CASA staff bringing trauma knowledge to Travis Co. CPS system

Apr 24 2014

By Charron Sumler and Manijeh Huereca

Last fall the Honorable John Hathaway charged CASA with the task of providing him with a list of local service providers who were trauma-informed.  Sharing the same desire to see what Travis County offered in terms of trauma-informed care, we jumped at the opportunity.  Being trauma-informed means that every part of an organization strives to have a basic understanding of how trauma is affecting children, a goal we have for our own organization.

CASA started with a team of Child Advocacy Specialists passionate about discovering the benefits of trauma-informed care for our kids and families. We set out to determine what providers were available and what being truly trauma-informed meant. We quickly realized that the system needed help in being equipped to respond to the needs of children and families, and were burdened by the thought of it being ineffective because of the lack of resources, service providers, training and education. Unbeknownst to the team, Dr. David Cross and Dr. Karyn Purvis of the Texas Christian University Institute of Child Development were looking for a community, such as ours, that was willing to think outside the box and put trauma-informed care into practice. 

During March and April, the TCU Institute of Child Development generously hosted a week long professional training program here in Austin on Trust-Based Relational Interventions (TBRI) developed by Dr. Purvis and Dr. Cross. TBRI is an emerging intervention model for a wide range of childhood behavioral problems that is effective in creating healing environments for children who have experienced relationship-based traumas such as institutionalization, multiple foster placements, maltreatment, and/or neglect. The basic principles of TBRI are connecting, empowering and correcting. Connection helps a child to build trust and a meaningful relationship with their caregiver/parent. Empowering helps the child learn to self-regulate. Correcting helps the child learn behavioral and social competence so that they can better navigate the social world they live in.

TCU Institute of Child Development

The TBRI training was long anticipated as we completed approximately 40+ hours of pre-training coursework. The training was fun, interactive, inspiring and emotional.  We began to see our children and families through a trauma lens and the vision of a trauma-informed community came into focus. It was a time to reflect on ourselves as well as the kids and community that we serve. We left feeling empowered, hopeful, and optimistic that our desire to work collaboratively and improve the outcomes for children, youth and families involved in the foster care system is closer to becoming a reality.    

“Individually, I hoped to at least leave with resources to use in my everyday work. What I left with, however, was something greater.  I now picture a community that is emotionally safe for children and families to grow and connect. This is something that we have truly gotten away from, especially in child welfare- I mean our kids are so used to sterile side hugs and high fives – they don’t know how to give and receive appropriate love and care anymore. When bad things do happen to children, I just want a system that helps children find their voice and be able to understand their experience instead of being so afraid of placement changes and continued abuse that they never experience felt safety. I now believe we are on the verge of something truly innovative that can change the way we work with and heal families.” – Charron Sumler, Team Leader

“As a professional in the child welfare field, I have an innate desire to give something positive of myself, something impactful, for the betterment of the children and families of our community.  I feel excited because there is a synergy in our community of professionals invested in utilizing trauma-informed care in Austin.  This was all brewing before Dr. Purvis came in town. Everyone was talking about trauma-informed care and what that is and what that’s going to look like.  Since the training and learning the principles of TBRI and how that can benefit our children, the vision seems so much clearer.“ – Manijeh Huereca, Transitioning Youth Specialist

Before the training we could tell you that we wanted placement stability for children and education for caregivers. We wanted birth parents to be able to use the court's intervention as an opportunity to learn the skills to heal from their own trauma and be emotionally present parents for their own children.  Now, we are equipped with the knowledge to empower caregivers and parents to do all of this. The hope is that our children know they are loved and worthy of love and that we all know their value and preciousness. 

Our internal taskforce is working hard to make training materials and continuing educations sessions available to our volunteers. There are resources and opportunities available now! Current volunteers are encouraged to attend the added trauma class that has been included in Class #11 of the CASA Volunteer Training curriculum. There you will receive an introductory course to trauma and the way it impacts our children and families. From the CASA library in the training room, we have added videos and books provided by TCU that further explore this area of research. The Connected Child, co-authored by Dr. Karyn Purvis, and The Out of Sync Child, written by Carol Kranowitz, are fantastic books that provide deeper meaning to issues related to trauma and attachment. In addition, we hope to roll out a Continuing Education training series later this year. For continued updates on research, materials and trainings in this field please visit the TCU Institute of Child Development website:

And if you're wondering about the puppet photo... in one of the nurture groups during the TBRI training puppets were brought up as a way to help children externalize situations by role playing puppets as parent and child!