Karen Bouffard, The Detroit News | Published 7:29 p.m. ET Jan. 1, 2020
Starfish Family Services, a Wayne County-based behavioral health nonprofit, makes 300,000 meals annually for children in their programs, preparing breakfast, lunch and a snack for 719 kids for most weeks of the year.
It’s a Herculean task for head chef Shaune Fairley and his two assistants, who cook the meals every morning at headquarters in Inkster for transport to centers around Southeast Michigan. They do so 41 weeks of the year.
If that’s not challenging enough, they work from 60 different menus to accommodate children’s food allergies, and religious or cultural food restrictions.
There were 156 kids with food allergies last year, some so severe that their food must be transported separately.
“We have 86 (different food) allergies, diabetics, gluten-free, religious beliefs, lactose, citrus, every kid has a different allergy,” said Fairley, noting that each specially prepared meal is delivered in its own separate package.
The food is critically important for some of the region’s tiniest residents, said Cynthia Bonk-Foley, food services manager at Starfish.
The homemade meals are prepared with fresh ingredients for infants, toddlers and preschoolers at 18 Starfish centers across Inkster, Detroit, Plymouth, Livonia and Dearborn Heights.
“We do it because we do believe food powers the mind. You can’t learn anything unless you’re fed and happy,” Bonk-Foley said, adding that conversations at mealtime are a big part of the learning experience.
“This gives our children the opportunity to really sit down with their teacher and talk about the food, the color, the shape,” she said. “It’s a language enriched experience.
“A lot of our kids don’t know what a cucumber tastes like or looks like. Some children have never seen broccoli. Children, after two or three times of trying something new, will really latch on to it. They see their friends eating something, and they say I want to try that too.”
For Chef Fairley and his assistants, the day starts at 5 a.m. Monday through Friday. They have it down to a science.
“We come in, take care of our food allergies, by the time we hit the floor we’re working,” he said. “We plan our meals, sort it out and deliver it to all of our sites.
“I have one person who works on allergies and religious (food requirements), one that packs, and I do all the cooking. Then we all come together to clean and sanitize the kitchen.”
The crew prepares a full breakfast, a full lunch and a snack for each child.
“We have waffles, pancakes, McMuffins, we have fruit every morning and milk,” he said of the breakfasts. “We have cereals — all of ’em are low sugar.”
Lunches include mac ‘n cheese, chicken a la king, burgers and veggie burgers, tacos, chicken and other kid favorites.
“We have peas and carrots, all the healthy steamed vegetables, cucumbers in the salads,” he added. “For snacks, we have Goldfish crackers, cheese sticks, hummus — and they love yogurt, they love the Teddy Grahams, and they love the Goldfish.”
The babies and tots are enrolled in federally funded Head Start and Early Head Start programs, or the state-funded Great Start Reading Readiness program for 4-year-olds, Bonk-Foley said.
It cost an average of $6.43 to feed each child per day, and federal and state funding don’t cover the full cost. So the nonprofit’s staffers have learned to make dollars stretch and rely on charitable contributions from the community. More than 2,000 volunteers help with their programs across the region.
“We’re so grateful, but we totally rely on private philanthropy,” Bonk-Foley said.
“We want to be able to not just feed our children — children are also hungry to learn. They want to know what a pineapple tastes like.”
A Michigan teacher becomes part of a team of people that helps a traumatized boy. Along the way she must rely on her training and strength.
Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press 9:00 a.m. EST Dec. 13, 2019
Children in Crisis series: Former Free Press Columnist Rochelle Riley studied how trauma and toxic environments impact how children learn. She unravels this issue through the eyes of three children and their caregivers in Detroit, Romulus and Flint. And she offers some solutions to ensure that children are mentally prepared to learn.
Young students who have suffered trauma or adverse experiences typically get either no help, little help, or, if they’re lucky, help from special angels.
In the case of Michael, whose learning was impeded by trauma, his angel was Amanda Beck.
She was his social worker, his guardian’s confidante and his teacher’s support.
It was not an easy job.
The first time she met Michael, she had to take the next day off from work.
“I could not move forward,” said Beck, 29. “I took a mental health day and returned the next day, so I didn’t have to take his trauma into the next session with another family.
