What is at the root of community issues? It might be childhood trauma

In the 1980s, Allen County saw an increase in gang violence and drug abuse.

Looking into the root causes of these crises, Judge Charles Pratt and other members of the juvenile court realized that children who were affected by this trauma were not receiving the support they needed to break the cycle of violence and suffering.

Studies show that when a child experiences trauma in his or her developmental stage, it can result in significant physical complications for them as adults, if that trauma is not resolved or redirected, Pratt says.

In some cases, trauma can even lead to medical conditions, like addiction, heart disease, or cancer.

To help young people address and overcome trauma in healthy ways before adulthood, Pratt helped form and lead an initiative called Great KIDS make Great COMMUNITIES with the Allen Superior Court’s Family Relations Division.

The idea behind it is simple: Every person encounters some kind of trauma in life, and the trauma you experience as a child can impact you for the rest of your life. But the more support children have within their community, the more likely they are to be resilient and turn their lives around.

From left are Amanda Miller, Judge Charles Pratt, Cheryl Taylor, Joelle Schrader, and Jessica Gervais.

For the last 30 years, this mission has driven Great KIDS. Instead of working with children directly, they primarily provide strengths-based practices to anyone in Allen County who already works with youth, including individual workers, agencies, and parents.

The initiative offers free or low-cost training, workshops, and resources to caregivers based on the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets. Some of these assets include support, as in family support or a caring neighborhood, and positive values, such as promoting integrity, honesty, and responsibility.

Pratt explains that the 40 Developmental Assets are basic building blocks that can help children grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. The more assets they have, the more likely they are to refrain from risky behavior.

Seeing the work that Great KIDS is doing, the Foellinger Foundation has been the primary funder of the initiative for more than 25 years, providing it with $2 million to offer hundreds of training sessions year-round.

This funding allows Great KIDS to expand its training sessions and bring more established research to teachers, mental health professionals, coaches, pastors, and social workers across Allen County.

On October 4th, Great KIDS hosted its largest event of the year, the 29th Annual Conference on Youth at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. Keynote speakers included journalist and author Sam Quinones and former Assistant District Attorney Adam J. Foss who discussed issues affecting youth today, such as the opioid epidemic and the expanding criminal justice system.

“On an annual basis, Great KIDS is putting on a conference that brings in nationally-recognized people within their field,” Pratt says.

Hundreds of people who serve children attend the Great KIDS Conference On Youth.

Throughout its 29 years, the conference has grown from 200 attendees to 1,300—many of whom wouldn’t have the means to travel to see these speakers at a national conference, Pratt notes.

By keeping the conference local and available at a low cost, Great KIDS is making cutting-edge research more accessible to the regional community, says Director of Great KIDS Amanda Miller.

“(Our attendees) are the ones who are working with the kids and families,” she explains. “Our job is to bring the training that they seek.”

This year, Great KIDS launched a new training program called the Leadership Academy that offered 42 leaders in different fields the opportunity to get seven months of intensive training on childhood trauma.

During these day-long sessions, leaders were taught how to identify deficiencies in their career sectors and create plans to help them embed what they know about trauma into their organizations year-round.

Cheryl Taylor, President of the Foellinger Foundation, says fact-based programs like these, which apply to many industries, are precisely why Great KIDS is so important in Allen County.

“Great KIDS demonstrated the ability to identify and explore evidence-based practices,” Taylor says. “Because there are so many complicated issues, it requires all of us to be able to come together as a community to provide support.”

Attend an Event

Great KIDS plans to host another Leadership Academy in 2019. They also provide training throughout the year. Upcoming events include:

November: “Updating Your Brain on Drugs Campaign”

December: A mental health training on self-care

For details, visit Great KIDS’ website and Facebook page.

Read more articles by Ali Brand.

Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Ali Brand graduated from the University of Saint Francis with a bachelors degree in English. For as long as she can remember, she has always loved writing, and she aspires to use her passion to promote her hometown.
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