Bridging the Gap to Help Families Heal: How the HOPES evaluation inspired us to put research to practice

Multigenerational familyBy Beth Gerlach, Ph.D., LCSW, Associate Director

One of our institute’s most important values is our emphasis on connecting research and practice. We strive to accomplish this in many ways, including disseminating evidence for best practices from research, and listening to the needs and experiences of clinicians working on the field. As we reflect on our evaluation of the HOPES project that we recently completed in partnership with DFPS, we are proud to share another illustration of our efforts to connect research and practice in a timely and impactful way.

For the HOPES evaluation, we interviewed stakeholders and providers all over the state of Texas. One of the key questions we asked was “what do you think drives child maltreatment in your community?” Over and over, in urban, rural and suburban communities, we heard the same things: substance abuse, family violence, caregiver mental health and multigenerational trauma. We then followed up the question to better understand what strategies each community used in an effort to address each risk factor.

Many of the providers we interviewed felt particularly ill-equipped to talk to parents and caregivers about their own experiences with child maltreatment and trauma. Most understood that it was an important factor in helping caregivers understand how their personal experiences impact their current functioning, as well as their ability to provide safe, stable and nurturing environments for their own children, but they were not sure where to start. Their hesitation was understandable; many were afraid that they might upset a caregiver, make things worse, or just not know what to say.

Since many of us at TXICFW have clinical training working with families that have experienced trauma, we understood the complexity and the importance of addressing issues related to multigenerational trauma. We felt compelled to do something to support the many providers across the state working hard to prevent child maltreatment. So, outside of our evaluation roles, we created a workshop to help providers like caseworkers, home visitors, and early childhood teachers talk to caregivers about their own childhood trauma, remove shame and stigma related to their own experiences, and to support them in choosing a more protected path for their own children.

We first presented the workshop “Multigenerational Healing: Understanding and supporting caregivers who have experienced trauma” at the DFPS Partners in Prevention statewide conference (2016) where we were able to share the information with many of the providers that we had interviewed for the HOPES evaluation.

In this workshop, participants learn that the behaviors they see in their clients can be the “tip of the iceberg,” and that often there is a deep connection to past experiences and trauma. As a provider, learning how to bridge that gap between that understanding and the resilience that exists within the children and families they work with is key to directly addressing the main drivers of child maltreatment. The workshop gives providers strategies they can use while working with parents who have histories of trauma within various practice settings.

Overall, this workshop was well-received and the feedback demonstrated we were able to address a gap in services to prevent child maltreatment. Since then, we have had the opportunity to present the workshop to schools, CASA, advocates, home visitors and other providers serving vulnerable children and families. We continue to adapt and improve this training in an effort to support providers seeking to expand their understanding and intervention with multigenerational trauma. 

If you or your organization is interested in learning more about our Multigenerational Healing workshop, click here.

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