Takling youth trauma in Salinas

  • November 29, 2016

By Roberto M. Robledo, The Salinas Californian | November 29, 2016

SALINAS, Calif. – Salinas community and health agencies have embarked on a pilot project to find a new way of helping to heal children and teenagers traumatized by the city’s relentless rate of youth crime and violence.

If they find one, they say, it also could lead to fewer traumatized youth and less of the societal bad stuff for which they are responsible.

The project involves a “strength-based” strategy that accentuates the positive rather than the negative in young people who become violent or negative as a result of trauma.

The strategy comes from Dr. Kenneth R. Ginberg, an expert in adolescent medicine. His workshop series is called, “Our Kids Are Not Broken: Tools to Build Resilience in Youth.”

Ginsberg, a nationally acclaimed pediatrician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, was in Salinas this week to hold part one of the workshop.

On Monday, he asked the participants to look at their work in a different way. The tendency for agency types is to ask traumatized kids “what’s wrong with you” or what needs fixing. His approach is to look for the strengths in a young person and build on them. Help them to realize the problem solving skills – the resilience – they possess and to use them.

Ginsberg also suggests that agency staff use parenting skills in their work, and seek a balanced parenting approach instead of coming off as an authoritarian or trying to be a kid’s friend.

He used a lighthouse as a metaphor: be a beacon, a stable force. Don’t let them crash into the rocks but help them ride the waves toward healing and recovery.

Several local agencies have signed on for the five-month project which involves the workshops, regular meetings, readings and research and another visit by Ginsberg in March.

Crime and violence in Salinas produces more than its share of traumatized youth, according to agency data. It can come from the welled-up anxiety and fear produced by being a witness to or victim of domestic violence, shootings, assaults, school lockdowns, bullying, etc. Trauma can exact an emotional toll that lasts a lifetime.

The pilot project’s goal is to create a common framework and approach for health and public safety agencies so they are all speaking the same language and providing the same tools to youth who are coping with trauma and its effects.

“We are aware that each organization is addressing the issues (of trauma) in our community individually. But we believe that there is a need for a common language when children must go through all of the organizations,” said Lorraine Artinger, trauma prevention and outreach nurse for the Trauma Center at Natividad Medical Center.

Some of Ginsberg’s message may seem like common sense, said Artlinger, but “applying it, remembering it, bringing it to the center, it’s easier to process and use.”

In addition, “a lot of providers are parents. They’re familiar with some of the issues.”

Ginsberg’s message resonated with one mother in attendance at Monday’s workshop.

She and her husband volunteer as faith counselors at Monterey County Juvenile Hall.

The woman, a 41-year resident of Salinas, declined to give her name but shared her story. She said she found an earlier version of herself in Ginberg’s description of the different parent types.

“Before, I was that parent who was always lecturing and had my rules,” she said, referring to the authoritarian model. “What a change in parenting I have now.”

She and her husband grew up in east Salinas. Both sets of their parents abused drugs, she said. That led to some trauma in their respective families. The outcome: She became a teen mother. He got involved with the wrong crowd.

“We grew up with the violence on the east side. Both of our parents had drug issues.” Her husband’s dad died of an overdose, she said. Her father’s addiction led him to abandon the family, she said. That is a cycle of trauma that keeps repeating itself. “We see some of our old friends still in that cycle. … Some of them got out and are living productive lives. For others the cycle continues with their families.”

For her, as a child and teenager, she became stoic about the domestic abuse, covering up her anxiety and fears, not telling her friends or anyone about it – keeping her cool. Like many teenagers still do, she lied about it.

Then she got pregnant and had her first son at age 17.

Initially, “as a parent I was authoritarian and controlling because of the fear that I had that he would end up like me and the way that I grew up.” As it turned out, the cycle of trauma again rotated a bit, she said.

At age 18, her son fathered a baby boy, dropped out of school but got his GED.

“It was happening,” she said. “What I feared and what I was wanting to control was actually happening.”

That’s now changed, she said. Her parenting skills have improved. She takes a different approach with her daughter, 19, and son, 14, who live at home.

As for the contributing factors to trauma, the crime and violence in the community has gotten worse – deadlier, she said.

She and her husband are part of a Christian group that offers faith counseling once a week at juvenile hall.

They are consoling, offering advice when appropriate, she said.

“We don’t push. We tell our story, we encourage them, listen to what they want to talk about.” It’s their contribution toward breaking the cycle of trauma for others.

Another participant also liked what he heard from Ginsberg.

“I like the generalized concept of reframing the way we are working with the youth,” said Derek Elder, a counselor at Door To Hope, a substance abuse recovery program.

“Trying not to place labels on them, which creates our own judgments and biases that are linked to those labels. I like the emphasis on love. Sometimes we’re nervous or not sure what our personal relationships should be with our clients and so the concept of love and how we might use it with our clients gets lost. I like the way that he says that has to be at the front and center in our interactions with our clients,” said Elder.

This training is really good for frontline folks. That’s why I brought my team. It reinforces some things they know and gives them new tools for dealing with them,” said Jose Arreola, community safety director for the city of Salinas.

Arreola also leads the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace which has two programs – Street Outreach and Youth Leadership Academy, that work with kids who have experienced trauma through some form of violence.

“When we work with youth and families like this, we’re dealing with so many other issues, domestic violence, some sort of abuse or the presence of violence on the streets with gangs,” he said.

Arreola liked the idea of raising the self esteem in a young person who is shown how to resolve his own inner conflicts by using the power and self control within. This can come in handy when working with gang members, he said. “It gives you a more positive, more respectful way to work with kids who are entrenched in that culture.”

“The way we address discipline in the schools and at home also needs to be looked at,” said Arreola. “Our reaction to gang violence has been a reactive, intervention approach with a lot of resources put into the criminal justice system, parole, juvenile justice. That needs to be looked at.”

Ginsburg’s workshops are hosted by CHOICE, the violence intervention program at Natividad’s Trauma Center that promotes positive alternatives to violence to reduce retaliation and re-injury among youth and young adults injured by violence. The workshops are sponsored by the Natividad Medical Foundation.

“This is a fantastic opportunity not only for healthcare workers, counselors, educators and others who serve youth, but also parents … to learn how to reach kids and help them realize the strength they have in themselves and foster their internal resilience,” said Artinger. “The public is welcomed and encouraged to attend these workshops.”

Follow Roberto M. Robledo on Twitter @robledo_salnews #salinas. On Facebook, visit: Roberto Robledo.

In attendance
The programs and agencies enrolled in the youth trauma pilot project include:

  • Community Alliance for Safety and Peace
  • Monterey County Department of Behavioral Health
  • Door to Hope
  • Monterey County Juvenile Hall
  • Monterey County Probation Department
  • Sun Street Center
  • Boys and Girls Club of Monterey County
  • City of Seaside
  • City of Salinas
  • Rancho Cielo Youth Campus
  • Partners for Peace
  • Natividad Medical Center

To get involved
Space is available for agencies, parents or members of the public who may want to join in the project.

Tickets for each session are $40 general and $25 for students or for both sessions, $75 general and $50 for students. Tickets are available at Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.com/e/our-kids-are-not-broken-register-today-tickets-29063193795 or by calling Natividad Medical Foundation at (831) 755-4187.