Dads, with Thiago Queiroz

API knows many gems of local parenting support leaders. This Father’s Day, I’m excited to introduce you to Thiago Queiroz–a father who has been absolutely on fire for supporting parents in his native Brazil since his oldest of 4 children were born 8 years ago.

Many parents have been able to “meet” Thiago through his part in the American documentary, Dads. Directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Hollywood film director, Dads illustrates what she refers to as contemporary fatherhood, asking celebrities and everyday men what being father means to them. Premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival where it was named second runner-up for the People’s Choice Award for Documentaries, Dads released in 2020 on Apple TV+.

Thiago is passionate about supporting parents, but especially fathers. We congratulate him on his work in normalizing nurturing among fathers through his portrait on Dads. Let’s get to know Thiago a bit more:

Q: To begin, please share about your family:

A: I’m married to Anne, and we now have 3 kids: Dante (8 years old), Gael (6 years old), Maya (2 years old), and my wife is also pregnant again. The baby is called, Cora and she’s expected to be born by the end of the year.

I’ve been an API Leader for around 8 years here in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Q: What brought you to API?

A: When my first son was born, I was feeling a bit lost, trying to understand how I could raise my child. My own parenting references were not of the attached kind, and the only thing I felt was that I wanted to do it differently with my child.

Related: Fatherly pushes for universal paid paternity leave, provides resource for U.S. dads

Also, for being a father in Brazil, I didn’t have any references of fathers who were actually involved in raising their kids, because our society only expects moms to really take care of their kids, while the dads are seen as unable to take care of a baby. That didn’t make any sense for me at that time (and still doesn’t), so I started researching different views on child rearing.

Gladly, I found API and getting to know [API’s 8 Principles of Parenting] was one of the best things that happened to me, because I started to understand how we can build strong emotional bonds with our children and more important: I understood how I, as a father, could do so many things with my baby toward a strong secure attachment.

Afterwards, I started helping API, so I translated its Principles into Portuguese and became a leader.

Q: So, how did you learn about the Dads film and come to be part of its cast?

A: Back in 2017, I received an email from the production team, which was interested in getting to know different dads around the world, for a new documentary on fatherhood they were going to work on. I honestly didn’t know much about the project itself, but since one of my missions is to advocate for responsible and attached fatherhood, I offered myself to help in any way I could.

I never heard from them again until mid-2018, when they sent me another email saying they really wanted to film my story and were going to fly a crew down to Brazil to film me and my family.

From that point on, everything was just too fast: They arrived one week later, because they were in a hurry to finish the documentary. There was only one story left to film, which was my story, because one of the stories they filmed (also from a Brazilian dad) didn’t actually work out and had to be removed from the film. So, yes, everything was just too fast!

Q: What was it like for your family to be included in Dads?

A: We’ve never participated in anything like that, so everything was new to us. The crew spent a whole weekend here with us, filming us and interviewing me and my wife. Even though we had a lot of people here, they were so professional we barely noticed them filming our daily routines.

So it was normal life for us, waking up Saturday, getting kids breakfast, taking care of our children, playing with them until I could put them in bed, so most of the time the crew was quietly shooting our normal activities.

I also host a fatherhood podcast with a couple friends (it’s called Tricô de Pais), so the crew filmed a recording session of my podcast, which was really nice, too.

On Sunday, they filmed a bit more of our routines and started the interviews with me and my wife, which was very funny because here only me and my wife speak English, not the kids, so they were really amazed in having all the different people with us, speaking a weird language.

It was an amazing experience!

I still didn’t know much about the project, because I only wanted to help promote an attached fatherhood. So only Sunday night, the producers showed me a bit about the documentary and only then I realized it was a huge thing – a film directed by Bryce Howard and with Will Smith on the casting. We were totally blown away with that and really happy to see how far the message of a more loving fatherhood could be spread.

Q: What are your thoughts about Dads as a film?

A: I think the film is extremely important in today’s society. We need to have more examples and role models for diverse and loving fatherhoods (yes, in plural!). Fatherhood is not a simple thing and being able to show the world how different men can care and love their children is not only important but urgent.

Q: What responses have you received from others who’ve viewed Dads?

A: The responses were amazing. I keep receiving messages from dads all over the world on my Instagram page (@paizinhovirgulaoficial), saying they learned a lot and also cried a lot watching my story on the film. It’s so important to have this feedback, because those similar experiences are exactly what connect us.

Related: Dads, talk about being a father

So having a mainstream documentary on fatherhood is a huge thing, especially when this documentary takes the subject very seriously, not portraying fathers as buffoons or mothers’ helpers.

Q: What is it like to challenge the status quo of fatherhood in Brazil?

A: It’s very challenging, because people around me, especially men, don’t understand why I should be taking care of my kids so closely and lovingly if “there’s already a mother doing this.”

Related: Tips for new fathers in bonding with their newborns

We live in a society which has a strong “macho” culture, so it’s difficult to find peers who understand the importance of creating strong and safe bonds between fathers and children.

Q: So, what tips can you offer men to rise to this challenge of choosing to be nurturing fathers?

A: My tip is, look out for other men like you. We might not be many yet, but we really need to get together and start talking about toxic masculinity, for instance, and how it affects the way we parent our children.

Related: Dynamics of disappearing dads with Meryn Callander

Being a nurturing dad is the best gift you can give to your child, but also to yourself, your wife, and society. Let’s find our peers and overcome these challenges, inviting other men to reflect on this, too.