“For the first couple of meetings, it feels really overwhelming,” she said. “It almost feels like digesting. Then you say, ‘All right. Now we can work.’ “
Beck has been a counselor for four years and worked with Michael for a year and a half. She is among thousands of Michigan social workers, counselors, teachers and clinicians helping children who have suffered adverse childhood experiences or ACEs. In some instances, the circumstances and damage have been severe. And Michigan’s colleges, like others around the country, are just catching up to the level of trauma the angels are facing on the front lines.
Beck’s job is in the spotlight at a time when school districts across the state and around the country are seeing shortages in the number of teachers necessary to provide effective learning and in the number of social workers to help remove barriers to learning. But even as the caregivers struggle, two things have become evident:
- Children, bombarded by increasing emotional and physical abuse, abandonment, exposure to violence either directly or indirectly need more help than ever.
- Teachers and social workers dealing with a relentless litany of the mistreatments and horrors children bring to them, must be trained to handle the secondary trauma that affects them.
“We’re not just dealing with trauma for students,” said Michelle Davis, dean of climate, culture and community at Davis Aerospace High School in Detroit. “Teachers are experiencing trauma on a regular basis. When you are in an environment where you are listening to very traumatic stories, stories that are having an adverse effect on children you love and when you are the caretaker of someone who is suffering, that transposes onto you.”
She learned at Starfish
That Beck is able to juggle the workload and the pain is a testament to where she was trained.
She works for the Inkster-based Starfish Family Services, a tiny agency in a small town that is making a big impact across Wayne County.
Starfish had been around for decades operating an early childhood education program and a separate children’s mental health program.
“We worked in those separate lanes,” said Ann Kalass, who has been CEO at Starfish for 12 years since leaving the Ford Motor Company after 14 years.
But “we learned that children don’t live in systems,” she said. “They don’t live in early childhood. They don’t live in mental health. They don’t live in juvenile justice. They just live. And they cross through these systems.
Kalass said that, as Starfish began understanding the prevalence of trauma suffered by their young clients, they decided to change the entire focus of their center.
“We recognized how that trauma also existed in the families we were serving in our early childhood programs, and we really saw trauma as an issue,” she said.
Starfish, she said, created a bridge between services so they could help children and families with all their needs at once — and in one place.
Starfish, which works with hundreds of families and children a year, consolidated the services they once offered in four different places all in one space for children up to age 6, creating a neighborhood of services to make it easier for families to get help.
Thanks to that Partnering with Parents Center in Dearborn, families used to going to one location after another all over the county now get all the services at one time.
“We had a lot of focus groups with families and a lot of what we were hearing was that they were tired of having to go four, five sometimes six, locations to get the services they needed for their children,” Gillian Ogilvie, who manages the center, said in an interview.
“We had kids who had such diverse needs, and they had providers all over the county, in multiple buildings,” she said “And our families were saying how challenging that was, traveling and building relationships with different centers.
At that time, more than 70% of the children seen by Community Mental Health officials in Wayne County had experienced at least three traumatic events that could affect how they think and learn. Most of those children were from Detroit. All of them needed more than what is typically and currently offered by public school districts.
And that hasn’t changed. And it won’t change without people understanding that children must be prepared to learn and then must be taught, something that families, elected officials and others in positions to help, must understand.
Kalass said her journey from a career in autos to a career in healing happened because of how she realized she was living.
“I come from what I call a privileged place,” she said. “It’s my life experience of coming from a stable family of teachers who believed in the worth of all people that allows me to see in our work the disparity in neighborhoods and families.
“I’ve seen what’s possible. I’ve seen great public education. I’ve seen strong neighborhoods where everyone goes to the same schools … where people feel safe,” she said. “To come to Inkster and see what wasn’t available for children and families. … I just really feeling disgusted with myself for not understanding how big that gap was. It fuels my passion for creating stronger education opportunities for kids and helping them get to their full potential.”
As important as helping the children, she and other staff members at Starfish said, was the need to teach counselors and social workers how to provide self-care, so they would not fall down an abyss of sadness dealing with children in distress.
