Children from adversity is a term often used to describe children who have experienced childhood traumas, abuse, and/or stressful conditions which could dwarf their emotional and physical growth. When we think of children from adversity, we tend to imagine children heading down the wrong path towards prison, and we often hear the horror stories of the foster care system going wrong.
What about the successes, and those who defy the odds of escaping their circumstances? Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Travis Lloyd, an artist and motivational speaker, who had to navigate his way through many foster homes and group homes in order to get where he is today.
The experience and knowledge of a child from adversity is a valuable resource helping professionals should be utilizing more often as a source of expertise. Are we adequately measuring, identifying, and using as resources children from adversity who have escaped their childhood circumstances in order to determine whats working and what’s not?
Children from adversity who are able to flourish despite their environment often display resiliency and survival skills many researchers still can not predict. Fortunately, Travis is using the skill sets he has developed in order to help others. I ran across Travis on twitter when I viewed a YouTube video someone tweeted me, and I had to share his story with you.
SWH: Tell us a bit about your background, and what lead to your current role as motivational speaker?
Travis: I have a story of Achieving Success Against All Odds, which is the mantra that I’ve built my speaking platform on. This stems from beating the odds of the negative statistics related to foster care. As far as my young mind could tell, I had a fairly normal life as a child. All of that changed when my parents divorced around the age of 9. My parents had a rough divorce, as far too many people can relate to. My father ended up in county jail due to the physical altercations and my mother wasn’t quite able to hold things together so she ended up hospitalized for her emotional instability. My sister is six years older than me and struggled to cope as a teen. She ended up running the streets and doing drugs so she went to drug treatment.
I ended up in two foster homes for a couple of months before my mother, sister and I relocated to Iowa, where my mother’s family is from. Middle school was a struggle between a constantly unstable home life and bouncing in and out of a few group homes. My aunt and uncle made a difference in my life by taking me out of that environment and giving me a permanent home to live in when I was about 14. I stabled out in high school, but still struggled with some identity issues when I went away to college. I started as a business major, but switched to nursing to have a guaranteed good income upon graduating. I started a career as an ER nurse at the same time as taking custody of my 9 year old nephew. I wasn’t satisfied working long hours in a high stress environment so I sought other ways to spend my time. I ended up volunteering for a foster care empowerment program where after only 3 weeks I became the regional program facilitator. Soon after that, I realized there was a need for people to speak and inspire foster youth and launched my first web site.
SWH: When you are sharing your story, what is the reoccurring narrative or feedback you receive from your audiences?
Travis: People often share comments like “your message was very inspiring and encouraged me to stay true to my dreams. I really feel like you touched the hearts of every single person in the room.” I always get a few people who said that they started crying. Most of these people are the ones who can relate to the childhood struggles or have a close friend or family member who has been through similar things. They love seeing that “its possible” to overcome and succeed.
SWH: What do you believe are some of the biggest barriers and challenges facing our youth?
Travis: A lack of inspiration for dreaming and a lack of encouragement from the adults in their lives. There’s a difference between being supportive through providing basic needs versus providing all of the unconditional love and compassion that encourages someone to never see a glass ceiling. The majority of our youth haven’t had the basics of how to be successful demonstrated for them. Its hard to do something that you’ve never seen before. And if you don’t have a dream, or feel like your dreams are unrealistic, then what’s the point in staying on the grind?
SWH: How do you feel hip-hop helps you to reach youth who have difficulty opening up to adults?
Travis: I see how drastic of a difference there is with the varied approaches to youth on a regular basis. I actually still work part time as a mental health crisis worker. I do psychiatric evaluations for people who are suicidal, homicidal, psychotic or otherwise in emotional distress. Sometimes I run into teens who won’t talk to the police officers or any of their friends or family. When I am able to take off my “professional” hat and talk in their language they almost always start to open up to me. Sometimes I’ll even spit something a-cappella or encourage them to share something creative of their own. It is pretty simple. People open up to people they can relate to. Being able to relate to people from different ages, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds is key.
SWH: What future aspiration do you have, and where do you hope this path leads you?
I plan to expand the reach of the message “Achieving Success Against All Odds” into books, audio books, hophop CD’s, and training videos. I recently released my first ever music video for the song “Take Me Away” and plan to produce several more music videos with inspirational messages related to topics that are relevant to youth, social service, child welfare, and mental health advocacy. As this brand grows, I will expand my company Changing Lives Entertainment to hold hophop events that make a difference and have a speaker’s bureau for speakers in various markets with similar goals. Sometime down the road I will go back to grad school and potentially pursue a doctoral program. I also have a dream of being the next Dr. Phil.
You can learn more about Travis Lloyd by visiting www.travislloyd.net or visit him on twitter at @travislloyd
How Social Workers Can Practice Trauma-Informed Care
Over the past few decades, there has been increasing recognition of the widespread and profound impact of trauma on individuals and communities. The results of an international mental health survey suggest that traumatic events have affected over 70 percent of the population, and can lead to prolonged physical and psychological harm.