Q: Thank you so much, Thiago, for your time and insights! Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A: Please watch Dads, and if this film touched your heart and makes sense to you, I suggest watching The Mask You Live In [directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom], which is another documentary on manhood. It’s impossible to become truly a nurturing dad without rediscovering yourself as a man.

Fatherly pushes for universal paid paternity leave, provides resource for U.S. dads

For being such a progressive country, the United States can be downright dismal when it comes to many family policy trends.

The vast majority of developed nations in the world guarantee paid parental leave after the birth of a baby–in the least, two months in Ireland; at the most, more an one and one-half years in Estonia.

Related: Parental leave isn’t a privilege, it’s a necessity

In the U.S., former President Donald Trump made headway in 2019 by signing a law that guarantees federal employees up to three months of paid parental leave for the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child. But it only applies to federal employees.

The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees up to three months of parental leave within a year if the leave hasn’t already been used for personal medical reasons, and that leave is unpaid. Nine U.S. states have enacted paid parental leave law. Otherwise, it is up to employers to provide paid leave.

Related: Parental leave benefits employers, too

As of 2020, 55% of employers provided any sort of paid parental leave, 45% of which offered paid paternity leave. This represented a jump of 15% in just one year and 30% in three years (just 25% of employers provided paid parental leave in 2015 and 40% of employers  in 2019).

This is encouraging but not enough. This has long been among API’s top areas of advocacy, and we have many allies.

Mike Rothman, cofounder of Fatherly, testified to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee on May 27 in support of paid leave.

Fatherly is a unique digital platform, specializing in independent and non-partisan journalism with a mission to empower men to live fulfilling lives as nurturing fathers.

“At its core, Fatherly understands that in an economy in which both parents are working, empowering men as caregivers is crucial. By giving them the tools and community, we aim to help remove cultural stigmas around caregiving work.” ~ Read Our Written Testimony to the House Ways & Means Committe on Paid Leave, Fatherly

Fatherly is filling a void left wide open between the unmistakable amount of research underscoring the vital importance of involved, nurturing fathers…and a mainstream U.S. culture that sorely lacks in supporting the fathers that are children need.

Related: Parental presence a compromised human right

Universal paid paternity leave is part of that missing support, and Fatherly has organized an impressive resource, “The Fatherly Guide to Parental and Paternity Leave,” to help parents navigate the state of parental and paternity leave in the U.S.

You’ll learn how paternity leave builds confident fathers, how to talk to your unsupportive boss, strategies for the challenges you may encounter during paternity leave, how to prepare for your return to work after leave, and more.

Most importantly, you’ll be engaged in important advocacy for yourself, your family, and fathers everywhere by challenging the status quo and requesting parental leave as a father, and then by sharing this link with other fathers and fathers-to-be in your life.

That’s how meaningful change happens. Policy shifts when the voices in support of positive change grow loud enough. This Father’s Day, let your voice be heard.

A resource for newly at-home parents: Transitioning Home workshops

Have you stepped out of the paid workforce to care for your children?

Some parents find themselves at home by choice, others by circumstance; some for a short time, others for the long-term. Either way, you likely have questions and thoughts that you’d like to share with someone who has been there, done that.

Family & Home Network is now inviting parents to join its signature 6-week online workshop, Transitioning Home.

Offered at no cost, but with limited seating to keep discussion groups small, these facilitator-led workshops meet weekly for conversation and reflection. There are optional readings and journal prompts between meetings.

Related: Transitioning home with Catherine Myers

This new handout offers a preview of one of the guided discussions in the Transitioning Home workshop series: Exploring Expectations.

Workshops will be held virtually through Mighty Networks. There are two options to join a Transitioning Home workshop: Sign up for Tuesdays at 1 pm EST or Thursdays at 3:30 pm EST. Start dates TBD, depending on enrollment. Evening workshops may be scheduled, depending on interest.

“Being at home certainly will change you, but it need not diminish you. It is as much about receiving as it is about giving, and the self you find at home may be a gift that cannot be purchased with the remunerations of the workplace.” ~ Nelia Odom

“Unfortunately, many aspects of mainstream culture create barriers to meeting children’s needs. Scientific studies are providing abundant proof of children’s needs—but it is difficult to change cultural practices, attitudes and policies.” ~ Catherine Myers

Change the world by ‘Breaking the Cycle’ with this free film viewing

Relationships rule the world. How the majority of people relate to one another shapes our society.

Right now, much of our society is stuck…in common-yet-dysfunctional relationship patterns that promote toughness (over tenderness) and isolation (over togetherness), and the results have been catastrophic on our well-being.

That’s why we celebrate the extremely timely release of “Breaking the Cycle.” This 6-minute educational short film is now available online for public viewing at no cost.

Produced by Kindred World, “Breaking the Cycle” was created by API Board of Directors member Darcia Narvaez, PhD, and API Resource Advisory Council member Lisa Reagan as part of The Evolved Nest project integrating research from across fields applicable to positive child development, parenting, and adult behavior.

President of Kindred World and founder of The Evolved Nest, Narvaez is a Professor of Psychology Emerita at the University of Notre Dame and has been ranked in the top 2% of scientists worldwide.

Related: For better or worse, parenting changes your child’s DNA

“Breaking the Cycle” illustrates humanity’s need, and capacity, to return Western society’s relational patterns from the current cycle of competitive detachment back to the healthy, peaceful cycle of cooperative companionship that ensured humanity’s survival for most of our time on Earth.