Kids aren’t the only ones who suffer trauma
Starfish equipped Beck to handle cases like Michael’s. But Beck said each new beginning is difficult.
“The hardest part is meeting the family and feeling overwhelmed by everything that family holds.,” she said. “I get a really clear and thorough picture of what somebody’s life is like, because even though you’re there and listening, no one hides what they do. … I think you just get a very authentic view of what life is like for your patient.”
“I know next week I have two intakes, so that’s going to be a little bit more emotionally draining of a week,” she said. “I’ve got two new stories, two new families, two new people to get to know and have to figure out. And that’s hard! “
Beck said that each case is different, but her time with 75% of her clients usually ranges from six to nine months. And what some people don’t realize about social workers and clinicians is how much they care.
She recalled a recent goodbye to a 12-year-old she’d been working with for months.
“She’s transferring to outpatient,” Beck said. So, she’ll still have a therapist through Starfish. But I won’t get to work with her anymore, and so, for me, that feels like a sadness and a loss.”
Beck also has developed ways to keep her own stress to a minimum.
“I pay attention to the times of the day of when I meet new people or new clients,” she said. “It’s really helpful that they’re not the last person that I see in the day. But for other people, it’s the exact opposite. They like for it to be the last person that they see, and then they go home.
She also never listens to the radio right after meeting a client.
“That’s the time that I do a lot of processing.,” she said.
She also uses breakthroughs with one family on another family.
“There’s just different pieces where I can draw some parallels and feel more comfort in saying out loud that these aren’t impossible problems,” she said.
Beck also finds comfort in her family, her husband of three years and the 7-year-old daughter they adopted last August. Her husband also is a social worker, a man she met in college when she was a theater major, working as director or stage manager of productions that included “Into the Woods” and “The Outsiders.”
Her husband, she said, is one more person who understands exactly what she’s going through after difficult workdays.
“It’s really nice to have someone to understand what this feels like without having to over-explain something that’s happened,” she said. “Like last night, he said, ‘How was your day?’ And that answer to how was my day is very complicated. …”
Beck said that routine also helps.
“I make coffee for myself every morning,” she said. “And I’ve been lighting candles maybe for about a year now. … It grounds me to sit down and not move forward too soon.”
The joy of a breakthrough
Her work with Michael, which lasted more than 18 months, was like riding a roller-coaster.
“Our relationship has always been such a cycle,” Beck said. “He deals with a lot of avoidance and a lot of barriers, and he uses a lot of language to put those things up.
“He is someone who really cares a lot about what people think of him and social perception,” she said. “So, where some other kids would be really excited like, ‘Oh, my person is here!’ — he is someone who wants things to be private. He doesn’t want people to think he needs help. … So, when I say it’s been really a long road. …”
But she also remembered their first breakthrough moment, that instant when Michael began to trust her after she had spent a year as his home-based therapist.
It was after he moved in with a guardian and began living in a stable home. A few months after that, when Beck stopped by Wick Elementary for their regular session, she started their session the way she always did: “Is there anything I can help you with today?”
And he said: “ ‘My anger. I think I need some help with that. So, you could do that.’ ”
Beck agreed with Michael’s teacher that, had he not been a victim of severe neglect and physical abuse, there is no telling how much farther along he’d be in his studies.
He is “a very smart person, and it’s hard to know what that would otherwise look like,” she said. “I know that because of his trauma, especially at a younger age, his behaviors looked like diagnoses that he doesn’t have, that he clearly doesn’t have. And so, I know that he wouldn’t have been identified in kindergarten and first grade as someone who needed an IEP (individual education plan) for these behavioral concerns. These behavioral concerns are pretty clearly the impact of trauma and his experience with that in terms of his cognitive functioning.”
What could be more heartbreaking than watching a child want to do more, be more?
And Michael always knew what he wanted. Thanks to counseling and a loving teacher and counselor, he was finally able to say it.
“ ‘I want to live with (my guardian) forever, and I hope she never dies,’ ” Beck says he told her. “He was really relieved when that home became his home. He said, ‘She’s my favorite person next to God. God’s my favorite person and she’s my No. 2.’ ”
** The Free Press and Starfish chose not to provide Michael’s real name to protect his privacy and his future.
ESTELLE SLOOTMAKER | THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 07, 2019
SECOND WAVE — MICHIGAN
This article is part of State of Health, a series examining integrated care and its potential to improve Michiganders’ health. It is made possible with funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.
