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January 9, 2021 - Methodist Childrens Home Society,
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Educators Need Tools To Help Children Deal With Trauma

Educators Need Tools To Help Children Deal With Trauma

Posted On : 12/20/2019

Educators Need Tools To Help Children Deal With Trauma

On days like today, the sadness haunts me. A new boy was arriving to our residential program with a trash bag stuffed with all his earthly possessions, including his favorite sweatshirts and a thick case file filled with trauma. Beaten, neglected and adrift, this 10-year-old had been taken from opioid-addicted parents and sent to our tree-lined campus in Redford. We can’t fathom what he has witnessed and experienced in his short life. But we know that his reading level is grades behind his peers, and he has a long track record of behavioral problems.

Already facing stiff odds due to the trauma he’s survived, as well as being in the foster care system, this boy faces an education system that doesn’t understand what he’s gone through.

At Methodist Children’s Home Society, we see this too often. Which is why we are calling for schools that better serve children that have been impacted by trauma.

The Michigan education system is failing kids like ours and thousands of others across the state. As Rochelle Riley wrote in her seminal series for the Detroit Free Press, “It is past time for officials in Lansing and in every school district to stop putting Band-Aids on cancer. We need to stop reacting and start acting.”

Currently, our schools lack the training and understanding to help these children learn and grow because we’ve failed to understand what trauma does to a child and failed to combat the issue with sensible, caring policies. What southeast Michigan requires are schools equipped with the knowledge and resources needed to serve children who are wounded by the trauma that permeates many aspects of their lives.

Take for a minute a child whose parent turns the rage of their lives into clenched fists, battering the child, leaving with them bruises, black eyes and broken bones. Imagine the child whose trust is betrayed by a friend’s parent, assaulting them in ways they cannot understand. And then think of the child whose memories loop a torrent of hateful words from someone who’s supposed to love them.

Every year, there are more than 200,000 child maltreatment cases in our state in addition to the many other traumatic circumstances a child might be exposed to. It’s a problem that’s getting far worse rather than better. Trauma manifests itself in both physical and mental forms and is likely to persist so fervently that it affects the ability to learn and focus. It materializes when a child falls behind in school, when a child misbehaves at school, and when a child misses school.

In her series, Riley wrote about a third-grade boy named Michael who explained his absence to a teacher by saying he had died over the weekend. The flummoxed teacher discovered later that the boy’s brother had tried to kill himself — again. “And Michael witnesses it,” Riley wrote. “Again.” 

How can we expect Michael to concentrate on books, when he’s fighting for survival?

At MCHS, we’re constantly ask, “What happened to you?” versus “What’s wrong with you?” Imagine if our schools did the same. Children of trauma need smaller classes with teachers trained to deal with tragedy. They need teams of social workers in every school. Their schools need to be transformed into communities of caring, where every child has an adult at school trained to help them cope. 

On days like today, when the sadness haunts me, I find strength in the resilience of the children we served at Methodist Children’s Home Society. We will channel that power and inspiration into a campaign to create a better school system to serve and educate traumatized children. We must turn tragedy and hopelessness to bright futures. Because the boys and girls keep coming with their trash bags and tragic baggage — and they deserve better from our community. 

CLICK HERE to read on the Detroit Free Press. 

Finding A New Normal

Finding A New Normal

Posted On : 6/2/2020

Finding A New Normal

More than a hundred years ago, when MCHS was founded in the response to a global pandemic, our founding mothers advocated for social justice and issues of race and gender equality. We mourn that more progress has not been made. We stand united and in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in calling for system reform and justice for all Americans.

The vicious death of George Floyd was beyond tragic, but not uncommon. And while we mourn Mr. Floyd’s passing, along with Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and Sah’Tea Grady El, they join in a long line of those who have died due to the color of their skin. 

The protests we see around the country aren’t just about policy brutality, but a criminal injustice system built on systematically oppressing and preventing Black Americans from experiencing the American dream. Because when we generally think of the American dream, we think of it in shades of white. And so through systematic and deliberate actions that looked at police profilingsentencing disparitiesthe selective enforcement of drug lawsjury selection, and the death penalty to just name a few, our country has suppressed Americans due to the color of their skin. This even shows up in middle schools where the Brown Center on Education Policy found that the suspension rates of black students were fives time more likely than white students. 

And these protests are about COVID-19 and how the richest country in the world continues to have the highest number of deaths which has disproportionately devastated black communities — something that nearly all media groups have acknowledged and is based on facts — https://covidtracking.com/race — not ideology. COVID-19 was just the latest example of health disparities and outcomes, defined by racism, that are deeply entrenched in our institutions and structures. 

My friend, Sherriff Chris Swanson of Genesee County, gave a powerful speech to a group of protestors, showing empathy and love, as opposed to batons and tear gas. It was a positive moment in a weekend that saw violence and bloodshed. Nearly all who protested did it peacefully. And beyond those headlines was generations upon generations of pain and trauma speaking out against systematic and unchecked oppression and violence. And so, for a moment, Swanson’s actions provided a glimpse into how we could begin to address this pain: with empathy over armory; with understanding and support; with honesty and love. 

