Rockford's Independent Newspaper

Winnebago County leaders address trauma as root of community problems

By Susan Stephens

ROCKFORD — Leaders in education, social services, and government in Winnebago County are trying to work together on a common thread they see running through their community’s biggest challenges – trauma.

The Winnebago County Health Department identified three priorities in a recent community health assessment – the health of mothers and their children, mental health, and violence. Thursday, March 8, they hosted a summit to find ways to connect professionals working on these issues and try to understand how personal trauma affects them. Trauma comes in a lot of forms and can run deep – like family violence, poverty, racism, and substance abuse.

Raul Almazar of Almazar Consulting is an expert in “trauma informed care.”

It’s a system that recognizes the psychological, social, even physical effects trauma has on people and communities. Almazar says simple changes in thinking can do a lot of good in organizations, businesses, and individuals. “A lot of the things we talk about, examples we use, do not cost money,” he said. “The resources are there, it is simply shifting the perspectives.”

Participants in the summit worked on ways to coordinate their efforts and better understand the stresses in their community. Almazar praised the county’s efforts to create a new Family Justice Center, where different resources can be brought together to stop, as well as prevent, domestic violence.

A program in the Harlem School District was held up as a good example: they’ve reduced discipline problems by seeking out the sources of trauma that lead to disruptive behavior in their students. They’ve accomplished this by training all staff in trauma informed care, including bus drivers and food service employees, who often see children first. They also have designated “comfort rooms” where students can go to calm down instead of acting out.

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