As part of an effort to be better informed on priority outcomes for the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, First 5 LA Commissioners heard a panel of experts speak at the September 11 board meeting on the topic of trauma-informed care.

“This panel discussion is very timely in terms of the strategic plan,” said First 5 LA Acting Chief of Programs and Planning Teresa Nuno. “This presentation will inform our strategy.”

Sam Chan, district chief of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, began the presentation by stating that half of children in the United States have had one adverse childhood experience. Childhood trauma and toxic stress can lead to lifelong trouble, he added, so it is important to improve capacity to deliver patient-centered trauma-informed care.

Elisa Nicholas, chief executive officer of the Long Beach-based Children’s Clinic, followed up by saying that experts are not advocating the elimination of stress in children’s lives, since some stress is positive, like failure, which can help us learn. But toxic stress – unrelenting stress with no break – changes the brain’s architecture, leading to decreased judgment and executive functions and increased school failure and behavioral problems.

Childhood trauma and toxic stress can lead to lifelong trouble, so it is important to improve capacity to deliver patient-centered trauma-informed care.

Increased training and education on trauma-informed care is critical, Nicholas said, because it “teachers people and providers to think not ‘What is wrong with you?” but ‘What has happened in your life?'”

Nicholas, who presented a short video, commended the Commissioners for putting an emphasis on trauma-informed care in the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, calling it “very forward-thinking”.

Leslie Ross, vice president of the Leadership Center at the Children’s Institute, Inc. in Los Angeles, concluded the presentation with a question: “How do we expand trauma-informed care into other arenas?”

Challenges include training gaps, cultural differences, teacher training and caseload balance, Ross said.

“I think it would be wonderful to create cross-system collaboration ‘communities of learning’ so that we can all be on the same page regarding trauma-informed care priorities and agenda,” Ross said.

First 5 LA Commissioners responded with compassion to the presentation. Commission Chair Don Knabe, who works to prevent child sex trafficking, said that those young girls have gone “through Hell and back”. Commissioner Dennis said “We can’t talk about work in Best Start Communities unless we talk about trauma-informed care. This affects our strategies.”

Commissioner Jane Boeckmann was moved to tears by the presentation, simply saying, “Anything we can do to help.”

Following the trauma-informed care presentation at the board meeting, Commissioners discussed and reviewed emerging programmatic strategies for the strategic plan, which are being refined by First 5 LA staff and the Learning for Action consulting team. The next strategic planning review and discussion before the board is scheduled for October 9, when the strategic planning team is expected to present an initial draft of the plan.