But we know this will require more than just dialogue and cultural competency training, but an acknowledgment from white allies that these systems are grossly tilted in favor of the majority and that the road to reconciliation is paved with reform: reform that is coded into law and addresses the insidious racism that this country was built upon. 

This will also require challenging ourselves constantly to explore our own biases and prejudices and being honest and intentional about checking those biases. It’s having the courage to confront ourselves and taking action to be intentional allies to communities of color. We need to stop denying the experiences of people of color, and while many Americans cannot understand a life filled with risk and marginalization, why not listen, show empathy, and show love? 

I understand the protests. We need more protests that continue to push conversation, challenge the status quo, and maintain this rage. I’m not condoning the violent acts of a few but encouraging the peaceful outcry of many. Because what is going on isn’t acceptable. We have become desensitized to Black people dying at the hands of racist police officers (as not all police officers are not racist) in the same way we’ve become desensitized to mass shootings or presidential tweets. It’s become the norm. 

The pain and hurt many of us are feeling is real. The fear and anxiety our Black brothers and sisters are feeling is real. This has been their norm for their entire lives. None of this should be normal, and yet it is. 

Like so many of you, I mourn deeply for what’s occurring. I am devastated and filled with both rage and grief. And while I’ve devoted so much of my life to social justice, it’s become even more consequential and important these last several years. At MCHS, we want to be part of the solutions moving forward. We’re committed because our children and families and our staff need this. We don’t have all the answers, but we’re ready to engage and do our part.

COVID-19 gave us the opportunity to rethink everything. It created a wrinkle in time, as we are living history in a way that hasn’t been experienced in the last 100 years. As a result, we’ve been granted an extraordinary opportunity to re-evaluate our norms, not just related to social distancing or the workplace, but on making our criminal injustice system a system that upholds the fundamental belief that all men and women are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among those are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. 

Let’s make this the new normal. We’re ready to do our part.

Why Black Lives Matter

Why Black Lives Matter

Posted On : 6/19/20

Why Black Lives Matter

Why are we so threatened with Black Lives Matter? Why do we instantly rush to say that All Lives Matter? It is as if the moment someone speaks those three words, one’s perceived self-worth becomes threatened. And as a result, it becomes an “us versus them” summation, as if to remind the person who utters those words that no life is valued over another.

And yet, to say All Lives Matter is to ignore our history and our present. And to say All Lives Matters is to assume everyone is equal, complete with the same advantages and opportunities as the next person.

Why do Black Lives Matter? Because for 400 years, from when the first slaves were brought to America’s shores, Black lives did not matter. Because Black people have been slaves for longer on this land than they have not been. Because 12.5 million people were kidnapped from Africa and sent to the Americas as slaves. Because we have people walking amongst us now who are just a couple generations removed from being born into slavery or being slave owners. And the last person who came by way of a slave ship to our country, Matilda Maccrear, was alive at the same time my parents were. We’re not talking ancient history.

Because for a good part of our country’s existence, the value of a Black people was set at just three fifths of a free person, just a margin more valuable than a half person. And that attitude lived right past the Civil War into the Jim Crow era where separate but equal reverberated through all our country’s institutions to ensure the disenfranchisement of African Americans. It’s not ancient history when one-third of our country was alive at a time when racial segregation was legal.

Why do Black Lives Matter? Because when our country won its freedom, Black people did not. And they are constantly reminded of the bloodiest war our country ever fought was a battle of values and whose life mattered. How does our country still have 775 monuments and another 1,100 confederate symbols in our country? How did it take NASCAR nearly 160 years to finally understand what the Confederate flag represented? How can you consider yourself to be nonracist, but honor the losing side of the Civil War, which fought for slavery? How does our U.S. Capitol have 12 statues of confederate soldiers but only four of African Americans? Black Americans are reminded every day that many Americans still honor and justify the Confederacy’s fight against their freedom. Is this the past we want to guide our future?

To say All Lives Matter is to ignore reality. It’s to deny the deep and pervasive experience that so many Americans continue to face based on the color of their skin. Whether it’s buying a new shirt, being pulled over by the police, being denied a loan, or receiving substandard education due to their skin color, it’s easier to find fault in the individual than find fault in the system.

It’s easier to hide behind language such as “I’m colorblind” than to actually do anything about it. It’s easier to shout “All Lives Matter” because then nothing is required of you. It’s easier to claim “I wasn’t a slave owner” so you’re freed from feeling the pain and burden of the past. It’s easier to raise arguments such as blaming Black on Black crime as if police brutality wouldn’t occur if Black people didn’t commit crimes (as well as implying white people somehow do not). And it’s easier to say “All we need is love” as opposed to feeling empathy or taking the time to listen to the experiences of others.

