Speakers target ways to fight childhood traumas with resilience


Rachel Kupfer/The Daily Northwestern

Dr. Terry Mason, chief operating officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health, speaks at an event Wednesday at the Segal Visitors Center. Health practitioners, community organizations and parents gathered to discuss empowering childhood resiliency in the face of trauma.

Clare Proctor, Reporter

Three health experts said at an event Wednesday that in a world full of increasing trauma and life challenges, dialogue is the key to ensuring children learn to cope with issues like accidental harm and intentional abuse.

The event, sponsored by Metropolitan Family Services, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Chicago, was attended by 40 health practitioners, community organization members and parents at the Segal Visitors Center. Speakers discussed various ways to address child trauma, namely tactics to help children build resilience.

Gene Frett, a community board member of the Evanston and Skokie branch of Metropolitan Family Services, told The Daily he helped the group’s main board select speakers and topics for the event.

“It’s very powerful to have people who deal with these situations on a day-to-day basis kind of walk through what’s actually going on,” Frett said.

Frett said he had anticipated more parents would attend the event, but that the audience was “largely practitioners.” He added that he hoped parents would take the opportunity to learn more about the traumas children face on a daily basis.

The event’s keynote speaker — Dr. Terry Mason, chief operating officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health — said unhealthy coping mechanisms stem from a lack of self-affirmation in children’s homes. Joining him was Vikki Rompala, who works for Metropolitan Family Services and said it was important to identify traumas that cause harm to children’s lives.

Evonda Thomas-Smith, the city’s director of Health and Human Services, was the third speaker at the event, and emphasized collaboration and personal understanding when working to heal trauma.

“We provide service directly to people in their homes, when they are most vulnerable,” Thomas-Smith said. “We’re trying with great intention to make sure that we’re hearing our families, serving our families. We can only do that in partnership. We can only do that in a collaborative sphere.”

Through her experiences working with individual families, Thomas-Smith said she found “cookie cutter” techniques of addressing trauma are seldom successful. She said it is important not to make assumptions based on one’s own culture and background, and instead look into a family’s situation without prior biases.

Holly Jin, community engagement supervisor at the Skokie Public Library, attended the event and said she saw it as an opportunity to learn about ways community building could better address childhood trauma.

The library is focusing on deepening relationships with social service agencies, Jin said. The event gave her a different perspective on looking at major issues children face in her community, she said.

“It’s easy, even as a librarian, to take our professional knowledge and try to then share that with who we think might need it most,” Jin said. “But what we really need to do is ask questions and develop solutions with people together.”

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