Interview with Erika Tullberg, NYU Child Study Center and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network
I work at the NYU Child Study Center as part of a team focused on child trauma, and I’m also a co-chair of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s (NCTSN) child welfare committee.
Two years ago, Rise joined us as a member of a subcommittee focused on parents in the child welfare system who have had experiences of trauma. We are developing a series of online training modules for caseworkers to help them understand how trauma can affect parents. The first module offers a foundation of knowledge about trauma and parents’ experiences. Others will explore how trauma can affect parents over the course of their involvement with child welfare, such as during visits or case planning.
Listening to Parents
We began to develop the training by running focus groups with parents because the NCTSN tries to integrate family voice into its work from the very beginning. We want whatever we develop to be grounded in people’s actual experience. One of these focus groups took place at Rise, and all of the feedback collected from parents around the country helped to shape the content of the training modules.
Then we decided to integrate the voices of parents themselves into the training so it would be as engaging and interactive as possible. So many Rise stories illustrate the way that trauma plays out in parents’ experiences in the child welfare system, so it was easy to identify excerpts that connected with our teaching points.
Rise had parents actually read the quotes so caseworkers can hear parents’ voices in the narration. The parents’ stories definitely make the training stronger and richer. The information is not theoretical; it speaks directly to people’s experiences and it resonates.
Feedback from parents and staff so far has been really positive. For staff, the parents’ stories make it more likely that they’ll be engaged and will remember what they heard.
The Knowledge to Connect
We hope agencies will use this new training to educate their staff and support changes in day-to-day practice. Working with parents who are dealing with the child welfare system brings up a lot of understandable emotions in staff—frustration, anger, sadness. At the same time, staff need to be compassionate and curious. One of the most challenging things to do is to hold both of these feelings in your head.
Understanding trauma—and understanding parents’ stories—doesn’t mean absolving them of any harm to their kids. It means using your knowledge to be able connect and move the family to a better situation.
Rise is a powerful voice for parents in the system and a really important tool. In the child welfare system it can be challenging for people to be honest with each other. For parents, especially, it’s hard to feel safe talking openly because of the fear that what you say will be used against you. Rise is one of the opportunities to hear straight from parents in a way that people in the system don’t often get. Through our training, it’s great to have an opportunity to connect child welfare staff with parents’ stories in this new way.