This powerful, and empowering, film is a call to each of us…to recognize the destructiveness of our current relational patterns (on others, to ourselves, and on our planet)…and then to do something about it!

We already know how to do it, and we have 95% of our human history as proof that it works. What we need is to prioritize the health of our parent-child relationships, in the home and beyond into our society’s framework. Change starts with awareness.

We invite you to watch “Breaking the Cycle” as your first step. Share far and wide. Host viewing parties. Here’s a guide to get the discussion going with others.

Learn more about breaking the cycle of competitive detachment in Narvaez’s book, Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture and Wisdom.

Editor’s Note: API’s role in “growing up” as a mother

Fifteen years ago, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day. I was 25, a few years out of college and into my journalism career, and in my fifth month of pregnancy with my oldest daughter.

While parenting was a future goal, this pregnancy came a few years earlier than I was planning. Neither my husband nor I had given any thought about our parenting approach, or even that there were different approaches to raising a child. I figured it would come instinctively.

Oh, it came alright…about three months early. My daughter was born about a month after Mother’s Day 2006, and I was unceremoniously propelled into full-on motherhood without a clue of what to do when.

But having a preemie proved to be a blessing in this way, in that I relied on the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) nurses to teach me everything I didn’t know about how to care for a newborn with special needs. Kangaroo Care, breastpumping, bottle nursing, consistent and present care, nighttime parenting, finding a like-minded parenting support network

This was only the beginning.

Today, my oldest daughter is a month shy of her 15th birthday. Her sister is 13, her brother is 9, and her angel sister has been in our hearts for three years. I have been a mother for 15 years. My children have grown leaps and bounds physically and in maturity, but more so have I.

API served as my foundation for learning how to be a mother, and motherhood served as my foundation for learning how to be the kind of person I always wanted to be.

I am a firm believer that women are meant to “grow up” as mothers at the same time that they are guiding their children to grow up as people. I know that I, at 40, am a long way from my 25-year-old self and feel that I owe most of my personal transformation to the life lessons learned through motherhood…with API as my own guide.

I’m excited to be back as Editor of API, to help parents by highlighting research-backed ideas as we nurture our children and youth for a more compassionate world. Check back often to API’s blog to get inspiration and support on your own parenting journey.

                      ~ Rita

Learning More about ACEs and Fostering Positive Childhood Experiences with Becky Haas: Part 3 of 3

Continued from part 2 of 3

Becky Haas Interview with API for AP Month 2020:

Parenting with PEACE, Part 3 of 3

You’re a parent and this is a community of parents that we’re talking to, and people who serve parents. We’re providing individual help as well as getting communities together, working in coalitions, working in small groups. Mostly, it’s individual parents, day to day, navigating life with their children. What would you want them to know about ACEs? What kinds of messages are you sharing with parents? 

That’s a fabulous question. I’m the mother of two sons who are married and grown now. When I was preparing to have our first child, I remember thinking to myself, I have a wonderful mother. I feel I had a good childhood and all, but I remember thinking as I carried that child, of all the things I’ve ever done in life, any jobs or volunteerism, it came with training. Being a mother did not come with any training. I felt it was the most important thing I was entering into in life. I applaud the work of the Attachment Parenting International community in the fact that you all are having conversations around things that many more families need to understand. What we see now with ACEs is how the fulcrum is slanted in a negative way because that attachment was not there.

In 2010, the Tennessee census revealed…that 11% of Tennessee grandparents had custody of children 18 years and younger.

The other thing that we’re seeing is that there can be a hybrid attachment, that it can be community members or foster parents, but that attachment has to happen for a child to grow up. I didn’t know about attachment until my boys were grown and married, but I have two grandchildren that are four and two. I’ll tell you, I never read a book to them without thinking about ‘serve and return.’ If they fall down, I am there lickety-split, which I would have been anyway. But now I know that the way they’re learning self-regulation it starts first with external regulation. Then they’re going to learn co-regulation then it’s going to be self-regulation. Now, with my two-year-old grandson, it’s all that. “Nammy” is what they call me. The four-year-old, if she’s watching a movie with me, she knows where the comforters are. She’ll say, “Nammy, I’m cold.” I’ll say, “Well, go get a blanket,” and she’ll go get it. And then there’ll be a time where she won’t even ask, she’ll just run, go get the blanket. I didn’t know what all that was until I learned about ACEs.

That’s so encouraging for parents, and grandparents too. Even though you didn’t know about it before, you take the information you get along the way and you start to apply it. 

I didn’t realize how much grandparent care and custodial care there was until I worked at ETSU in car seat safety. In 2010, the Tennessee census revealed (a new number on the census I understand) that 11% of Tennessee grandparents had custody of children 18 years and younger. We’ve been super slow on getting support for the grandparents now that they are raising grandchildren, or those aunts or uncles. It also impacts the community because of instead of retiring, now you’re starting over raising grandchildren because their mom and their dad are in the drug culture.

A child needs in their life two or three adults; they need more than just the parent.

There is no guidebook, as you mentioned, but with the Principles API has, we talk about preparing for pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting – growing in your knowledge.  We share with parents about feeding our children with love and respect, about healthy eating. We help parents understand about responding with sensitivity, which is the hallmark of attachment, as well as providing consistent and loving care. We discuss how it’s important to practice serve and return, and not to have ever-changing childcare figures because that primary early secure attachment is so critical. We guide parents about sleep because sleep can be challenging for parents and for children, especially with separations. We address positive discipline: what’s really effective, including learning to parent with creativity, patience, responsiveness, and curiosity.