Or maybe to say those three words would be to accept that there are Americans who have different benefits and opportunities and are forced to play by different set of rules than the majority of Americans. To say Black Lives Matters means to accept our white privilege. To have white privilege means that many of us have never had to think about where our hands are when pulled over by the police for a common traffic violation. Or automatically presumed guilty because of our race. Or having our skin color used against us all the time. Or not being given the benefit of the doubt. Or having to talk to your children about why society won’t trust you. Or having someone like a Candace Owen amplified by white people to justify how Black people brought racism on to themselves.

Or being fearful any police officer might kneel on your son’s or brother’s neck for nearly nine minutes until every.last.breath.was.squeezed.out.

To say Black Lives Matters means to acknowledge there is still work to be done. That George Floyd’s life mattered. As did Rayshard Brooks. And Ahmaud Arbery. And Breonna Taylor. And Freddie Gray. And so too did the lives of Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, John Crawford III, Rekia Boyd, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Jonathan Ferrell, Michael Stewart, Greg Gunn, and Clifford Glover matter. And Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and Eric Gardner. And Cornelius Frederick. And too many others to fill pages upon pages. All within the last several years. It is nauseating.

At MCHS, we will be part of the solutions moving forward. We’re committed because all of us need this. We don’t have all the answers, but we’re ready to engage and do our part, finding other allies in moving forward with action and purpose.

From his Birmingham jail cell in 1963 in which he was arrested for peacefully protesting, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “When you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your Black brothers and sisters with impunity. . .then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

Five years later in 1968, under the direction of President Johnson, the Kerner Commission found it wasn’t Black anger that caused the civil unrest, but White racism. Their final conclusion was, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one Black, one white—separate and unequal.”

Until Black Lives Matters, we’ll continue waiting for a just and equal society. That’s why it matters so much.

We listened to what our children needed. Restraints was never on that list

We listened to what our children needed. Restraints was never on that list

Posted On : 6/26/20

We listened to what our children needed. Restraints was never on that list. 6/26/20

Read Kevin Roach’s op-ed in the Detroit Free Press.

Several weeks ago, a child in a Kalamazoo residential facility died from a restraint. Clearly, the restraints was unnecessary and preventable as it was alleged a staff member laid on top of the child for nearly 10 minutes despite the child’s pleas that he could not breathe.

In announcing the termination of the contract with Lakeside/Sequel, DHHS also announced they wouldn’t be doing business with providers that performed restraints. We supported the State’s position, which we made public in this op-ed and called for facilities to stop this harmful and traumatic practice.

Restraints occur in most residential facilities across our country – facilities intending to heal the traumas of child abuse and neglect. They are taught and conducted in the name of keeping children and staff members safe from physical harm. Many children come to residential facilities exhibiting aggressive behaviors and extensive mental health issues, which stems from a lifetime’s worth of trauma and pain. And this practice persisted for decades right through today, even despite the overwhelming evidence that emerged about how restraints did more harm than good. The research is clear that agencies cannot truly be trauma-informed while still performing physical restraints.

And while it is easy to point to the harmful practices at Lakeside, it serves as an important and even painful reminder of how necessary the direction MCHS has been going in the last couple of years is. We’re committed to becoming restraint free as outlined in our 2018-2022 Strategic Plan. And while we’re not perfect and are still learning, the adjustments we’ve made, no matter how difficult they’ve been, prove critical now more than ever.

I’m deeply ashamed of all the restraints I did in my previous work, fooling myself into thinking they were needed and how the child was better off. The last one I did was eight years ago and I still remember that child. It was not needed, yet it continues to be taught as a necessary tool in calming children.

I am also convinced that becoming restraint-free is one of the major actions the residential field can take to truly be anti-racist and against systematic oppression. As an industry, we engage in this violent and often chaotic act to control and constrain the child in the name of “law and order.” Yet in restraining children who are acting on years of neglect, abuse and trauma, what are we teaching them?

We are proud that this year, we will have seen a 70% decrease in restraints from the year before. This comes on the heels of reducing restraints by nearly 60% in the last two years. And in the coming months, we will be the first facility in Michigan to ban this harmful practice.

This didn’t occur overnight. There were a lot of hard conversations, intensive trainings, and multiple initiatives that were implemented. And because of the commitment of our incredible staff and the support of our community, we became trailblazers in this work, going beyond just our focus on being restraint-free, but redefining what residential care looks like. This went into reinventing recreational programs, implementing aftercare, enhancing family engagement, and expanding clinical treatment. We focused on nutrition, engaged volunteers, and focused on permanency. We listened to what our children needed. And restraints was never on that list.

And due to the generosity of so many, we had mentors and tutors, multiple clubs such as gardening and chess, and numerous community outings to give our children the experiences they had been deprived of. Our children could run and play, learn and grow. And in doing so, truly heal.

Because of all of these efforts and so many more, we were able to reduce our restraints significantly. And we were able to reduce the time children lived at MCHS as we all know the love of a family and permanency of a safe home cannot be replaced.

This is how we best support, teach, and keep our children safe and healthy. Not by putting our hands on them, but by wrapping them up with an endless supply of opportunities, education, and care along with unconditional love. And pizza!

Thank you for all your support in making MCHS a leader!

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