level, or in some cases, at a census tract level. The metrics and features available on the dashboard can help organizations identify strengths and vulnerabilities in their communities and track progress over time.
At this point, the dashboard contains 40 metrics related to population, education, health and health insurance, food availability, child abuse, housing, and more. A few examples of the data available: third-grade reading scores, high school graduation and suspension rates, overdose deaths, uninsured (by age), rates of suicide, low birth weight, community adversity index, and economic mobility index. Tabs at the top of the dashboard allow users to explore data on an interactive map, view trends, or download data.
“Please use the data,” Boyd said. “We want to hear from you. I see this community as our co-creators and this is version one. We will be making changes and we won’t know what kind of changes to make unless you let us know.”
Nick Pylypiw, MS, chief data officer at Cape Fear Collective, said he hopes the dashboard will be used to help organizations foster―and measure―real progress in achieving their goals. “We don’t have three years to admire these problems anymore,” he said. “Let’s try stuff. If it doesn’t work, let’s not do it anymore, and if it works, let’s do it everywhere.”
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.