SPOKANE, Wash. – Exposure to trauma in childhood can create lifelong emotional, health and behavior risks. To help people work through Washington’s March 2014 Oso/Highway 530 landslide, the American Red Cross has given Washington State University researchers $100,000.
“While tragedy changes anyone, children and adults who have been exposed to ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) often struggle with long-term adjustment,” said Chris Blodgett, director of WSU’s Child and Family Research Unit (CAFRU). It will help Darrington, Wash., schools assist students and families while leading a broad community discussion about the effects of trauma.
“The community leadership decided that the way to recover from the effects of the landslide was to address the longer-term challenges of multigenerational trauma,” Blodgett said. “Truly, I’m in awe of their insight and courage.”
CAFRU is working with the Darrington School District, North Counties Family Services and WSU’s Snohomish County Extension Office to help the community confront the long-term process of grieving in order to emerge stronger and more resilient, Blodgett said.
Critical to this effort, say community leaders, is how the landslide brought forward problems long acknowledged but not fully addressed. These include family violence, untreated mental health and substance abuse and social isolation, Blodgett said.
CAFRU will provide professional development and systematic coaching and consultation for three to four years. The partnership’s goal is to have a skilled, trauma-informed workforce and families who feel confident and capable in supporting their children.
In the face of extraordinary stresses like the landslide, some children and adults are placed at much greater risk for significant adjustment problems as they struggle with loss. Darrington leaders know this connection is real and that long-term recovery from the tragedy requires working to break the cycle of ACEs across generations, Blodgett said.
Darrington has multiple strengths, he said, including a strong sense of community, belief in helping neighbors and a sense of itself as a community that looks first to its own resources to solve problems. Community leaders fully acknowledge the loss from the slide but refuse to be defined by tragedy.
As a result, Blodgett said, the goal for Darrington is how to grow out of the tragedy as the kind of community it wants to be, addressing both recovery from the landslide and long-term problems that have been largely unaddressed.
For more information on CAFRU and complex trauma, visit http://ext100.wsu.edu/cafru/.