A new trend in pediatric care – offering behavioral health care at the pediatrician’s office – could not only cut costs but also create healthier, happier communities in the future.
“We know children eventually grow up and become adults,” says Michelle Duprey, director of integrated healthcare at Inkster-based Starfish Family Services. “Children with undetected medical and behavioral needs become adults who have more extensive and expensive medical and behavioral needs.”
The costs communities incur as a result aren’t limited to providing care. Adults with untreated mental health issues may find it difficult to hold onto family or relationships, and even harder to hold down a job. Communities not only lose productive members but also experience escalating costs associated with covering social services, substance abuse treatment, and, in some cases, court and incarceration costs.
One of Starfish Family Services’ newest integrated care projects, “One Location, One Visit: Pediatric Integrated Health Care in Wayne County,” is transforming two existing pediatric primary care practices. Using its Pediatric Integrated Health Care model (PIHC), Starfish integrates behavioral and medical care for children by deploying Behavioral Health Consultants (BHCs) to primary care, pediatric, and OB/GYN practices.
“When it comes to programming for behavioral health and mental health, a lot of times our system makes rules and programs for adults and forgets the kids. Well, when we do the same thing for the kids (as for adults), it doesn’t work,” Duprey says. “Children have many developmental stages between (age) 1 and 21 and so many different risk factors. … (Mental health issues) you see in an adult started in childhood most of the time.”
Duprey is a national subject matter expert who literally wrote the book on PIHC: the Pediatric Integrated Health Care Manual. The focus of her career has been integrating mental and behavioral health into primary care, pediatric, and obstetric practices. It hasn’t been an easy task. For one, neither public nor private health insurance systems have developed fair payment systems for integrated care. Starfish Services’ projects have had to seek grant funding in order to keep integrated practices afloat.
Second, medical doctors often feel their role is solely to do medical work. They may fear that lack of time, training, and resources for referrals will make adding mental health services cumbersome and impractical. Duprey says she had to “pound the pavement” to find two pediatric practices to join the new program. One of the pediatricians was skeptical, but relented and let her give it a try.
“After a year, he said, ‘I don’t think I can practice without you. You’ve transformed my viewpoint of whole-person care and whole-family care,’” Duprey says.
Pediatricians who do give it a try find that integrating behavioral health into their practices creates efficiencies. When a patient makes a behavioral health need known, the pediatrician can hand the patient off and move on to their next appointment.
“The behavioral health worker provides resources, action plans, and brief interventions,” Duprey says. “If a client is identified as needing more help, we help them navigate that (mental health) system because we know it.”
Vice versa: Judson Center
With services in Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland, Genesee, and Macomb counties, Judson Center is integrating care the other way around. Historically a provider of behavioral health services, its latest project, launched in February 2019, adds primary care to its menu of services. Using the Patient Centered Medical Home Model (PCMH), the new clinic addresses patients’ needs holistically with consideration for their social determinants of health. In addition to medical and mental health, patients benefit from adjuncts like nutritional counseling, educational programming, and introduction to other community resources.
“We knew it was important to have a clinic that could provide whole-person care, most specifically to a behavioral health population,” says Susan Salhaney, chief operating officer of Judson Center. “We have our largest behavioral health clinic in Macomb County. 50% of those folks refer through community mental health. Two-thirds of them are children. Based on our surveying, many were not routinely getting the primary care they needed. Sometimes we think of children as little adults, but children’s behavioral health needs are distinct and impacted by stages of development.
Judson Center is partnering with healthcare management organization MedNetOne Health Solutions for the primary care piece of its practice. The partnership is a truly integrated model that allows for both practitioners to engage with a patient during the same visit. Patients with challenges like finding childcare or transportation are more likely to receive all the care they need when they don’t have to schedule additional appointments at another, potentially unfamiliar practice. Community health workers on Judson’s staff remove barriers to health by helping patients find transportation, food, or needed items – in one case, a vacuum cleaner.
