Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Integrates a Trauma-Informed Lens to Promote Positive Mental Health

October 1, 2020
Teenage girl sitting on ground with her head down.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are common across all populations, with almost a quarter of respondents in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Visit disclaimer page study reporting at least one ACE and 15.8% reporting four or more ACEs. Abuse, neglect, parental mental illness, substance use, divorce, incarceration, and domestic violence are all ACEs related to increased risky sexual behavior for youth.

May was National Mental Health Awareness Month. The close link between ACEs, mental health, and sexual risk can be mediated by compassionate and trauma-informed programming, such as that provided by Title V SRAE grantees. The Georgia Division of Family & Children Services Visit disclaimer page administers the Title V Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Grant Program, and infuses a trauma-informed perspective in all of its work, from child abuse prevention to sexual risk avoidance education (SRAE) programming.

“Everything that we do is with a trauma-informed focus, trauma-informed policies, and trauma-informed practices,” says Deborah Chosewood, Deputy Director for Prevention and Community Support and Title V Grant Administrator.

Selecting grantees

Selecting trauma-informed providers is a key first step to ensuring that SRAE grantees are aware of and actively implementing best practices in trauma-informed service provision. The Georgia State SRAE Grant program requests annual renewals from sub-awardees. Requests for Applications (RFAs) contain questions about how a trauma-informed lens is being applied.

“In Georgia, grantees must show competence with the Youth Thrive Framework (PDF) Visit disclaimer page and include information about how they will promote one of the 5 Youth Thrive protective factors (PDF) Visit disclaimer page within their program,” Chosewood says.

In addition to the Family & Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) and statutory requirements, the state selects grantees that are responsive to youth needs, with a focus on positive protective factors for abstinence education.

Training

Many of the youth that grantees serve have ACEs that can be addressed in the context of sexual risk avoidance. Georgia provides required and optional quarterly training as an opportunity for continuous quality improvement. The training opportunities provide new sub-awardees or sub-awardees experiencing challenges with basic information, but also go beyond that by creating a culture of continuous learning where best practices are not a destination but a journey. Georgia uses a combination of national trainings such as the Youth Mental Health First Aid; Visit disclaimer page Connections Matter Visit disclaimer page , an ACEs awareness and prevention training; QPR Gatekeeper training, a suicide prevention training; and Trauma STARS: Understanding Trauma and Trauma-Informed Practice Visit disclaimer page . Other trainings are locally sourced.

Partnering with others

Within the state, grantees foster ties with the Georgia Department of Education Visit disclaimer page , the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Visit disclaimer page , and Mental Health America of Georgia Visit disclaimer page , among others. These partnerships help ensure that SRAE staff at the state and sub-awardee level are educated on the growing literature of best practices in trauma-informed practice. By developing and promoting positive skills in youth, SRAE programming becomes about building up healthy and positive relationships where abstinence is a natural outcome of positive self-worth and a future orientation. Providers are motivated by Chosewood and her team, including Missy Thompson and Jessica Lloyd, who make regular visits to grantees.

With SRAE funding, the Georgia Division of Children’s and Family Services provides programming to at least 50,000 youth throughout 18 counties. “The importance of a trauma-informed lens impacts them all,” Chosewood says.