We help parents foster good relationships and not chip away at that attachment relationship as children grow because you’re teaching them to problem solve, not using a heavy hand to ‘handle’ them. Then we talk about balance and the family, parenting together and in community, as well as self care. All of this to foster positive childhood experiences, which is not just referring to a good day out at the park or going to Dollywood, although those are nice. It’s really more about creating stability, predictability, connections, support, play, memories, and traditions that are vital to strong, secure, and stable environment for a child to grow and optimally develop.

When I get a chance to talk to parents, some of my work in training school districts, I’ve had a parent night and I’ll have maybe 30 minutes. Always, my go-to is protective factors, that parents understand that a child needs to have a healthy relationship with a teacher or an uncle or a coach. A child needs in their life two or three adults; they need more than just the parent. I know our boys were growing up, my husband and I, we could see that they were headed in a wrong direction and they might not take it from us. But if the coach in the weight room said something to one of my seniors… I did a training in a school district and the coach came up to me and he said, ‘I’m going to be as humble as I can about this, but maybe I’m partially responsible for one of your children never trying drugs, because I told him to meet me in the weight room.’ I remember when that happened. So parents need to understand that children need to have these protective factors. To me, that’s the top part of the funnel, being involved in Girl Scouts or whatever, where you have these other adult caring voices, nurturing voices, that are able to help in that child’s life.

It’s a very micro kind of level of change, but sometimes when you’re parenting young kids, that’s as much as you can do. It’s individual, it takes time, and it’s deep work. We are each other’s and our children’s protective factors.

Sometimes our protective factors change. If a child was to lose a parent to divorce, or heaven forbid to death, navigating things ahead will be difficult. I never had any grandparents around with me, because my family is from Miami, and we just were not involved with our grandparents. So I taught a senior Sunday school class at my church for 15 years. I adopted about 50 grandparents that were in this group. The one man that I mentioned that was orphaned as a young child – on the worst single day of my life, I could not get to his house fast enough to see him and his wife. I honestly didn’t know how my life would go on the next day, but I knew if I could get there, they would help me make sense of it. And they did. So, I’m a champion for protective factors.

That’s what our support groups are about. The people with whom I’ve spent time in support groups have taken my kids for the weekend because I had a work commitment, and I felt full confidence that I didn’t have to worry. They have also been an influence, saying here’s an opportunity your children might be interested in because they know and love my children. At API, we talk a lot about building your support network because those people in your support system become those caring adults in your children’s life too, along with the ballet teacher and the theater director in my kids’ lives. 

And then you’re someone else’s protective factor too. I do try to bring that out. When you think about who could you call on in the middle of the night who’s that close and how are you giving back? Would anyone name you in their protective factors?

…in a world where kindness seems a lost art and where there’s violence, I hope maybe some of this conversation will shift people and just say we will not enter into hatred. We will hold to our ground to be someone who is going to spread kindness.

Absolutely. I love that. For a lot of our leaders that’s why they come to API. They see themselves in this serving, giving role and want to help. It’s a very micro kind of level of change, but sometimes when you’re parenting young kids, that’s as much as you can do. It’s individual, it takes time, and it’s deep work. We are each other’s and our children’s protective factors.

My boys would bring kids over and we would be sitting downstairs playing a Donkey Kong or just engaged in something. Next time they’re over and they’re going to stay for supper. One of them began to tell me how long it’d been since he’d had a family meal because this family was broken by alcoholism. By building these little conversations over a video game where nobody’s got their guard up, then you have that trust.

Recently on social media, a young man who was in college with one of our sons had some challenges and the family from another state reached out and I got involved. This young man was just married over the weekend and I sent a lot of messages of cheers on social media. I haven’t seen him in 10 years but at that time there was a need. Those people don’t just walk right out of my heart. I guess I feel in a world where kindness seems a lost art and where there’s violence, I hope maybe some of this conversation will shift people and just say we will not enter into hatred. We will hold to our ground to be someone who is going to spread kindness.

When I was doing the whole police journey, my husband said to me, one day you should write a book – because he’s lived with me 36 years now. So I did write a book, Your City’s Waiting On You. It’s really a little bit of a Bible study, but chapter seven is all about ACEs. It’s about treating your city with kindness, but there’s chapters in the back, all about nonprofits and foster care and schools. I saw that evolve, not in a religious way, you know, but Jesus said in the kingdom is a servant. If you just get involved and serve, you’re going to build relationships. In another scripture it says I came to seek and to save the lost. I think a lot of times in church, we totally focus on the saving, but what about the seeking part, who’s going out? A cosmetologist, after reading the book, she got it for her mom and they decided to launch a ministry called Bridges to Beauty. They’re going downtown where women are, and they’re doing their cosmetology services for free…

Stories of kindness in practice. Of course. Thank you, Becky, for choosing to do something once you knew.

Parts 1, 2, and 3

Learning More about ACEs and Fostering Positive Childhood Experiences with Becky Haas: Part 2 of 3

Continued from part 1 of 3

Becky Haas Interview with API for AP Month 2020:

Parenting with PEACE, Part 2 of 3

In our work, Becky, we have parenting leaders and educators in local communities. We’re also training, and we’re helping them deal with preconceived ideas about parenting, preparing them to facilitate group meetings – to love, accept, welcome, and help caregivers with their parenting. We support those whose stress is affecting their coping and creativity as parents. We wrap this in the API Principles that are very foundational and grounded in research. We’re doing a lot of your infusing the community with empathy, understanding, and warm handholding.