In addition, this integration allows the staff at Judson Center to address issues like anxiety and depression that often accompany medical conditions, or to discover a child’s ADHD has been misdiagnosed and is really the result of having experienced trauma.
“When behavioral care with a child or family is addressed in a team environment, you can identify the condition with the behavioral health and primary care providers and see them both at the same time. It’s not, ‘We’ve identified this and now they have to make an appointment and travel five miles to see someone else,’” says Ewa Matuszewski, CEO of MedNetOne. “We’re looking at making primary care available at the point of care and establishing great relationships with the family or caregiver.”
Lunchtime chat yields transformational partnership
Alexandros Maragakis, assistant professor in Eastern Michigan University’s (EMU) psychology department; and Blake Lancaster, assistant professor at University of Michigan (U-M) Medicine, met one day for lunch. Both were working on integrating mental health care into medical care practices – a pediatric setting, in Lancaster’s case. Both saw integrated health settings as the future of behavioral health care, and both agreed that traditional training didn’t properly prepare psychologists for that future.
So they decided to begin addressing that by creating the Michigan Medicine/EMU Integrated Pediatric Behavioral Health Training Collaborative. The collaboration will provide specialty training in integrated behavioral health for doctoral trainees in psychology during their practicum, internship, and post-doctoral studies.
“(We decided that) if we started people at the practicum level and (continued) throughout their progress through the training pipeline, not only would they be more skilled but they’d … be able to go out into the field and start their own integrated health clinics,” Maragakis says.
The collaborative received a $326,000 Michigan Health Endowment Fund grant to get the program started. Maragakis says EMU will cover the practicum side of the programming, while U-M will handle intern and post-doctoral programming. He says the collaboration has led him to spend a lot of time at U-M, “creating new clinics and testing new methods of service delivery that otherwise would have been impossible for us to do.”
“We are creating a nice bridge between the university training side of things and the hospital training side of things,” he says.
Maragakis says the goal is to not only train practitioners for Michigan Medicine systems but to also equip a new wave of behavioral health professionals who will serve other medical systems throughout the state or open their own integrated practices — and reach the many underserved Michigan children who need behavioral health care.
“We know that the sooner we address behavioral health in children, the less likely it will impact them later on in life,” Maragakis says. “There is a lot of benefit to addressing problems as soon as possible for the child and family. The faster we can do that, the higher the chances (are that their) family follows through and the child gets access to care they need — and the more likely we can create an overall healthy community in the future.”
PUBLISHED JUNE 26, 2019 BY ERIN EINHORN – CHALKBEAT
It was a Friday morning in early May, just before Mother’s Day, when a group of preschool teachers settled onto oversized pillows and colorful beanbags for a conversation that would lead to tears, frustration and — eventually — a sense of clarity on a delicate matter involving a child.
Karen Massingille, a preschool behavioral health therapist, sat on a tiny child’s chair, looking at the nine women seated around her in a cozy, carpeted corner of the sunlit room.
She took a few deliberate breaths, then started to speak.
“It’s Mother’s Day,” she said. “Anybody have any plans?”
Her question seemed like a lighthearted inquiry and, indeed, it led at first to answers about planned barbecues and family gatherings. But Massingille’s goal was not lighthearted conversation. She wanted these teachers to talk about mothers — the ones in their own lives, and the ones in the lives of their students. She wanted to know their frustrations and their fears. And she wanted them to discuss them here, in this room, so they wouldn’t come out later in the classroom.
The women around the circle work with young children at the Starfish Family Services Center on Hiveley Street in the inner-ring Detroit suburb of Inkster, where a third of residents live in poverty. The federally funded Head Start preschool program where they teach serves some of the city’s neediest families, including children who face hunger, violence, or fear at home.
These teachers see the impact of those challenges on their students every day — in the loud, disruptive behaviors they see in some children, or the quiet sadness they see in others. They fret about some of their students, bringing that worry home at the end of the day. For some, that can trigger difficult memories from their own childhoods. For others, it can affect their interactions with their own families.
“It’s not every child you take home with you,” said teacher Melanie Swingle, who has worked at the Hiveley Street center for a year. “But some of our children, you think about them … You’re washing your hair and you’re like ‘I wonder if she’s going to get a shower today.’”
