In June, nine local early child care centers were awarded a total of $1.2 million in grants from United Way to equip staff to recognize the effects of traumatic events and support children who are experiencing stress.
The program is called “80×3: Resilient from the Start,” since by age three, 80 percent of the brain is developed. Funding was awarded to organizations that serve communities disproportionately impacted by poverty.
Jamie Bonczyk, program officer, explains that the grants provide fiscal support for educators and school leaders to participate in trainings and work with parents and the larger community to understand the effects of trauma. “[We are working] towards creating an entire region of adults who understand what children need and how to provide it for them,” she says.
Bonczyk says children have two deep biological needs: attachment to another person, and connection with their authentic selves. When educators can recognize the signs of trauma, they can help children fill these needs and support families by helping them navigate community resources.
Educator training will prepare educators to address their own trauma, as well as that of their young students. The administrator training is designed to equip leaders to support staff who have experienced traumatic events.
“Children watch what [adults] model; that is how they are building their own self-identity,” Bonczyk explains. “If adults are aware of their own trauma and can work through it in a network and a community, children will benefit.”
The trainings will be facilitated by the Minnesota Association of Children’s Mental Health, The Center for Inclusive Child Care, Think Small, and Propel Nonprofits. Curriculum will be based on the MN Knowledge and Competency Framework for Early Childhood Professionals. 80×3 is envisioned as a five-year initiative.
Linda Collins, a parent and teacher at Amherst H. Wilder Child Development Center, one of the centers selected to receive the funding, will participate in the training. “Some of our kids have parents in and out of the home, and they are moving from place to place, and kids don’t really understand what they are going through,” Collins says. “But if they have teachers who are trauma informed, we can support them when those experiences [negatively impact] their behavior and school performance.”
Dolores Jones is a volunteer and parent of a child enrolled at Wilder. “If [children] don’t develop coping skills, it can impact them for the rest of their lives,” she says. “As a parent, I am trying to process my own trauma and intervene in my kids’ lives to help them process theirs.”
Jones pointed out that there is a lot of unprocessed daily trauma in the Black community. A common survival mechanism is to practice mental and emotional avoidance, ignore it, overlook it, or pretend it did not happen. “Most of what I know about parenting, I learned at Wilder,” Jones says. “Like how important it is to stay open and willing to learn, be willing to listen to my children, take criticism, re-evaluate, and re-process things. There is always room for growth.”
Says Collins, “It is hard to develop a bond with children who are struggling with unresolved trauma. If they can learn how to self-regulate and manage their anger or sadness or fear, maybe they will make fewer negative choices that impact their lives long-term.”