As ACEs awareness is integral to understanding resilience, what childhood environments are more likely to predispose people to grow up without developing a high level of resilience?

The Milken Institute of The George Washington University School of Public Health’s Dr. Wendy Ellis and some of her team developed a graphic called the Pair of ACEs. With that graphic, they show that poor soil creates poor fruit on the tree. The soil illustrates the challenges like lack of affordable housing, food scarcity, and lack of employment. A tree growing in this soil is then likely to grow the fruit of domestic violence, drug addictions, or an incarcerated parent.

Graphic of tree titled The Pair of ACEs demonstrating adverse community environments at the roots and adverse childhood experiences in the branches
The Pair of ACEs. Source: George Washington University

Referring again to the funnel of hope, some schools locally, for instance, have hired a social worker through a nonprofit called Community in Schools. That social worker gets referrals from the teachers or the principal for families that might be struggling with housing or medical needs. I was surprised to learn when I worked at the police department, our city schools reported every year they had 300 to 400 kids classified as homeless. That didn’t mean many of them lived under a bridge or slept in a car, but it meant when they left the classroom every day, the teachers did not know where they could be found. They had no permanent address. But as we understand trauma-informed care, providing a social worker in the school can help address needs that students and their families are facing outside of school.

Statistically, it takes seven acts of violence before someone will reach out to an advocate. That means there is a lot of unreported violence children are witnessing in their homes.

We can see that ACEs occur from the wealthiest parts of town to the most difficult parts. Domestic violence is not socioeconomic; there is no barrier there. In 2015, in my zip code, we averaged nine calls a day that were coded domestic violence. Statistically, it takes seven acts of violence before someone will reach out to an advocate. That means there is a lot of unreported violence children are witnessing in their homes. This is what gave me the idea to train police. Police are likely called to the home and they can provide a small intervention to children who are present to help reduce the trauma.  When police are trained in trauma-informed policing, they step in and they say to the child, “You did the right thing. If you feel unsafe, you call us.” Training also directs the role of police in communities as a guardian instead of a force.

ACEs inventories identify people at high risk, but you also talk about “universal precautions,” keeping a trauma-informed lens based in the 70% statistic of those around us.

Since 2014, as an ACEs educator, I have always presented the national statistics on violence. There are 65% of women in substance abuse treatment who report histories of trauma, 75% of men treated for drugs have a history of trauma, 92% of homeless women have histories of trauma. In 2013, the American Journal of Public Health said homeless individuals have the highest ACEs scores of any population. When I give an ACEs education presentation, we talk about the ACEs test itself, but I’ve never even recommended a group to screen for ACEs. Not that I would be opposed to it, but I feel that if you screen, then you just need to make sure you have services to connect someone once you see what the score reveals. I strongly recommend the universal precautions method because those numbers I’ve cited pretty much tell us that of all the staff we hire, as well as all the consumers we serve, for instance, almost 70% are trauma survivors in some form or fashion.

What if 70% of the people you serve are trauma survivors – then how welcoming are you?

Some have had much more trauma and no healthy support, even among our staff. I do a training where professionals that were in my training, email me, or send me a chat in the chat box of their own story of some abuse and neglect that they’ve overcome. So, I did some work. Back two summers ago, I spoke at the Senator Tommy Burke’s Victims Academy, which is a statewide victim advocate academy that’s held every summer. They asked me to speak about why we need to have trauma informed multidisciplinary teams as best practice. The reasoning that I gave was if you knew that 70% of your services were going to go to people who were hearing impaired, how would you prepare? You would have videos with closed captioning. You would have people who knew sign language. What if 70% of those you serve, were going to face mobility challenges? Federal guidelines say we need to have handicap ramps and handicap accessibility and restrooms. What if 70% of the people you serve are trauma survivors – then how welcoming are you?  How can we ensure our services are not re-traumatizing consumers? That, to me, is when you accept a universal precautions approach.

There are several trauma-informed descriptors – aware, sensitive, responsive. Can you talk about what those are at the individual and societal levels? 

Often, I’m asked to conduct training on the Missouri Model. In the national work I do it’s pretty much recognized as a best practice. It has a paradigm that starts with trauma-aware, then it goes to trauma-sensitive and trauma-responsive, then to trauma-informed. Sitting through a two- or three-hour training does not make someone trauma-informed. This is a journey. If you compare this to tobacco use, we have seen it go over several decades from a popular fad in culture to now being banned from most public properties. How to transform the culture of an organization is addressed by the Missouri Model; in a three-hour workshop, I can help leadership create an action plan for how to change the culture of an organization to become trauma-informed.

I feel like this field found you, shifting culture toward empathy and understanding that is deep and sustainable; you have a gift for helping people understand trauma and how to be sensitive. Like many, I felt very inspired after I was trained by you. When you train, you tell a lot of stories and your approach with these stories is very engaging. You collect stories. Can you share why and how your service and story collecting started?

My parents—I’m one of five children—they were very community based. They would have the college kids who sold the encyclopedias in summertime start living in our house and having dinner. As a matter of fact, one year they told us that their supervisor said, “Don’t go down to that neighborhood, because you’ll want to quit. This little family is going to take you in.” I’ve spent nights in a chicken coop with Vista workers up in Princeville, Tennessee. That’s my childhood. That’s how I grew up. I think some of that made this resonate with me, and I’m always very fascinated by people’s stories.