The weight of that worry is why the Hiveley center began holding regular monthly meetings like the one Massingille led before Mother’s Day.
The sessions use an approach called reflective supervision that has long been used in the mental health field to help therapists and clinicians work with their supervisors to process their feelings about the difficult situations they see in their work.
Reflective supervision is not used as often in education as it is in mental health. But Starfish Family Services, which runs the Hiveley center and 10 other Head Start centers in and around Detroit, started requiring all of its teachers to participate in group sessions like these four years ago as a way to help them cope with the stress of the job.
The approach is part of a growing effort across the country to recognize and address the impact on educators of what’s known as “secondary trauma,” the distress that comes from learning about difficult things that have happened to others.
As educational research increasingly highlights the role that trauma plays in causing challenging student behaviors and in influencing teachers’ responses to them, more schools are adopting what’s known as trauma-informed practices to help teachers better respond to their students’ needs.
Kathleeen Mulrooney, a program director for infant and early childhood mental health for Zero to Three, an organization that promotes early childhood wellbeing across the country, said that work is especially important for teachers who work in early childhood education.
“Babies and young children stir up very strong feelings in the adults that are a part of their caregiving network,” Mulrooney said. “And because brain development is happening so quickly [at that age] … being able to shape that social emotional development in positive ways is of critical importance.”
Although early childhood educators don’t necessarily have higher rates of depression or anxiety than the general population, research has shown that an early childhood workforce that’s mentally healthy can provide higher-quality care to children, and that programs that build teamwork, respect, and stability at work can improve teachers’ mental health.
That’s the motivation behind a number of steps that Starfish has taken to support teachers, said Brianne Twombly, who is the organization’s manager of trauma-informed care.
Teachers at the Hiveley center are encouraged to share how they’re feeling every day on a board in the school’s office so staff know who might need extra help each day. If teachers need a break, they can go to a lounge that has snacks, drinks, and a massage chair.
And once a month, they gather with their peers and their supervisor for hourlong reflective supervision sessions where teachers can talk through the things that are bothering them.
Teachers say it’s made a difference.
“It makes us better teachers because we’re not carrying it inside,” said Angela Prater, an assistant teacher who has worked at Hiveley for 16 years. “We’re able to release it.”
When she gathered the teachers of the Hiveley center for their reflective supervision session in May, Massingile touched only briefly on the subject of Mother’s Day before turning to the real purpose of the discussion.
“Speaking of mothers,” she said. “What I wanted you guys to think about today was the mother or father in your classroom that you greet every day and you take home in the evenings. This is the mother that you hold. This is the mother that you hate to see coming. … This is the mother that you look at and smile.
“Who is that mother?” she asked. “You don’t have to say her name, but just talk about that mother.”
She stopped and waited as the room went silent. Some of the women gazed at the floor or looked out the window until, eventually, one teacher decided to speak. She invoked a young child in her class.
“I worry about the whole family,” she said. “There’s a lot of anger at home right now.”
A colleague of hers responded.
“I know who you’re talking about because I think about them too, actually,” she said, as her voice began to shake and she started to cry. “I’m afraid it might turn violent. From what I’m hearing now, it’s just verbal abuse, but I’m afraid it’s going to change. Or it’s been in my head, I wonder: Has it changed and you don’t know about it?”
The child these women were worried about has a parent they fear is being mistreated by someone at home. They’ve gotten unsettling reports of the family that have trickled into the school from friends and neighbors. But they’ve been hesitant to approach the parent, worried they could say something that would result in the child being pulled from school. For some of their students, school is the safest place they can go.
“It’s heartbreaking,” one teacher said. “We’re the outsiders looking in. We can see through the glass but can’t say anything.”
The hourlong conversation, which a Chalkbeat reporter observed on the condition that no teachers or children would be identified because of the sensitive nature of the discussion, covered a number of subjects, including the promising breakthrough one teacher felt she’d had with a difficult student.
As they talked, some women sipped on coffee. Others nibbled on snacks.
But when the conversation drifted toward possible solutions, such as the family therapist the teachers thought could intervene with the parent they had concerns about, Massingile gently steered the conversation back to the women in the room.