These findings have transformed the field of social work, shifting the focus of education and training onto practices that recognize, support, and empower survivors of trauma. Referred to as “trauma-informed care,” this framework is especially important for social work professionals who have a high likelihood of encountering people with a history of trauma in practice settings.
Expanding the Definition of Trauma
Trauma-informed care starts with an understanding of the intricacies of trauma, and how it impacts individuals and communities. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”
For most people, the concept of trauma conjures up images of soldiers who have survived violent combat. Others may think about people who have been exposed to physical abuse, sexual assault or natural disasters. While these are some of the most distressing experiences that an individual can endure, trauma isn’t defined by an extreme event—it’s what the event means to the individual.
Trauma-informed social workers must take the time to understand a person’s unique perception and response to an event, taking into account the complex layers of identity, power, and oppression that contribute to trauma. Adopting this framework, researchers have expanded the definition of trauma to include the following categories:
- Complex trauma: The result of being exposed to repeated, ongoing, or simultaneous traumatic events, such as chronic neglect from a caregiver or long-term exposure to war conflict.
- Intergenerational trauma: This type of trauma is passed from those who directly experience trauma onto subsequent generations.
- Historical trauma: A type of intergenerational trauma that is experienced by specific racial, ethnic or cultural groups that accumulates across generations. Some experiences most commonly associated with historical trauma include the colonization and forced migration of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans.
- Institutional trauma: This is a type of trauma that occurs when institutions take actions that worsen the impact of traumatic experiences; for example, when a university covers up a sexual assault violation.
- Secondary trauma: Many helping professionals experience this type of indirect trauma, through hearing or witnessing the aftermath of a traumatic event experienced by a survivor. In addition to expanding the definition of trauma, the social work field has begun to outline some essential components of trauma-informed care.
Promoting a Sense of Safety
Trauma-informed social workers recognize that clients may have a history of trauma and prioritize creating an environment that feels physically and psychologically safe. Physical safety can be ensured by keeping areas well lit, monitoring who is entering and exiting the building and providing clear access to exits. Psychological safety involves a client’s feelings of trust in their relationship with the social worker, and can be ensured by modeling respect, consistency, acceptance and transparency.
Acknowledging and Reinforcing Patients’ Strengths
Many social service and healthcare professionals focus on diagnoses and interventions, framing symptoms as problems or weaknesses. Trauma-informed social workers, on the other hand, recognize that these symptoms are coping strategies in response to trauma. These practitioners highlight resilience and acknowledge strengths, cultivating hope for recovery and change.
Creating Opportunities for Choice
Trauma survivors often feel a sense of powerlessness, resulting from a loss of control and predictability in their experience of trauma. Trauma-informed social workers attempt to return the client’s sense of control by offering them choices and actively involving them in goal-setting and decision-making. As clients practice making decisions in the social work setting, they develop coping strategies and self-advocacy skills that support their functioning in the outside world.
Applying Your Knowledge
To maximize your impact as a social work professional, you need an extensive understanding of the latest theoretical perspectives, including trauma-informed care. An online master of social work program can help you acquire the conceptual knowledge and hands-on field instruction that you can apply to improve clients’ lives and achieve your professional objectives.
The Adelphi University Online Master of Social Work program brings decades of expertise and a legacy as a leading social work school to a flexible curriculum designed for working professionals. As a graduate student in the program, you’ll have the opportunity to engage with faculty members at the forefront of research on trauma-informed practices. Our graduates complete the program prepared to become Licensed Master Social Workers and fill the need for a skilled trauma workforce.
In A New World, Social Work Leads the Way
This is a sponsored article by California State University at Northridge
How Cal State Northridge is doing its part.
The pandemic, if nothing else, exacerbated the unequal distribution of resources in society. For millions of people, access to food, shelter, and health care is now more uncertain than ever.
What’s emerging is a new, somewhat dire need for experienced social workers – professionals able to compassionately address a disparate and evolving set of issues. Not only here in Los Angeles, but all over the world.
For much of the pandemic, the field has championed relief efforts, such as the rent moratorium. This provided a necessary, if temporary, reprieve from the daily fear of eviction. Outside of California, however, this moratorium is over. As are federal unemployment benefits.
And the impact is tragically visible. In California alone, the homeless population is over 151,000, with 41,000 of that in Los Angeles. And that’s just according to official estimates. The true number, allege some experts, may be much higher.
This is the sad, beautiful truth of social work. No matter where a client is, whether it’s in the classroom, at home, or on the streets, the field will be there.
But the field itself is evolving, too.
Following the death of George Floyd, social workers are increasingly involved in policing, augmenting first responders with a new option: one aiming to mitigate crisis and, as importantly, prevent the use of force.
As cities and states consider policing alternatives, social workers can help to ensure each community’s voice is heard, especially communities of color. Gaining popularity, the idea is to offer a more compassionate approach to law enforcement. Rather than responding with aggression, an arriving unit could instead respond with care, assessing the situation from a mental health standpoint, not one of criminality.
