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Trauma-Informed Communities: Chatham County

Centering racial equity in creating a trauma-informed system of care

A coalition of nonprofits and county agencies in Chatham County is another CCFH partner that is centering racial equity in its efforts to create trauma-informed systems care. Their work is being supported through the Trauma-Informed Communities (TIC) Project, which began in 2018 as a partnership between CCFH and the NC Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities & Substance Abuse with the aim of helping individual counties develop sustainable approaches to trauma across all of their child-serving and family-serving systems. Currently, CCFH is working with seven counties in the TIC Project.

A TIC partnership begins with building relationships, understanding a community’s needs, and promoting awareness of trauma-informed practices. In collaboration with the local leadership team, CCFH provides an open training on the fundamental principles of childhood trauma and resilience, intended to reach the widest possible audience across all participating systems in a county – from mental health and social services to childcare, healthcare, schools, courts, and juvenile justice. From that shared conceptual base, CCFH faculty then work with county partners to conduct a needs assessment across those systems. CCFH returns with data and recommendations presented in a setting open to all stakeholders. Based on the needs assessment, the county partners set priorities for steps they want to take next along with a plan for additional training from CCFH to address their particular needs and interests.

Chatham County joined TIC in 2019, and there are now more than 70 organizations actively involved under the coordination of the Chatham Health Alliance, the Child Well-Being Collaborative, and Cardinal Innovations Healthcare. Now in their second year, they are focused on increasing collaboration among organizations and across systems, but Angela Tunno, CCFH’s co-principal investigator for TIC, says the past year has given them compelling reasons to return to the needs assessment phase.

“When we asked our Chatham partners what else was needed to move their work forward,” she says, “we heard over and over, ‘Much more on racism and trauma’.” Needs assessment in the TIC Project has always emphasized cultural sensitivity, and CCFH faculty have given significantly more attention to racial equity over the last three years. Still, when Angela looked back at the first year of the Chatham project, she recognized how little space was given specifically to racial trauma. “We knew we needed a local partner to help expand that aspect,” she says, “and Karinda’s name came up a million times.”

“ Truthfully, it isn’t just that racial trauma has been downplayed in trauma-informed systems work, it’s been ignored. And the events of the last few years have showed us that we can’t just ask why it’s been ignored. We need to ask why we are not leading with racial trauma in this work now. ”
- Karinda Roebuck, Executive Director of Chatham Organizing for Racial Equity (CORE)

Karinda Roebuck is the executive director of Chatham Organizing for Racial Equity (CORE). A midwife by training, Karinda had long worked in justice-related aspects of maternal and prenatal health, which led her to CORE via a training from the Racial Equity Institute (REI). CORE evolved from interfaith and community efforts to bring REI training to Chatham in 2016 with an expanded focus on education, community organizing, and racial reconciliation.
“Truthfully, it isn’t just that racial trauma has been downplayed in trauma-informed systems work, it’s been ignored,” Karinda says, acknowledging it is often her role to say the thing that is awkward or uncomfortable. “And the events of the last few years have showed us that we can’t just ask why it’s been ignored. We need to ask why we are not leading with racial trauma in this work now.”

That question has been transformative for Chatham’s trauma-informed work over the last year. Working together, CORE and CCFH began by revising the curriculum used for introducing the fundamental principles of trauma, but that was only a first step. As Karinda notes, their aim is that racial equity be more than just a line item in the project or a section in training content. It should be integrated into every aspect of the project, guiding how material is presented, how meetings are facilitated, and how decisions are made.

The collaboration between CORE and CCFH is ensuring that the transformation underway in Chatham is as firmly grounded in racial equity as it is in trauma-informed principles, but the impact is also extending well beyond Chatham. Through mini-conferences and webinars hosted by CCFH, CORE has been sharing its experience and expertise with the other six counties in the TIC Project. There are also conversations underway with other stakeholders about how what has begun to take root in the TIC Project can guide and influence other state-wide initiatives on racism and trauma.

Posted on May 18, 2021