When I heard about ACEs, it was the first time I felt I could help people with faith, encouragement, prayer, and compassion.

Collecting stories goes back to my days in ministry. I’ve often pondered how did I get picked to do this? Certainly, faith is integral in my life. When I worked in ministry, I would be sitting up in ICU holding the hand of a 70-year-old gentleman whose wife had congestive heart failure and they’ve called the family. The family lives around the world, and I’m sitting there with them that night, while he’s hearing these conversations with medical people about the hours that his wife has left to live. I see those tears falling down his cheeks, and it’s a sacred place to be there with someone.

I’ve wondered, do I like have this sign over my head – if you’re in the worst day of your life, call Becky. I’ve never forgotten a story of human suffering and human resilience. Before I knew about ACEs, it stuck to me like lint on a pair of black slacks. I felt people were such heroes. One of my dearest friends, who’s in his nineties now, when he was a little boy his father went to the doctor and never came home. His father died of tuberculosis. His mother went away sick, and he was so worried as a little boy; lo and behold, she also died of tuberculosis. He told me that he and his two sisters went to live with an aunt and an uncle. Every Sunday after church they’d get dressed up for church. They would sit in the parlor, and they noticed an unusual number of people would come by. One day it dawned on him that the aunt and uncle were trying them out to see if someone might adopt them. I’m hearing all these stories, and I don’t always know what to do with them. When I heard about ACEs, it was the first time I felt I could help people with faith, encouragement, prayer, and compassion.

With ACEs, how could we protect a child?

ACEs gave me a meaningful way, on a big scale, to raise awareness to the courage of people around us. How the smallest of kindnesses brought some comfort: sitting in intensive care or going to visit someone whose young person is suddenly in jail. ACEs has given me a way to really raise awareness of how much kindness means to people when they’re in suffering. I don’t know if I found ACEs, or ACEs found me.

We know that higher ACEs scores are associated with so many things, alcoholism, depression, health issues, employee absenteeism, job performance, and more. It’s significant on the individual level, of course, but what do you see that it does to a community? 

I didn’t realize until working for police the trickledown effect of the drug epidemic. Now that we know about ACEs, it’s almost like which came first, the chicken or the egg. The drugs are not ACEs, and trauma is not an excuse for drugs and crime – but now it offers us an explanation. We know that when bad things happen to people, they have to cope. You and I have found healthy coping mechanisms where some people turn to risky behaviors at an early age: tobacco, underage drinking, drug use, cutting, and eating disorders. I saw the impact that addiction had on the community. When I was overseeing the prison program what we were doing about this was being replicating across the state.

Instead of kicking them out, we hold them more tightly, you know, and what was that going to look like over time.

As we learned about it, a restaurant owner would call me and say I appreciate the work you’re doing. I have a child that’s been in and out of rehab. The next time you all have a gathering, I want to cater that event and do it for free. I was amazed at how many people were touched in the community. Then I saw the numbers. I sat in city commission meetings, hearing local government leaders in a local county. The sheriff told me that in 2010, it cost about $650,000 to run the jail for a year. And then in 2018 or 2019, it jumped to $2.9 million! I saw government leaders talking about how to fund our hospitals, how to dedicate more floors to deal with the volume of babies being born addicted.

That was another reason I championed this message, because it provided this upstream approach, instead of trying to deal with everything through more jails. In 2014, a study done by the Pew Charitable Trust compared Tennessee to New Jersey. Tennessee is the fifth highest state for using incarceration to monitor drug crimes, while New Jersey is 45th. Yet our drug rates and drug crimes continue to grow at the same rate. The summary of that report was incarceration is not reducing drug crimes. I didn’t know anything about this. I sat in city commission meetings and heard mayors talk about this. I heard police chiefs talk about it, how costly, at $80 a day in Tennessee, to incarcerate someone for one night. You have to assume all the healthcare, you have to assume the dental, the clothing, the laundry. That’s the reason that the county jail, if you have one person incarcerated that has HIV or Hep C, the medical treatments for that are amazingly expensive.

I saw what the drug epidemic was doing to the community and how costly it was affecting us all with taxes to staff and build. But yet, I didn’t see anyone saying conclusively, that if we keep going this way, we’re going to eventually end it. With ACEs, how could we protect a child? When I did work in healthcare, we had 50 school districts in our healthcare footprint. What if we had 50 trauma-sensitive school districts, how many more kids would, over 10 years, 15 years, affect the health of a region? If a lot of that was mitigated in a school setting, teachers who were trained in college to deal with “willful” behavior all of a sudden were trained now to know it as survival behavior. Instead of kicking them out, we hold them more tightly, you know, and what was that going to look like over time.

It definitely impacts the community.

Continue to Part 3 of 3

Learning More about ACEs and Fostering Positive Childhood Experiences with Becky Haas: Part 1 of 3

“From overcrowded prisons, hospitals delivering staggering rates of babies whose mothers are addicted, to finding foster care shortfall solutions and public-school systems where I first heard phrases like, cradle to prison and school to prison pipeline.  As a mother and grandmother, I wondered who are the children that are born with a predisposition heading them into prison?

~ BeckyHaas.com

Becky Haas Interview with API for AP Month 2020:

Parenting with PEACE, Part 1 of 3

Trigger warning: this post contains brief mention of child abuse events in the fifth paragraph of Part 1.

