flyer about panel
Did you miss our panel?
Photo: IRC

The IRC in NY is delighted by the event turnout at the Youth & Wellness Panel that occurred on Wednesday, May 3 at M.M.LaFleur in NYC! Avigail Ziv, the Executive Director for both the New York and New Jersey Resettlement offices, led a discussion with the IRC’s NY Senior Youth Program Manager, Pat Curran, and Health and Wellness Manager, Andrew Jones.  

See below for Andrew and Pat’s insights into the ways trauma-informed supports are critical to helping youth become more aware and confident about their mental health journey. 

A conversation with Andrew 

Why are we gathered here today? What’s important about this topic?  

That’s a great question. First, it is important to challenge the assumption that once an individual resettles or has ‘stopped migrating’, their trauma ends. That is not the case, and there are layered ways in which integration itself is traumatic, thereby revealing or causing trauma responses and distressed emotions. In the same vein, mental wellness should not only be centered around trauma.  

Can you share an example of trauma-informed service delivery vs that which is not? 

Let me start by clarifying that the word trauma should be used carefully. It's important to demystify the idea that someone is “struggling because they have trauma.” Trauma-informed service simply does not make this assumption. Trauma is a complex diagnosis and it's important to not lead wellness conversations with assumptions or biases. We start with this lens in order to foster open and inclusive conversations with our clients.  

Towards this goal, we train our staff to screen for a wide range of wellness concerns (such as distress) to make mental wellness referrals more streamlined and contextualized. That’s where trauma-informed support is used to unpack how a client’s lived experience informs their wellness and to understand where trauma is or is not presented in a given moment.  

One critical step towards these open conversations is to follow a strength-based approach wherein clients share what resources they have and may potentially leverage to cope or process their emotions. For instance, a client may be an active community member at a recreational club or may have a hobby they love doing. From that alone, clients are agents of their wellness journey and the team orients their support and recommendations around clients' goals and interests. That means, finding wellness activities/methods based on their interests, schedule, and lived experiences. This strengths-based approach along with our multi-lingual workshops and spaces encourages clients to be empowered agents of their wellness journey.  

What are some ways your department implements trauma-informed care at the IRC in NY?  

Multi-lingual and Emotionally Safe spaces are the key. Holistically, clients are supported through mental health screenings, safety and risk assessments, psychoeducation workshops, and short-term supportive counseling. The team also screens around 50 clients monthly for NYC Care Health benefits. 

The Safety & Wellness team also supports colleagues across all departments to incorporate the above approaches to best support their clients. One way in which we support clients is to help them identify their stressors. For example, when we accompany a family to an appointment who may feel uncomfortable in loud spaces, our team prepares them to process how they react in certain spaces such as on their commute to their appointment. This focus on the every day makes wellness conversations more tangible and centers the clients’ overall lived experience to the present moment.  

Starting in May 2023, The IRC in NY has launched the Community Adjustment Support Program (CASP) with the purpose to engage 45 participants during a 6-month tailored wellness curriculum. We are excited to bring more wellness offerings to clients and to share our reflections about this program in the near future.  

A conversation with Pat 

What are some ways you notice trauma affecting children’s learning?  

In a classroom or learning space, children and youth may have trouble concentrating, act out or withdraw from interacting with peers. This is common for children and youth across all lived experiences, but we can consider the impact of trauma as one of many hypotheses to explain the behavior. Parents/Guardians as well may have trouble supporting their child and can also be stressed by the public school system. Many parents are still learning about what resources they can have access to. With this in mind, the Youth Program team are determined to support students’ learning through a culturally appropriate, linguistically supported, and trauma-informed lens. We build a relationship with the student and their family to get to know them and try and discover the root cause of behavior. When we find that trauma is having an impact, we tailor our interventions accordingly.  

What are some of the ways we as service providers can adapt to address this trauma? What can help support children who have been affected by (or are affected by ongoing) trauma?  

When a child is experiencing ongoing or momentary emotional and behavioral distress, it is important for service providers to build a foundation of trust in order to ensure the child feels supported. This is the first step to building a safe environment. What follows could be a range of several supports depending on the level of need. The Youth Program team brings a multi-tiered system of support that is trauma-informed to all Youth programs. See below how this support unpacks the ways in which students can benefit from tailored support when experiencing distress. 

multi-tiered system of support that is trauma-informed
The Youth Program team brings a multi-tiered system of support that is trauma-informed to all Youth programs.
Photo: IRC in NY

The key to supporting children who have been affected by trauma is to advocate for their needs with careful attention to not misrecognize or mislabel their experience. These responsive approaches help to streamline interventions and where necessary, mental health referrals. 

Can you take us through a typical day a student might have at our Newcomer Youth Summer Academy (NYSA)? Where would we see examples of trauma-informed care across your programs?  

Students age 5-21 can expect a day of fun and learning for about 5 weeks in the summer! That means academic courses in English, Math, and Social Studies, as well as extracurricular activities in dance, arts, gardening, physical education, and social-emotional learning. It's an exciting opportunity to build an understanding of a school routine - from their commute back home to even integrating ESL practice in each subject. Last year, we had a great turnout and we look forward to engaging students in NYSA! 

Whether transitioning from NYSA to public school or directly starting the academic school year, all students should have a support system. It could be that a student is struggling to make friends, and may need a learning accommodation, or more math practice. That’s where the School Success Coaching program comes in. School Success Coaches visit students in their homes and work with them and their parents or caregiver to best advocate for their learning needs. This is a great opportunity for students to receive one-on-one support and a trusted adult to speak to about their experiences. Holistic learning offerings also include tutoring, mini-NYSA during winter and spring break, and the Leaders in Training program. 

Trauma-Informed Care in Youth Programing is achieved by bringing consistency to the classrooms and each program. When students arrive at our program, they will see consistent routines and consistent expectations from their teachers and our staff. This can really reduce the stress of a new experience. When we implement these consistent routines and expectations, we find most students have the support they need to be successful in the classroom. This allows our team to focus more energy on students who are struggling, whether from the effects of trauma or other reasons.  

For many students who recently arrived in the spring, for example, NYSA could be their first exposure to how a public school system works in NYC. Through their attendance, we hope that they feel even more prepared to handle the challenges of the school year.  We are mindful to make learning fun and consistent in all our offerings!  

Can you talk about social-emotional learning? What is it, and how do we incorporate it into youth programming? 

Sure, Social-Emotional Learning is at the center of all our programs. Social-Emotional Learning focuses on strengthening the social and emotional skills of students to best support their confidence and sense of belonging. This is fundamental to the learning journey and mental wellbeing of all students. Curriculum activities vary from identification of emotions, conversations around friendship, navigating conversations around discrimination/bias, and more!  

Thank you! 

Thanks for revisiting this panel discussion with us. It was a memorable and insightful conversation! The IRC in NY is thankful to the guests that were able to attend; it was a meaningful experience we hope to repeat soon.