Dr. Linda Gilkerson presents at 2016 Learning Lunch

August 4, 2016

2016 Learning Lunch
Childhood Trauma: What is it and how can I help?

Making Futures Bright: A Trauma-Informed Early Intervention Program

On Wednesday, August 3rd an intimate group of individuals gathered for Bright Promises 2016 Learning Lunch. This year's luncheon was co-hosted with Erikson Institute, one of the esteemed organizations to receive multi-year support as a part of Bright Promises' Promoting Resilience initiative. Erikson Institute is Chicago's premier independent institution of higher education committed to ensuring that all children have equitable opportunities to realize their potential.

In 2015, Erikson Institute was awarded a two-year grant by Bright Promises to build the capacity of Early Intervention programs by providing trauma-informed training to service providers. The goal of this program is to provide infants, toddlers, and their caregivers who have experienced trauma with relationship-based, trauma-informed services, to support the child’s recovery from trauma, and promote the child’s growth and development within the context of care-giving relationships. 

Participants at the 2016 Learning Lunch enjoyed the opportunity to learn firsthand about the impact made during the first year of this program and the plans to replicate and expand this program during the second year of Bright Promises' funding cycle. 

What is childhood trauma?

The presentation was led by Dr. Linda Gilkerson Ph.D., Director of the Irving B. Harris Infant Studies Program at the Erikson Institute. Dr. Gilkerson specializes in Early Intervention and her research addresses the needs of infants and families in a range of settings including neonatal intensive care units, Early Head Start and childcare. Additional expert insight was provided by trauma-informed trainers Lili Gray and Carole Graybill, and newly trauma-informed trainees Peter Bryne and Carol Muhammend.

Speakers and guests socializing at the 2016 Learning Lunch at Erikson Institute

After a welcome from Bright Promises President Jon N. Will, Dr. Gilkerson began the luncheon by defining what trauma looks like in a child and how trauma impacts a child's development. Children who experience trauma, whether one-time or repeated, experience feelings of helplessness that overwhelm that child's capacity to cope. Children of different ages react to trauma in different ways. Infants may demonstrate a lack of joy or disinterest in exploring while teenagers may engage in regressive behaviors  like thumb-sucking or wetting the bed. Research indicates that the effect of trauma is worst at the youngest ages and most maltreated children have multiple developmental delays.

Infants and toddlers are at the greatest risk for traumatic experiences like abuse and neglect, and children under 12 months are the fastest growing at-risk age group. In Illinois, 40% of abuse and neglect cases involve children under the age of 3. 

But there is hope.

Children can grow and heal in spite of traumatic experiences when they are in a supportive relationship with a loving adult. Dr. Gilkerson demonstrated how responsive children are to their environment by showing a brief video of the "Still Face" Experiment, conducted by Dr. Edward Tronick. During this experiment a mother denies her baby attention for just two minutes. Even in this short time the baby becomes stressed, frustrated, loses some body-control and eventually begins to cry.

This experiment demonstrates how prolonged lack of attention can move an infant from good socialization, to periods of bad but repairable socialization. In "ugly" situations the child does not receive any chance to return to the good, and may become stuck. The goal of the Erikson Institutes' program supported by Bright Promises is to help Early Intervention service providers to be more prepared to address the needs of parents and children who have experienced trauma and help them return to the good. More than 3,400 children, 875 service providers, and 85 agency coordinators have been impacted by this program during the first year alone.



Train the Trainers

During the 2016 Learning Lunch, participants also heard directly from Carole Graybill and Lili Gray, who helped to conduct a series of trauma-informed trainings at the three Early Intervention sites serving the largest percentage of children from child welfare in Illinois. Luncheon participants enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the impact of these trainings firsthand from Peter Byrne and Carol Muhammend, who directly provide Early Intervention services to communities in need throughout Chicago. Plans are already in place to expand this training program to help more service providers to become trauma-informed and program participants continue to identify more ways to build trauma-informed teams and share information. The luncheon finished with a lively discussion about program evaluation and how to ensure that children and families who need these services receive the necessary support.

Bright Promises would like to thank everyone who participated in the 2016 Learning Lunch! Special thanks to all of our speakers and to Erikson Institute for generously co-hosting this luncheon. 

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