Iowans Thrive Blog
Featuring stories, research, and news on Iowa's movement to respond to ACEs
Halfway into her son’s second baseball game of the day, Stephanie Reinhardt noticed he wasn’t playing third base. She went to the dugout and asked what was going on and he explained that his arm hurt. In the car on the way home, her son mentioned that he hadn’t played in the first game either.
“My own son didn’t play an entire game in the field and I didn’t realize it,” Stephanie says.
When Michelle Delong arrives home, she finds it difficult to focus on her boyfriend’s report of his day or doesn’t want to make decisions about what to do that evening after having made decisions all day. When eating out at a restaurant, she finds herself listening to other people’s conversations to look for safety or threats of safety.
These are examples the supervisors in Polk County Department of Human Services’ Child Welfare Division now recognize as the impact of trauma on their lives. Talking about these moments is a shift that’s happened as they have learned about secondary traumatic stress in the workplace and how to better support each other with difficult work that includes removing children from abusive situations and working with families who have experienced tremendous trauma.
By Emily Johnson, Teacher Well-Being Coach, Tuned In Teachers
Like many remote teachers, I have enjoyed donning yoga pants, a dressy blouse, and earrings when participating in online classes. As we move closer to the start of the school year, teachers will need to continue to wear their stretch pants as flexibility will be the way of classroom life for 2020-2021. We may have to change the learning environment with a day's notice, we may gain and lose students due to illness, and we may need to adjust our instruction in response to the changes around us.
Being flexible first requires us to acknowledge the feelings we have about the year ahead. While we have always experienced stress in trying to support all of our students’ needs and keep up with the demands of our professional and personal lives, this year has brought significant tensions, as we wrestle with grief, uncertainty, fear, and exhaustion.
Our ability to care for ourselves and create an environment of connection and support is critical to serving our students and their families, who are also facing similar tensions. To prepare for the resilience that we will need, we must ground ourselves in practices that support our well-being and the well-being of our students.
I would like to offer the following practices to create a foundation for us to react to changes in a more fluid way.
The work of supporting children and families is already incredibly difficult. Long hours, little resources, listening to stories about trauma, and having to make difficult decisions can all add up to feelings of burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress.
Then COVID-19 hit.
Iowa ACEs 360 has partnered with Chris Foreman (pictured here), a trainer, consultant and member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, to support supervisors in this time of crisis. Her training explains these tensions we and our staff may be wrestling with during this time:
Whenever Christine Her’s father desperately missed his parents, he would take their scarf up into the mountains and smell it. Living in Laos at the end of the Vietnam War, her father, along with millions of Hmong people, fled genocide by living in the jungles. At night, he and other boy soldiers, had to patrol the area, avoiding gunfire. They barely had anything to eat. Finally, after two years, a group of boys decided to flee to Thailand without saying goodbye to family. They intended to return with supplies.
But as they made the treacherous journey across the river into Thailand, they were captured by a Thai general, escaped, and then arrested for rushing into the refugee camp together. In jail, they were too weak to fight for their food and nearly died. Eventually, Christine’s grandmother, who had made it to a refugee camp years earlier, came for her father to take him to America. He never did make it back to Laos for his father.
Christine’s mother’s family also fled for Thailand and, as they tried to cross the river into the country, their boat nearly sank from the weight of everyone crowded onboard. Once in the refugee camp, her mother did chores before sunrise into the evening. Eventually they resettled in Hawaii, where Christine’s mom was bullied, and they were so poor that each family member had only one outfit.
The trauma Christine’s parents faced as Hmong refugees defined them as parents. Growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, Christine’s physical needs were met, but she was always pushed to do better. Her older sister was petite, soft spoken, and valedictorian of her high school class, and on a path to become a doctor. Christine was larger built, full of energy, and into music, art, and community service.
Jonat Gonzalez, age 26, has big goals for himself and his daughter. He wants to earn his high school equivalency diploma, secure a good paying job, and provide the best life he can for Adelyn, age 3. He wants his daughter to grow up healthy and do well in school.
These are goals Jonat has set over the past year, since he received a package in the mail that told him he was a father and that his daughter was going into foster care. While working to gain full custody of Adelyn and establish his life with her, he’s found support from friends and Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA) based in Marshalltown.
“It wasn’t hard to step into this role,” Jonat says. “The hardest part was finding the support to do it.”
Sheila Paul with MICA’s 2-Gen program, aimed at supporting parents and children at the same time on their path to financial stability, meets weekly with Jonat at his Montezuma rental home to talk about steps he can take to achieve his goals. Family Connections also visits every other week to work with Adelyn on developmental activities and with Jonat for how he can help his daughter with challenging behaviors, including occasional outburst at others and clinginess to him.
“Jonat is very open to us coming into his home and asking about resources and what areas he would like to continue to be supported in and he’s very goal oriented,” says Nikki Harter, who supervises the 2-Gen program at MICA and who initially worked with Jonat. "We talk together about how he is going to reach his goals and breaking that down step-by-step. He’s focused on what he wants for him and his daughter.”