“This isn’t the place to fix it,” she told the circle, noting that Head Start social workers were already working with the family. “Part of taking care of yourself is … finding somewhere to put it and believing that what you did was good enough.”
It’s difficult to know how many schools across the country are taking steps to address secondary trauma or to actively support the mental health of educators.
Though the federal Office of Head Start requires substantive supervision in Head Start centers and offers online resources to providers that want to use reflective supervision, it does not collect data on how many centers use these kinds of tools.
Sarah Neil, the manager of effective practice for the National Head Start Association, which advocates on behalf of the federal program, said she’s seeing more Head Start programs taking active steps to support the emotional wellbeing of staff members.
For now, she said, that’s mostly the larger Head Start providers that have more resources. But in the coming years, as more educators work to address the role trauma plays in students’ and teachers’ lives, she predicted more will sign on. “You’ll see that growing dramatically across the field,” she said.
At the Hiveley center, site leader Krystle Dionise said she’s seen major changes in her school since the reflective supervision sessions with teachers began.
She credits the program with the drop in teacher turnover she’s seen at the center. Last year was the first time that all of the teachers she expected to return for the new school year in fact returned. She’s also seen changes in her staff, she said.
“I’ve noticed that my staff are more empathetic to each other,” she said. “If they see a staff member in the hallway, struggling with a child, having a difficult time, they’re more willing and receptive to jump right in and help. There’s more of a family we’ve created.”
Twombly, the Starfish manager of trauma-informed care, said those changes are also playing out in the classroom.
“The classrooms look different,” she said. “They have more joy in them. The teachers are feeling more confident. More competent. More calm when they’re in there.”
Before, teachers would respond to tantrums or behaviors such as hitting or toy-throwing with judgment, “saying ‘that kid is doing that on purpose. That kid is bad,’” Twombly said.
Some teachers blamed themselves, thinking they weren’t doing their jobs effectively.
Now, she said, reflective supervision and other trauma-informed practices have helped reframe the problem for teachers.
“When they’re able to process what’s happening to them and understand why the child is engaging in that behavior, then they’re able to … look at it in a different way,” she said.
Shantell Buck, a lead teacher who started at Hiveley last year, said she often brings home some of the sadness that comes to school with her students.
“There are killings and shootings and things like that,” she said. “There’s a lot of community violence and there are a lot of kids who are very traumatized by the things they see in their home environments.”
Having a place to discuss all of that makes it easier for her to respond effectively to big behaviors she sees in the classroom, she said.
“I hold back a lot of emotions to just stay strong for that child so it helps to be able to let loose with my peers and see that we’re all in the same situation.”
Swingle, another lead teacher at the school, said she finds the sessions “comforting.”
“It feels good just to be able to say how your classroom’s been going without any judgement,” she said. “It gets a lot of frustration out.”
Swingle talked to a reporter about reflective supervision one morning in June as her young charges ran around on the playground. Afterward, she returned to her classroom where, as she was sitting down to teach a phonics lesson, she found she needed some of the tools she gets from the sessions.
Two children had been squabbling over a toy hammer when one of them picked it up and used it to hit his friend. Swingle rushed over to seize the hammer from the little boy, prompting him to scream.
“I want the hammer!” he shrieked.
She tried to calm him down, holding him and asking him to make a different plan, but he grabbed a fistful of her long hair and pulled as hard as he could.
She glanced around the room. Her assistant teacher had briefly left with another child and she needed backup immediately. She picked up the boy, who was screaming even louder than before and still pulling her hair, and carried him across the room. She picked up the phone, called the office and urgently asked for help.
It wasn’t until the assistant teacher rushed back into the classroom and took the agitated boy out to the hall that peace returned to Swingle’s classroom.
She then took a deep breath and composed herself.
“You want to know why I need reflective supervision?” she said.
She looked toward the door through which the screaming child had just been escorted, a nod to the difficult challenges she faces every day, and the compassion she needs to respond with patience and affection.
She had remained calm throughout the whole interaction and now the boy was out of her room in a safe space with another adult.
“That is why I need reflective supervision,” she said.
Then she went back to her phonics lesson.