API is pleased to interview Becky Haas as part of AP Month this year. Becky is an international presenter of trauma-informed care and the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study, as well as a pioneer in successfully developing trauma-informed communities. Her seasoned presentation experience includes trips to Delaware presenting to state leadership at the invitation of their First Lady, as well as the training of multiple juvenile justice systems in both Virginia and Tennessee. She developed Trauma-Informed Policing training – now certified in two states for officer in-service credit – and has delivered it to the Oklahoma City Police Department, as well as precincts within Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. She has worked in partnership with the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police (TACP) to make Trauma-Informed Policing Training available to officers statewide. Becky is a highly sought-out trainer for educators, often working directly with school superintendents. Together, they impact entire school districts on their journey to creating trauma-sensitive schools.

When I heard about trauma-informed care, I was shocked at the brave people walking around among us, that so many people are trauma survivors.

Becky has served as the Trauma-Informed Administrator for a regional healthcare system, providing training development and delivery to healthcare staff in multiple hospitals, and she was instrumental in raising awareness of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as a social determinant to poor health and addiction within rural Appalachia. Becky serves as a consultant to the East Tennessee State University/Ballad Health Strong Brain Institute and helped to pioneer the Northeast Tennessee ACEs Connection. Becky is married to Jonathan, and their greatest joys in life are their two sons and their growing families.

Becky, ACEs – adverse childhood experiences – have brought people together from many different fields, and I would like to hear about your background and what brought you to this work.

I’m actually trained in ministry, and for 24 years I worked in the church that I still attend. I was involved with recruiting volunteers, education programs, pastoral care, and visitation. I also taught law enforcement in 33 counties of Tennessee about car seat safety for six years through a grant-funded program at East Tennessee State University.

My prayer had been that whatever kind of work I could do, that it would just be something that made a difference for people. In 2012, that landed me working for the Johnson City Police Department, where I directed an $800,000 crime reduction grant to reduce drug related and violent crime. I had no criminal justice background, but I had to bring together a community coalition to address four strategies around that grant. It ended up being 19 programs that 35 agencies did together, and we won two national awards. We won the most prestigious criminal justice award of the year in 2014, Outstanding Criminal Justice Program of the Year for the Southern region. Maybe it helped coming into this role that I had no criminal justice background, as I wasn’t focused on “the way things are always done;” instead I brought a fresh approach to looking at all the causal factors of crime and how community partners could address them. During this time, I learned the value of the collective impact of bringing all voices to the table. We had public housing, city government, libraries, and corrections – that really made an impression on me. Here, I learned about ACEs in my journey at the police department.

Between hearing the two of them 30 days apart, I felt like I’d heard the cure for cancer.

One of the pillars of the grant was to create an intervention to reduce recidivism. I’ve lived in the community since the seventies, but I had not spent much time with the prison population or the judges who worked with the first judicial district felony offenders. They wanted to create the perimeter that the program would be for high-risk, high-need felony offenders with addictions. So, working with this population for years, I hear about ACEs in the second year of that, and I hear their stories of being raped by a parent, being raped by a relative, being held in a closet, I just wondered: why was ACEs not a part of the toolkit? Why was this education not widely known? When I heard about trauma-informed care, I was shocked at the brave people walking around among us, that so many people are trauma survivors.

And now ACEs and trauma-informed care are a part of many programs, largely because of your work. ACEs is being addressed in schools, hospitals, foster care, businesses, and of course law enforcement. What other audiences have you been working with and advising?

Before I told anyone what I was learning at the police department, I’d gone to two national conferences, and at one, Dr. [Vincent] Felitti spoke (Principal researcher of the ACEs study). Then I went to another, a probation conference in Florida where I heard Dr. Joan Gillece, who at the time was the Director of the National Center for Trauma Informed Care Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Between hearing the two of them 30 days apart, I felt like I’d heard the cure for cancer.

“What if I came back and didn’t tell my town?,” it struck me, as I almost felt now that I’d be held responsible if I didn’t. My first step was creating a huge binder, putting 35 tabs in it representing all the agencies who were helping me do crime prevention – the library, healthcare, housing authority, faith community, judges, etc. I then researched mostly using the global online learning collaborative, ACEs Connection, to see if there were meaningful applications for using a trauma lens in all those settings. I honestly didn’t know what I was going to find. I thought maybe it would apply to a few – but at the end, I could not close the notebook! When I found a program that was making a difference and having good outcomes, I printed it off, put it in the notebook. After a few months of research, every single tab — juvenile justice, schools — every single tab had an application for using a trauma-informed lens. So that convinced me that there was a need to bring this approach into every kind of service. Then I went over to East Tennessee State University (ETSU), and presented my findings to some department chairs to see who might help me educate the community. In 2014, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had published a concept paper that recommended reducing the effects of childhood trauma in a public health approach by way of community education of the cross sectors of professionals.

From that meeting at ETSU, Dr. Andi Clements emerged to help me. We never asked anyone if we could train them, but one by one, the group of partners I already had around the table every month for my policing program began to want training. In less than three years, we trained over 4,000 professionals while it wasn’t even in our job description nor did we have any funding to do it. I would get in the office at 6:00 in the morning to keep my 19 police programs running so that no one would ever feel that I took away from my job to do that.

