When Cardea Services set out to launch a teen pregnancy prevention program for disconnected youth in Texas, they soon realized participants were at increased risk for sexual assault and other traumatic experiences. The Competitive Personal Responsibility Education Program (C-PREP) grantee decided to adopt a trauma-informed approach in its Connections Project, which delivers evidence-based programming to young people at juvenile detention centers, foster care agencies, and drug treatment facilities.
“Many of the youth we work with have had sexual experiences and many of them not by their own choosing,” says Cardea Vice President, Sandy Rice. “We needed to make sure we were addressing their needs and being sensitive to their past.”
Cardea staff began by training local educators on trauma and its ongoing impact, including the way language can trigger shame or other emotions relating to past experiences. To help educators avoid pitfalls, Cardea offered suggestions for avoiding triggers and created a language guide with appropriate terms and phrases.
As part of its trauma-informed philosophy, the Connections Project takes a positive approach that avoids using scare tactics to change young people’s behavior. “The main message is [that] no matter how a person has experienced sex in the past, they can have a healthy sexuality,” Rice says.
The trauma-informed approach has already made a difference for over 800 15-to-19-year-olds served by the program, to date. According to one educator, several students reported having been victims of molestation after he explained to the group the definition of sexual abuse. The educator said he felt comfortable addressing the situation and connecting young people to the school counselor because of his training and experience in working with traumatized teens. Shifting the way he viewed sensitive issues such as abuse, has led to “really great conversations” with students to support the healing process.
“It’s an ongoing thing,” Rice says. “We address this [trauma-informed approach] every time we have a meeting with our program partners. We provide the staff with opportunities to practice techniques and ask questions. Working with youth-serving agencies and conducting trainings on a regular basis definitely keeps the momentum going and increases awareness.”