Thinking holistically about what a trauma-informed community can be
New Hanover County was in the inaugural cohort of the Trauma-Informed Communities Project in 2018, and, from the beginning, it was clear that their level of community interest and engagement was very high. The response to the survey in the initial needs assessment was a respectable 220 individuals, but what stood out was the strength of representation across multiple systems. Today, the Resiliency Task Force – a coordinating body for the county’s participation in the TIC Project – has more than 600 members and eight sub-committees. In addition to child welfare and mental health agencies – those who typically lead trauma-informed initiatives – the task force boasts a remarkable reach across childcare, healthcare, schools, first responders, courts, county offices, and even faith communities and arts organizations.
Mebane Boyd, who until recently directed the Resiliency Task Force, says this widespread involvement can be credited in part to the influence of one person. Judge Julius Corpening has been Chief District Court Judge for New Hanover and Pender counties for thirty years and a family court judge since 2000. Well before New Hanover’s involvement in the TIC Project, Judge Corpening had identified trauma as the common denominator in the lives of nearly every child or family who came before his bench and had worked to bring that awareness into his judicial practice. He was an early proponent and active participant in New Hanover’s TIC activities, and his reputation and stature in the community drew others to the project.
Credit for the extraordinary reach and impact of New Hanover’s trauma-informed work, though, goes to the inspired activism of individuals and teams across multiple systems in the county, with support from Pam Price, their TIC Project consultant. Judge Corpening praises the school system for rapidly providing trauma-informed training for all teachers and staff in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic and for recognizing how critical that perspective would be in meeting the needs of students. Mebane points to the example of a domestic violence agency that fully revamped its intake and assessment forms when they saw the secondary traumatic effects their approach was having on staff. She also connects a recent art exhibit by middle school students at the Cameron Art Museum with resilience-focused training made possible through partnerships within the task force.
The county administration has also begun to adopt a strong trauma-informed perspective in its human resources practices. They created a full-time resilience officer position and offer a two-hour training in the basic principles of trauma for all new hires by the county. Bo Dean, Senior Human Resource Analyst, has been a passionate advocate for these new directions and looks for any opportunity to connect county employees to trauma-informed practices. He notes that principles of trauma and resilience have been written into the county’s emergency management manuals. He is working with the fire department to develop a peer support model and facilitating a Trauma-Informed Leadership Training with the county’s social workers. Most importantly, he is also bringing together these different groups for consultation with one another on a monthly basis.
For Mebane Boyd, these connections across systems are not the results of their success; they are the reason for their success.
“The Resiliency Task Force has been able to break down barriers between systems,” she says, “and that has allowed all of us to accomplish things we could not have done on our own.”