Likewise, opportunity youth – sometimes referred to as “at-risk” – now face many new challenges (among them, a skills gap from a year of remote learning). On top of food scarcity and uncertain housing, there’s also the real risk of contracting COVID. And for these youth, who often lack access to health care, this can be especially dangerous.
In all these cases, a humane approach is needed. Many social work programs incorporate hands-on experience, giving students access to the communities they’ll serve. One such program is the Master of Social Work (MSW) at California State University, Northridge (CSUN).
Unlike many social work programs, CSUN’s MSW expands participants’ career possibilities by offering a generalist approach. This enables graduates to work at ALL levels of the field: individual/family (micro); group/community (mezzo); and societal/policy (macro).
The program is offered fully online in two- and three-year formats. The two-year option is a full-time program with an intensive curriculum designed to help students complete their degrees and enter the field in as little time as possible. The three-year option, on the other hand, is an excellent choice for those who would prefer the same curriculum at a less intensive pace.
The master’s degree, which is often ranked among the best in the country, promotes the well-being of urban communities. Through its curriculum, participants learn how to assess a community’s needs from the inside, in large part through active listening.
As the field continues to evolve, those who comprise it must evolve too. That begins with knowledge of the new world, but ends, as it always has, with the people who need us most – the ones for whom we care.
What “Bachelor in Paradise” Can Teach us About Empowering the Disability Community
Are you a fan of “Bachelor in Paradise?” Whether you realize it or not, this season of the “Bachelor” franchise spinoff took on the topic of disability empowerment. Which is not exactly an expected topic for mainstream television. For years, the “Bachelor” series has been criticized for featuring primarily White contestants, and has worked to diversify the races and ethnicities of the people they draw on the show. But what about people from the disability community or people who identify as Deaf or hard-of-hearing?
Being disabled or Deaf or hard of hearing are also social identities in American culture – identities that should not be overlooked in the show’s representation. These communities represent what some refer to as the largest minority community in the United States at 26 percent of the U.S. population according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the following, we’ll discuss more about why this year’s “Bachelor in Paradise” was so significant and what that may mean for social workers.
A few years ago, we did have Sarah Herron on the show, a woman with a physical disability, although her presence was short-lived. But this season, the very first person down the stairs to the Mexican beachfront hacienda was Abigail Heringer, a 26 year-old woman who identifies as Deaf due to congenital hearing loss from birth. She received cochlear implants at the age of two but does consider herself disabled due to her hearing impairment and loss. Abigail was a central figure in this summer’s Bachelor in Paradise due to her romance with Noah Erb.
It was refreshing to see a disabled person in a romantic relationship given the history our culture has of thinking that disabled folks are asexual, incapable of having sex or in need of being protected from any kind of sexual contact. Abigail and Noah’s relationship has played out on television screens across Bachelor Nation – from their devastating breakup at the show’s conclusion to their rekindled romance announced subtly on social media later. This demonstrates that members of the disability community have relationships too, and that this is 100% normative behavior, with breakups, glitches, awkwardness, kissing and all!
The Dignity of Risk
So how does this relate to social work practice? One of the central tenets of good disability social work is how we need to honor the concept of the dignity of risk. This is the idea that everyone can learn from everyday risks. Central to honoring the dignity of risk is respecting an individual’s autonomy and self-determination to make choices. Also important, is the right for our clients to make choices even if social workers or other professionals in the person’s life feel that they could endanger the decision-maker in question. In order to respect a person’s dignity of risk, one should provide intermittent support even if others do not approve of the choice.
As there is inherent dignity in the experience of everyday risk, this concept suggests that limiting a disabled person’s ability to make even a risky choice, or limiting their access to the learning that comes along with a potentially emotionally painful risk, such as dating, does not foster overall wellness in the long run. Abigail, from this year’s “Bachelor in Paradise” is a wonderful example of the kind of empowerment needed, rather than sheltering one from risks in life.
Robert Perske famously wrote:
“Overprotection may appear on the surface to be kind, but it can be really evil. An oversupply can smother people emotionally, squeeze the life out of their hopes and expectations, and strip them of their dignity. Overprotection can keep people from becoming all they could become…”
Arguably, the dignity of risk may be among the most challenging tenets for social workers to embrace in their practice, but it is vital to accept given its intersection with self-determination. The dignity of risk also involves learning about the part of life that involves sexual and romantic relationships. Social workers need to remember to talk to their clients about sexuality in a developmentally appropriate manner. It is important not to cut off conversations about this topic, or to skirt the subject when it comes up. We must also support our clients in exploring how to engage in healthy relationships when they have the opportunities to be in them.
It’s wonderful that Abigail Heringer can be a model in reminding us of this important lesson for empowerment-oriented disability social work. One that embraces the dignity of risk for those who wish to date! With that being said, here’s to Noah and Abigail’s relationship!
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