A Trauma-informed Approach to Reducing Youth Violence

This podcast is part of a series highlighting innovative approaches to reducing violence and improving health
outcomes among at-risk minority youth at the nine demonstration sites of the Minority
Youth Violence Prevention Initiative
. One of these demonstrations sites is the Children in Trauma Intervention, or CITI, program in Cincinnati, an anti-violence initiative
led by the Cincinnati Police Department’s Youth Services Unit in partnership with the Cincinnati Health Department,
Cincinnati Public Schools, and Hamilton County Juvenile Court that seeks to reduce violence and youth involvement
in the juvenile justice system through a mentorship program that pairs police officers with youth. 

Nancy Wagner, who oversees grants and grant information for the Cincinnati Police
Department and Lieutenant Jay Johnstone, of the department’s Youth Services Unit, joined this week’s podcast
to discuss CITI’s unique curriculum, parent-engagement strategy, and trauma-informed approach.

following is a transcript

Hi, this is Raphael Pope-Sussman of the Center for Court Innovation. This podcast is part of a series we are doing
with people seeking to curb violence and improve access to public health for at risk minority youth, as part of the
Minority Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. The initiative is a partnership of the Office of Minority Health at
the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the US
Department of Justice that encourages collaboration among public health organizations, law enforcement agencies and
community based groups. Our podcast series highlights innovative approaches at the nine demonstration sites that
have received funding under the program. In this week’s podcast, we’re exploring the Children in Trauma
Intervention program, or CITI in Cincinnati, OH. CITI is spearheaded by the Cincinnati police department’s Youth
Services Unit in partnership with the Cincinnati Health Department, Cincinnati public schools and Hamilton County
Juvenile Court. The program seeks to reduce violence
and youth involvement in the juvenile justice system through a mentorship system that pairs police officers with
youth. This podcast focuses on CITI’S approach to trauma and the philosophy behind CITI’s unique parent
engagement strategy, which includes requiring parents of youth to participate along with their children in the program.
    I’m joined by Nancy Wagner, who oversees grants
and grant information for the Cincinnati Police Department, and Lieutenant Jay Johnstone of the department’s
Youth Services Unit. Nancy, Lieutenant Johnstone, thank you for being here today, and welcome.

NANCY WAGNER:           
Thank you.

JAY JOHNSTONE :            
Thank you for having us.

So, can you describe to me how CITI functions?

Well, we run three separate sessions a year and we invite 40 kids between the age of 11 and 14 to attend each of
the sessions. And what we’re looking for are kids who are kind of on the borderline of having discipline problems
or attendance problems or struggling with their grades at school. So those are the youth that we reach out to and
that’s who we’re looking for.

It starts off with an interview process where we interview the youth. We also interview the parents of the youth
because the parents are … a large component of our program, is the Parent to Parent Program. So the parents and
the youth are equally involved through the program which runs 10 weeks. The parents meet weekly for 90 minutes and
their presence is actually required as part of the program for the kids, in order to graduate. The parents also inevitably
graduate. So the parents are required to attend and the parents then meet with a certified therapist at the meeting.

So, what we do is they start off talking as a group together and they address issues that everybody is experiencing
with their youth and then they break off into smaller groups and talk in a little more intimate setting. And then
towards the end of the session, they come back together and discuss the various ideas that they’ve learned,
the different characteristics that they actually share with the other [inaudible 03:18] parents.

This approach is I think unique among the Minority Youth Violence Prevention Programs. Why do you feel that it’s
so important to have parents involved?

think the parents help to reinforce these lessons that we’re trying to teach. The lessons of leadership and
the lessons of conflict resolution. Also, just the idea of respect. So, these are the lessons that we’re teaching
the kids and we found a strong correlation that the better attendance and stronger buy in that we have from the parents
then the better buy in and the better attendance that we have from the youth that participated in the program. So
that way when the youth go home, their parents are able to reinforce the lessons that are being taught.

Where does law enforcement fit into the program specifically?

What we’re trying to do is bridge that gap between the youth and law enforcement and improve those relationships
and we feel that by having the direct contact that we have with the youth in our program, we are able to help lower
those barriers and break some of the stereotypes that some of the youth might have toward the police officers. So
the police officers, is they help run the Parent to Parent. They run the daily operation of the camp itself. The
officers, they organize the lesson plan. They teach physical training and also military drills. So it’s designed
by officers and run by officers.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the curriculum that the youth follow? I know that it’s pretty structured.
I think they wear uniforms.

