By SARA ARTHURS
An inaugural training session for the newly formed Hancock County Trauma-Informed Learning Community Team was held Tuesday at Blanchard Valley Hospital.
The team includes representatives from more than 20 organizations including mental health, law enforcement, schools, health department, courts, Job and Family Services and several nonprofit organizations, who are teaming up to gain a better understanding of how survivors of trauma can suffer physical and mental health consequences many years later.
The meeting was the first in what will be a yearlong process.
“What we’re trying to figure out is what helps and what hurts,” said Precia Stuby, executive director of the Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, which organized the event.
Amber Wolfrom, director of planning and accountability systems for ADAMHS, said examples of trauma include child abuse and neglect and, in adulthood, being a victim of a violent crime, serving in combat or experiencing a natural disaster like a flood, among others. What makes an experience a trauma is not just what happened but the impact it has on the person. Sometimes a combination of many experiences may be traumatic. Two siblings might experience the same thing and it would be traumatic for one but not life-altering for the other, she said.
Cheryl Sharp and Karen Johnson from the Washington, D.C.-based National Council for Behavioral Health were the speakers for the daylong training. Sharp encouraged attendees to look “through this trauma-informed lens” and to be willing to ask if their client has suffered trauma.
“You can change a whole environment by the way people are treated,” Sharp said.
Sharp said adverse childhood experiences can lead to health problems even into adulthood including a higher risk of diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and some cancers.
Survivors of such experiences tend to try to cope “the best they know how. … Some people might use drugs or alcohol, or overeat,” she said.
Stuby said the team effort grew out of the Hancock County community health assessment. A steering committee looking at the assessment identified obesity, substance abuse and violence as the three priorities to address and there was a lot of discussion of the need to “get to the root cause”.
A $30,000 grant from Handbags That Help funded the team, with an additional $10,000 contributed by the ADAMHS board. Stuby said when ADAMHS approached Handbags That Help for funding the effort was described as a “legacy project” which will have effects for years to come.
Individual agencies will communicate with the National Council for Behavioral Health over the next months. The entire group will meet in February and again in August 2015.
“This is just the beginning,” said Wolfram.
Representatives from several agencies said they were finding the training relevant.
Sgt. Matt Kinsinger with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department said he and his colleagues hoped to learn how to better assist crime victims as well as those accused of crimes by “learning how to identify trauma.”
Melissa Meyer, chief clinical officer at Family Resource Center, said many of the families who come through the Family Resource Center have experienced trauma. Meyer said “simple things such as our tone of voice or our body language” can make a difference.
Barbara Dysinger, a professional counselor and a member of the Findlay City Schools board, said understanding how trauma interferes with a child’s education, and addressing that trauma will be better for both children and their teachers.
Dysinger said the community will benefit from the fact that many organizations are working together on the effort, with each possibly able to help the others.
Findlay Deputy Health Commissioner Barb Wilhelm said she sees the Hancock County community “really does want to work together.”
From a public health standpoint high ACE (adverse childhood experience) scores can be linked to the very issues the health department is looking to address, such as substance abuse, obesity and violent behavior, Wilhelm said.
Jill Stonebraker, administrator for children’s services with the Hancock County Department of Job and Family Services, said many of her clients have survived trauma and she and other professionals want to help them feel safe.
She said just “being more aware” that clients may have these experiences is important.
Wolfrom said the more that professionals are “all talking the same language,” the better.
“It just promotes the healing further,” she said.
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