Impact Austin awards $100,000 grant for Trauma-Informed Care!

Jun 25 2014

We are so excited to announce that we are a 2014 Impact Austin grant recipient of $100,000 to fund our Trauma-Informed Care in the Foster Care System initiative! The generous women of Impact Austin review the entire grant process and then vote between two finalists in each category (we were in the Family category) after a brief presentation by the competing organizations. Here’s the speech Executive Director Laura Wolf gave that night. We hope you enjoy it and that you learn a lot about this groundbreaking project to help change the foster care system for all children who’ve been through trauma in their young lives.

I wish you could meet Madelyn. She is a playful 4-year-old with eyes that sparkle like diamonds. But she wasn’t always such a delight. When CASA first met Madelyn, she had just been removed from her mom ---- having been homeless for much of her short life due to her mother’s mental illness. She couldn’t really speak and she didn’t make eye contact or interact with anyone. Living on the streets, she had been hungry a lot. When she came into foster care, she would ask her foster mom for “ice cream” which was the only word she knew for food. If her foster mom said no, Madelyn would have a meltdown – a temper tantrum that included throwing herself on the floor and urinating.

A year ago, we might have called this behavior obstinacy or defiance --- but now we know that Madelyn’s experience since birth made her afraid she might literally starve, and so she reacted out of panic.  Now we know that if we encourage the foster mom to give Madelyn some food when she asks for it, even if it’s ten minutes till dinner, Madelyn will feel safe and that feeling of safety will improve her behavior.

What’s made this difference? A nationally known expert on children and trauma from the TCU Institute on Child Development, Dr. Karyn Purvis, and the treatment method she’s proven to be effective with traumatized children, Trust Based Relational Intervention, or TBRI.

Children who have experienced abuse or neglect are invariably traumatized and foster care can continue that trauma through ordinary punishments like time-outs, or even through psychotropic medications. Dr. Purvis and her colleagues at TCU have asked CASA of Travis County to be one of the leaders in a visionary project to dramatically transform the way children in foster care are treated.

Very young children need to know that their needs will be met. Whey they cry, someone will hold them; when they’re hungry, someone will feed them. When children don’t have this sense of security, their feeling of safety in the world is damaged and their behavior may show signs of trauma. TBRI teaches us to respond positively, not punitively, and to build a relationship with children that allows them to feel safe.  Madelyn has made a huge turnaround with these techniques because she now feels safe.

Weighted Blanket - Trauma Informed Care

Program Director Key Richardson shows the women of Impact Austin a weighted blanket that can be a great therapeutic tool to help children who've experienced trauma to calm and regulate behavior.

This project will surround foster children like Madelyn with people who understand trauma. With knowledge of the impacts of trauma on children, and training in the evidence-based treatment of TBRI, CASA will ensure that children in foster care have more stable placements and faster paths to permanent homes. Dr. Purvis chose CASA to be one of the leaders of this effort because we serve 80% of the children in foster care in Austin... 1,605 children last year. CASA regularly interacts with and influences parents, foster parents, teachers, doctors, lawyers, therapists and others ---- all in the best interest of children. Because of the reach of our advocacy, CASA will be the linchpin in an overburdened system to ensure that everyone who comes into contact with foster children understands the need to respond not to a child’s bad behavior but to the trauma that underlies it.

With a grant from Impact Austin, CASA will create a “trauma team” to ensure that all the children we serve will have people around them who understand and respond appropriately to the impacts of trauma. We will train our 600 volunteers on the principles of TBRI. Our staff and volunteers who appear in court to speak up for children will now be able to educate the judges and others about effectively addressing trauma in children. The ripple effect of this project will be huge ---- we can forever help to change the way foster children are treated in Austin and even beyond our own community.

Impact Austin, with your help CASA will be a leader in a visionary effort to transform the lives of abused and neglected children from the desperate behavior created by trauma to the feeling of safety all children should have. With your help, we can make the foster care system better for children like Madelyn.