As Ashland community members consider the meaning of trauma and the potential benefits of having a trauma-informed court, questions arise in my mind about what more could be done to develop a trauma-informed community.
Could Ashland be a model of what steps need to be taken to build a community that is not only trauma-informed and trauma-responsive, but is actually recovery-focused? What would it take to build and implement an approach that is truly multigenerational, that looks at abuse from a life course perspective?
Local media have drawn attention to trauma, raising awareness in our community. Some are reading about and talking about trauma, especially trauma faced by children whose parents abuse or neglect them, acts that may result in the dissolution of family structures.
Judge Karen SeSanto-Kellogg has forged a direction, building on relationships with community partners, for trauma-informed juvenile courts. Recently, there was a two-day conference addressing trauma-informed court, that can make a difference in reuniting, preserving, and healing families.
Trauma-informed care was a key component to what is referred to as the “three legs of the stool” framework, developed by the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Ashland County (MHRB).
Under Steve Stone’s and the Board Members’ leadership, this framework was established in 2014. The framework was the foundation for prioritizing, developing, funding, and evaluating services for individuals facing mental health challenges or substance use issues in Ashland County.
An overview of the framework was elaborated on and clarified in a document entitled “Our Human Community: Supporting and Promoting Attitudes That Do No Harm” (2019) www.ashlandmhrb.org/upload/ourhumancommunity_final.pdf.
The MHRB drew attention to the trauma of adverse childhood experiences and the ramifications at a major regional conference about ten years ago which served as a model for other conferences.
Also, their vision of addressing trauma-informed care was enhanced.
Trauma and violence must be looked at from a life course perspective. Notably, work done by the MHRB in the past aligns with the mission statement of the Academy on Violence and Abuse.
We must work to provide trauma-informed care across the entire age continuum. A multigenerational perspective, rather than just targeting parents and non-adult children, must happen for beneficial interventions to be the norm. A cycle of violence across multiple generations may characterize families.
Why don’t we take a look at the other end of the age spectrum, and talk about trauma from being a victim of elder abuse? Ashland is moving toward looking at elder abuse through a trauma-informed lens, to work with those who have been traumatized or who are risk of being victimized (e.g., isolated older adults) or at risk of being perpetrators of elder abuse toward elderly family members.
While research is not clear-cut about the relationship between caregiver stress and elder abuse, it has been found that there is value in receiving respite care by caregivers who are highly stressed and overwhelmed.
The Older Adult Behavioral Health Coalition of Ashland County (OABHC) organized and provided events related to Elder Empowerment throughout this month, with some events addressing elder mistreatment. During meetings of the OABHC, agencies/organizations are brought together to discuss issues related to older adults, to collaborate and to not act as silos.
However, older adults – who are not administration or staff at agencies – need to be at the table. A structure, which could be expanded, is in place for bringing different stakeholders together, especially if their work is made known to the public to a greater extent.
The development of trauma-informed courts – with partnerships with other agencies in the systems, all of which are trauma-informed — seems to be a clear path for the future. The end result will be to look at individuals who abuse and neglect their children from a non-criminal perspective.
However, we need to think hard about the pitfalls of aiming for restorative justice when working with family caregivers/members or guardians who have abused elderly relatives.
Clearly, we need to have community members learn about violence and trauma, trauma-informed care, and trauma-responsive care. Nursing homes are already mandated to provide trauma-informed care. Agencies must prioritize training their staff and volunteers about trauma-informed care, with them being closely monitored, and evaluated.
Likewise, any interventions that take place must be evaluated objectively in terms of outcomes. Feedback from all stakeholders must be secured.
Perhaps Ashland’s end goal should be to have a trauma-informed and recovery-focused community. We’re talking about the history of Ashland as we move forward – all documents, newspaper articles including opinion pieces should be retained and stored, and so forth.
We could be a model for other cities. We could draw attention to our challenges and accomplishments in making a community that is truly making a difference in the lives of those who have been victimized as well as those who have been perpetrators of abuse and neglect.
Diana Spore, PhD, MGS
Member, Older Adult Behavioral Health Coalition of Ashland County
Consultant, Adult Advocacy Centers