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Reaching Out for Help

September 2, 2010

There are a number of great resources in the United States for learning about historical trauma and strategies for addressing it in tribal communities. I had a conversation with one such resource yesterday, and came away with a lot of material to think about. Dr. Dolores Subia Bigfoot is an Assistant Professor of Research in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center and graciously gave me some of her time. As project director of the Indian County Child Trauma Center housed within the Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, she provides training to American Indian tribes on responses to childhood trauma. Since I am not a professional in the field, I am in constant learning mode. Here are some of my takeaways from Dr. Bigfoot.

Because we must rely on parents to raise their children, we must work with the parents to help resolve their own trauma. Otherwise, their behaviors will impact the development of their child. We must also work with children who have experienced trauma by intervening quickly with appropriate therapies. While working with parent and child, we should be teaching both coping skills and substantive skills. For the parent, they need to learn the appropriate way to parent. For the child, they are constantly developing, and need to learn how to face their world and respond in appropriate ways. As they move together, they are in “Parallel Processes.” The community is also involved in this relationship in so many multifaceted ways through the health care system, family support services, the criminal justice system and others. I understand this concept of Parallel Processes well in the Lean Management field, and it makes tremendous sense in looking at an ideal state of Parallel Processes for our Restoration to Health Strategy for trying to eliminate childhood trauma.  So I have started to look at the dynamics of Parallel Processes.

In an interesting address titled” Parallel processes: Common features of effective parenting, human services, management and government” and given by Tim Moore, a Senior Research Fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research institute in Melbourne, Australia, he discussed the concept of “a state of moderate stress.” There are certain stages in a child’s life where moderate stress can apparently be a stimulus to development. Children need to be guided through how they respond to that stress. Toxic stress has been discussed in this blog before in the context to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES). It has an adverse impact on brain development which can be lifelong if not addressed through early intervention.

Positive stress is natural. We have a flight or fight response that prepares us for survival. We have a love response with an increase in heartbeat and production of hormones that allow us connection to other humans. Some trauma may help develop resilience. So we cannot eliminate trauma, but must seek to train parents to teach their children how to respond to it.

The proper development of children into health adults is a complex pathway, and runs parallel to parental and community development. Today, Chugachmiut’s Lean Coordinator will help a small team put together a Visual Map of the program we hope to develop and present to our clients.

My conversation with Dr. Bigfoot gave me information I did not have before. I am now asking my team to learn about that information and use our existing knowledge to creatively plan a program that has a higher probability of success. It pays to reach out to others and seek their knowledge.

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