In 2017, we wrote the National Center for Trauma Informed Care to ask if we could host a webinar in 2018 of all the cities that have been doing this kind of work. We wanted to learn from them. In response they said, “We don’t know of a city that has trained such a diverse group of professionals about trauma informed care in one community.” That was the first time we knew something special had happened in Johnson City. So, in 2018 we were asked to host a forum and tell our story. Attending the forum were two governors’ wives, people from 20 states, and leaders from SAMHSA. After hearing our story, they told us we had created a model that other cities should follow for how to create a trauma-informed community.

There’s a responsibility by the people who hear about it to do something with it.

In 2019 Dr. Clements and I wrote a toolkit, funded by the Tennessee Building Strong Brains Grant, on Building a Trauma Informed System of Care for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. In the summer, we received notification that an article on the toolkit we had submitted to Johns Hopkins was accepted to be published in their journal, Community Progress in Community Health, Research, Education, and Action in December. The toolkit has also been recommended in Growing Resilient Communities 2.1, through the global online collaborative ACEs Connection. It provides step-by-step information on how to advocate, educate, and collaborate to create a trauma-informed community.

The message you’re bringing communities, that you recognize as effective, is to advocate, collaborate, and educate. Can you describe how you want communities to advocate, educate and collaborate?

You take these three actions to raise awareness about the ACEs Study and how to build resilient communities. The SAMHSA course, which we’ve used to train thousands, describes a trauma-informed organization or community as those who:

  1. Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand the potential paths of recovery.
  2. Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved in the system.
  3. Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices.
  4. and seeks actively to Resist Re-traumatization. ~SAMHSA

There’s a responsibility by the people who hear about it to do something with it. In the SAMHSA training, there are six pillars: Safety, Trustworthiness & Transparency, Peer support, Collaboration & Mutuality, Empowerment & Choice, and Cultural, Historical & Gender issues. Dr. Clements and I framed it up as an inventory instead of just facts: Is your program safe? Do people feel safe there? Do they feel you’re trustworthy?

Now the work I’m doing is to bring this message to groups on a national level. Most recently, I’ve trained all the childcare leadership in the state of Mississippi and in Tennessee. I’m working with the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police to create a professionally recorded video training of my Trauma-Informed Policing training that will be made available to all members of law enforcement statewide.

I turned the pyramid upside down to explain the concept of resilience and hope. At the upper level, we infuse the community with empathy and understanding.

My hope is that by telling people what trauma is, and about its universal prevalence, we can create an environment that helps trauma survivors heal.

In understanding ACEs, the top of the coin is trauma and childhood household dysfunction, but on the bottom of the coin is resiliency. We’ve learned that resiliency can happen in the community. Resiliency can happen through a Boys and Girls Club, for example.

As communities learn about ACEs, I feel by using a trauma-informed lens to provide services, we could mitigate the effects of trauma, maybe by 50%. In the ACEs pyramid that came out of the original ACEs study, the base is childhood adversity, all the way to the top which is early death. In the training I deliver, I turn the pyramid upside down to explain the concept of resilience and hope. At the upper level, we infuse the community with empathy and understanding. The shop clerk who is very rude? Don’t take it personally. They may just have been served divorce papers, or failed a class at the university that they were barely affording anyway.

Then the middle layer is much more social work, much more navigating because many tasks we need to do in life are hard. But if your life is overwhelmed with trauma, you’re likely not going to do those things, because it’s too hard. It’s too complicated. The middle part of the model is more what I call “warm hand holding.” The bottom part is clinical interventions which are important, but not always essential.

I’ve heard story after story of people who healed, were helped, and were set on a good path by interacting with the upper and middle levels of the funnel. One recent story that I heard on the CBS news earlier this year, before COVID, is a favorite for illustrating the upper level. It’s about a bus driver in Utah, who loved driving the school bus. In this particular school year, she had a little girl getting on her bus, 11 years old, who she just struck up a friendship with. One thing she noticed about the little girl was how she always had her hair braided. A few months into the school year, one day, the little girl not on the bus.  This expanded into a whole week missing. The next week on Monday, the bus driver was relieved to see the little girl back on the bus, but she noticed her hair was messed up and not braided. The driver reasoned to herself the little girl must have overslept. However, the next day the little girl got on the bus but again for several days her hair was not braided. Finally, the fourth day, the bus driver said to the little girl, “I sure miss those braids.” And the little girl said to her, “Last week, my mommy died and my daddy doesn’t know how to braid hair.” This touched the bus driver so much that after she dropped the children off at school, she went to Walmart to buy a clean hairbrush and a bag of bows. Every day after that, she began to brush and braid the little girl’s hair before she got off the bus and went into school. The teachers noticed that this single act brought that child in with a smile again, adding a little bit of a spark to her step.

It was so remarkable. They said something to the principal, who said something to the superintendent, and that story was on their local news. It made the national CBS news. That’s the top of the funnel of hope. In similar fashion, after training we now have librarians who realize youth coming in have not had anything to eat so they keep a snack drawer along with hygiene products. A local high school started a program called, “Suds for Buds” after students were trained about ACEs. They realized some of their classmates did not have access to these products at home so now they can clean up at school.

Can you see how this message is helping communities work the top and the middle part of the funnel to reduce the effects of adverse childhood experiences? There is a wonderful pilot program locally that is working to improve workforce sustainability by providing a navigator to the human resource departments of a couple of very large companies. As part of the employee benefits, they can access the navigator to find resources for things like paying their rent or purchasing a new set of tires without any blaming or shaming.  This enables employees to stay on the job instead of struggling and quitting – actions which only contribute to a domino effect of complications.

Continue to Part 2 of 3