One in eight children experience ill-treatment. Of those, over half that are reported to law enforcement are screened out. Of those that are investigated, between 20 to 40 percent are actually substantiated, said Dr. Katherine Courtney, co-author of “Anna, Age Eight: The data-driven prevention of childhood trauma and maltreatment.”
The question posed by Courtney is, “Why do we focus on the aftermath and not the root cause?”
The Hernandez Community Center on Nov. 14 hosted 56 of Rio Arriba County’s health care and family services professionals in what will be the first of many think tank discussions centered around the development of the Anna Age 8 Institute.
Northern New Mexico College President Dr. Rick Bailey said the group will meet on the College’s Española campus in the future.
He said the Institute will address Courtney’s question and provide a central nervous system for myriad agencies already addressing family and childhood trauma issues in Rio Arriba County.
“There are a multitude of agencies and individuals who are doing Herculean work in the County right now to help address childhood and family trauma,” he said. “The challenge moving forward is how we leverage all of that great work and enhance it.”
The College, Courtney and stakeholders from around the County would have to come together and support one another for the Institute to be cohesive, he said.
“There are groups like the Rio Arriba Health Council and Las Cumbres who have done cross institutional work, so this isn’t new,” he said. “We have been trying to do this. But there is a sense that there are still silos that need to be broken down and we need to look where we are duplicating efforts and streamline some of that and make sure that we are using resources in the best way, because everyone is under-resourced.”
The “siloing” of resources and groups prevents a systematic solution to trauma that is preventative and proactive, Courtney said.
“For example, when something horrible happens to a child, the outcry is, ‘CYFD (Children, Youth and Families Department) is terrible and what do we do to fix them?’” she said. “When actually it is multiple systems that have failed that kid and that family up to that point. The way that they try to hold people accountable is trying to find one person or one thing that went wrong, but it isn’t that simple.”
The 30-minute sitcom model where, no matter what happens, no matter how horrible the effects, that everything will be alright by end of the show is not a realistic approach. Courtney said generations have been affected by various external and familial traumas that have shaped actions and destructive habits, hence the need to plan slowly and gather input from all community members. That is why the Valley is an ideal place for the Institute.
“I think that it (Española) is a community that prioritizes kids and family more than most communities,” she said. “So, we don’t have to sell the concept that this is something that can benefit the community or that focusing on strengthening families and preventing bad things from happening should be the number one priority in a community.”
Initially some people might be afraid that once the Institute finds any services or positions that are redundant, they may lose their jobs, she said.
“That isn’t what it is about,” she said. “It is about strengthening what people are already doing. We need to demonstrate this concept, that is the only way that stakeholders are going to believe us.”
10 task forces
Courtney and Northern are developing the 10 task forces that will make up the Institute, each led by knowledgeable community members already in the trenches.
The task forces are centered around 10 areas of focus that Courtney and co-author Dominic Cappello pinpointed in their book.
These areas are separated into two categories, survival and thriving, which feed into one another and are vital in the overall preventative functions of the Institute.
The five areas of survival focus are: behavioral health, medical care, housing, food access and transportation.
Only after people’s lives are improved in those five areas can the Institute’s leaders start helping them thrive, she said.
The five areas of thriving are child care services, early childhood programs, youth mentor-ship, parental support and job/career support.
Organizing and hiring the people to lead the task forces would be up to Courtney and Capello.
“The Institute would be to create a funding mechanism that leverages the work that is already being done and add precious resources to that effort,” Bailey said. “The College’s place and the Institute’s place would be providing resources in terms of accumulating data on childhood and family trauma, looking at trends and determing what is working and what is not working based off the input of those already on the ground.”
As it stands, the Institute has a home at the College, but, as is always the case with community efforts like this, the first step is funding, followed by finding the right local leaders, Courtney said.
“Then bringing together the existing services and breaking them down into task forces,” she said. “Assess, Plan, Act and Evaluate, that is our mantra. Researching solutions, what is working, what isn’t, is there a solution? The planning phase is key, because it is often skipped in a lot of aspects. It is the trend to jump on something that may work, we want to get the numbers and really plan based on the data that we have found, and what we know the community needs.”
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