The full moon was setting and the sun was rising as organizers from KIDS Network, Children & Family Resource Services, Casa Pacifica, and the Department of Behavioral Wellness began setting up the 2019 BRIDGES TO RESILIENCE Conference on October 14th at the beautiful Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. The stately halls and ballrooms were a flurry of activity as staff prepared to receive over 350 community members who work with children, youth and families in Santa Barbara County.
This, the fourth annual BRIDGES conference, was to be the biggest and best yet – bringing guest speakers and local experts together to build our community’s capacity for understanding, preventing and addressing childhood trauma. The schedule for the daylong event offered plentiful opportunities for learning and relationship-building, including a keynote address, a dozen breakout sessions, a community panel, and interactive activities throughout the day including meals, a midday ocean-view mindful movement activity, and resource tables where attendees could connect with local agencies and nonprofits. Read on to learn about the day (with great photos).
Following check-in and breakfast, the day’s events began with a welcome offered by three young women from the local Chumash community. Singing in their native tongue and translating for the audience, they shared songs that honored the ancestors, invited healing, celebrated community and encouraged participants to keep the momentum for creating a better future.
The keynote address was delivered by Laura Porter, a national leader in the field of N.E.A.R. Science (Neurobiology, Epigenetics, Adverse Childhood Experiences, and Resilience). Speaking to her theme “When Culture Heals,” she offered a new perspective on community engagement that encouraged us to notice patterns, shift practices, and “activate every responsible adult.” Porter gave an overview of N.E.A.R. Science and described how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) influence human development in predictable ways. If we understand the progression of adversity and the ways in which experience affects well-being, she maintained, we can take steps to create protective community systems that build capabilities, support attachment and belonging, and nurture communities, culture and spirituality. Porter encouraged each of us to act within our own sphere of influence to inspire change. “We are participating in living systems,” she said. “What is our role in that system, and how can we change our part to disrupt and do things differently?”
A dozen breakout sessions offered something for everyone, addressing the diversity of issues facing our community. The session “Pair of ACEs” suggested that beyond the the well-known ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) lies another (Adverse Community Environments), and introduced pathways for strengthening community resilience. Other sessions explored the Role of Leaders and the impacts of Implicit Bias. Participants learned to enhance trauma-informed and resiliency-focused approaches in sessions that included Trauma-Sensitive Early Childhood Programs, The Neuroscience of Trauma and How Mindfulness Can Help, Trauma-Informed Classroom Practices, Help That Helps, Resiliency Interventions for Queer Youth of Color, and Trust-Based Relational Intervention.
Strategies for self-care were included as well, in the session “A Reflective and Compassionate Approach to Professional Health and Well-Being,” and a Mindful Movement session after lunch for those who wanted to shake off the post-lunch energy slump.
Two of the breakouts highlighted innovative local programs. “Intervention Over Detention” looked at how the Santa Barbara County Probation Department has evolved from a punitive and compliance-based system to a trauma-informed, developmentally appropriate approach to working with youth – including a framework of assessment and case management, where accountability is balanced with evidence-based interventions, positive reinforcement, and incentives for change. Another session looked at the “Santa Barbara Pediatric Resiliency Collaborative (PeRC)” – a community effort to screen all children for ACEs, improve care coordination, and build family resilience – and how it has expanded from one clinic to two, with a goal of ultimately being in all pediatric clinics in the county.
Participants re-convened at the end of the day for “Resilient Santa Barbara County: Discovery and Possibility.” A panel of local leaders, working in different ways to build individual and community resiliency, addressed questions such as: How do we create an integrated and resilient community built on a foundation of trust and healthy relationships? How can we work collaboratively to ensure the health and well-being of all individuals, families and communities in our county? The session explored the underlying urgency of this work, the solutions that are rising in our midst, and the questions that need our attention in the months ahead.
Prizes were raffled off at the end of the day – participants were eligible if they had visited all the resource tables – and then folks were off to continue their conversations and put their new knowledge to work at home and on the job.
Many different sectors participated in this year’s conference. Those in attendance included educators, early care providers, resource (foster) parents, social workers, therapists, probation officers, physicians, nurses, health care administrators, psychiatrists, philanthropists, family support advocates, and leaders and service providers from community-based organizations. The conference was especially popular with educators, who sent representatives from five preschool programs, nine school districts, one charter school, and two private schools, as well as the Santa Barbara County Education Office, Children’s Resource and Referral, and the Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA).
The goals of the conference were to build a trauma-informed and resiliency-focused community; to facilitate strong connections between schools, families and community members; to increase knowledge of resources and tools for prevention and early intervention; and to inspire, engage and invigorate the work force to improve outcomes. In a post-event survey, most respondents indicated that the conference had increased their usable knowledge about resilience, Adverse Childhood Experiences and trauma-informed approaches; and had increased their knowledge of community resources.
Comments from attendees point to the success of the day, from both a practical and spiritual standpoint. Here are a few:
“Both of my breakout sessions offered practical ideas and suggestions that were easy to implement in my practice setting and could be tweaked slightly to work in many different settings.”
“I enjoyed the keynote and learned a lot. The panel at the end was informative.”
“I became aware of available resources out in the county, and the community support available for trauma-affected families.”
“I enjoyed meeting with other agencies and connecting, networking, and idea-sharing.”
“I loved the sense of community, the ‘tribe’ – feeling like I was in a space and place with like-minded people professionals to support healing in the community. It was an incredible experience.”
Sponsors make it happen!
On behalf of the conference organizers, we are grateful to our sponsors – our success is yours! Sponsors include: KIDS Network, Department of Behavioral Wellness, Casa Pacifica, Children & Family Resource Services, Cottage Children’s Medical Center, Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA), CALM, James S. Bower Foundation, Towbes Foundation, Santa Barbara Foundation, Community Action Commission, CenCal Health, Child Abuse Prevention Council, First 5, People Helping People, Family Service Agency, and County Education Office.