As a companion to Governor Tom Wolf’s multi-agency effort and anti-stigma initiative, “Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters,” the Office of Advocacy and Reform (OAR) is releasing the “Trauma-Informed PA” plan to guide the commonwealth and service providers statewide on what it means to be trauma-informed and healing-centered in PA.
This plan is the result of four months of work from OAR and the Trauma-Informed PA Think Tank, formed in February. The think tank was made up of 25 experts chosen to participate from urban, suburban and rural communities throughout the commonwealth, and represents the fields of psychiatry, psychology, law enforcement, county government, clergy, social work, counseling, mindfulness, community development, education, sexual assault recovery, addiction recovery, domestic violence services, child maltreatment solutions, nursing, public health, pediatrics, prison re-entry and philanthropy.
“Thanks to the Office of Advocacy and Reform and its think tank members for this innovative and vital plan on how to be trauma-informed, something many Pennsylvanians may not be familiar with, but that can be a guiding principle for our continuing efforts to support and protect our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians and everyone in our commonwealth,” Wolf said.
“When I first dove into this work in January and started to conceptualize the think tank and the process to build the plan, I thought this was the key to becoming a more prosperous state,” said Dan Jurman, the executive director of OAR. “But when COVID-19 hit, and then the George Floyd and subsequent police violence protests started, we knew that what we were working on would be crucial to healing a population in the midst of multiple traumas and chronic stress.”
Healing and preventing trauma
The plan focuses on six key areas:
1. Ensuring that PA state culture is trauma-informed through universal training
2. Ensuring all state agencies’ policies and practices are trauma-informed and more focused on prevention and healing
3. Mandating that all licensed and funded entities become trauma-informed
4. Building and supporting grass roots / community-based efforts to become trauma-informed in every part of the commonwealt
5. Recognizing and healing from the traumas of major crisis like COVID-19
6. Preventing and healing racial, communal and historical traumas, whether they be individual or systemicWithin these six areas there are 43 recommendations to be enacted starting this year. Those recommendations range from building a Pennsylvania network on the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Connection web platform to connect all community-based movements focused on ACEs and trauma, to reforming regulations and policies that can retraumatize children and families receiving services from the state.
“Our think tank included experts and professionals who’ve been working toward these ends for years,” Jurman added. “We’re especially grateful to Attorney General Josh Shapiro and his office for their work to make PA a trauma-informed state and for their contributions to our law enforcement recommendations.”
While the think tank has been thanked for its work and has disbanded, its members have been invited to join state agency representatives to form a new Trauma-Informed PA leadership team, which will guide action teams tasked with prioritizing the recommendations, setting short and long-term goals, and assigning accountabilities to make the recommendations a reality.
In addition to the 25 think tank members, another 70-plus trauma experts from all over the commonwealth have also been invited to join these action teams. All of these teams will also be expected to continue to push the envelope to make sure Pennsylvania not only keeps up with the latest science and trends in trauma and ACEs healing and prevention, but starts to set the bar for the nation.
“Brain science shows us that untreated trauma has negative and costly effects not only on a person’s physical and mental health, but also on their ability to learn, experience healthy relationships and reach their full potential,” Jurman said. “From healthcare to workforce development to law enforcement to human services to community and economic development, if we want to truly thrive as a commonwealth, then we have to heal what is at the core of our challenges and not just treat symptoms, respond to never-ending crisis, and incarcerate. Hurt people hurt people, and with 38 percent of all Pennsylvanians having experienced child abuse, there’s a lot of hurt out there. It’s time to break the cycle by setting people on the path to true healing.”