JOHNSTONE :     Yes, the youth
wear uniforms and we try to have a pretty structured setting. Probably particularly come on a little bit stronger
at the beginning and then kind of lighten up and that’s when you find that the bond really starts forming with
the officers and the youth. And then we do teach an enrichment portion throughout the entire 10 weeks and we use
the GREAT curriculum, which is a Gang Resistance Education Training curriculum. And then we also introduce that same
curriculum to the Parent to Parent.

We also have like the physical PT training. We have military drills. We have an officer that teaches…

JOHNSTONE :     Martial arts.

Martial arts. And then our sex education program – we have someone from the Health Department come over to teach
a class on that.

And what is the response from the youth?

JOHNSTONE :     Tremendous.
And that’s probably the most rewarding portion of the program is watching the transition from the beginning
all the way to the end and we end it with a graduation ceremony. And just watching the pride that the kids experience
and then watching the pride of the parents for completing the program. Even during the graduation ceremony we have
the youth actually give the parent awards out themselves. And it’s just a really gratifying moment. So, the
youth are very thankful of it. They show that through officers that follow up. As WAGNER talked about before, there’s
follow up and there’s mentorship. We make sure that there’s consistent follow up so that we’re always
monitoring their progress even after the camp. So, we don’t want it just to be a temporary, 10 week fix. We’re
looking more towards permanent where we’re going to follow them all the way up to the point of college and beyond.

And also a lot of the officers are school resource officers. So, they’ll see these kids at the school so they
can keep in contact with them to see how things are going. And a lot of the kids form that bond and if things are
happening with them, at home or whatever, they’ll go to that officer for advice. And then we’ll also have
parents calling afterward just saying what a change in the kids. Or if they’re having a problem with the kid,
they’ll call afterwards and then an officer will go out to talk to the kid and see how he or she can help.

You mentioned earlier that you have a trauma specialist to work with the youth. What is trauma informed care mean
to you at CITI?

JOHNSTONE :     I think we’re trying
to look at from the vantage point of the youth themselves and the various traumas they might be experiencing through
a variety of stressors in their lives. So that’s where the trauma specialist comes in because she’s able
to speak with not only the children but the parents … most of us understand there’s going to be two vantage
points when you’re talking with two different parts of a relationship. So, the trauma specialist is able to
help bridge that relationship and bring the parents and the youth closer together.

One of the highlights of the program is when we have a one on one session and that’s when midway through the
program we have the child and the parent sit down together. It’s actually quite moving because at this point
a lot of feelings and concerns start to come to the surface and we’re able to work with the families and help
work through some of these issues that have been causing problems in the past.

And also at the beginning each student is given an Adverse Childhood Experience, or ACE Questionnaire, and that assesses
the risk of increase health issues associated with maltreatment or other adverse childhood experiences. So then the
trauma expert will go over all this and then work with the student or the parent to see if she can help resolve some
of their issues.

Stepping back a bit, can you describe what support from the Minority Youth Violence Prevention Initiative has enabled
you to do?

Actually it’s been able to keep the program going because there’s a lot of money involved. A lot of it
goes for overtime for the officers because the city is down in their [inaudible 09:14] in officers so they wouldn’t
be able to put the program on during the work period and due to contractual issues, we can’t have officers volunteering
their time. And then, the food to feed the kids involved, the trauma specialists. We also have University of Cincinnati
is our evaluator, so we need to pay them. We also have incentives which is big for the kids that’s provided
by the grant. So, it gives them a goal to reach not only to be a better person, but a lot of people know that if
you kind of put that carrot out there, they’re going to try a whole lot harder.

And what are those incentives?

JOHNSTONE :     Well, we have
weekly incentives where we recognize like the top students, the top leaders, ones who do well on the weekly spelling
test, ones that do well on the physical fitness test. We kind of toggle it back and forth between like 5 dollar Subway
card or 5 dollar BW3 Wings card. We also offer for attendance for the parents we offer 2 increments, anywhere between
10 and up to 25 dollars depending on how long they maintain their presence throughout the program, as well. And then
ultimately if the kid shows perfect attendance and shows good progress they eventually can earn a tablet.

The kids must get very excited for that.

JOHNSTONE :     Absolutely.


JOHNSTONE :     (laughs) That’s something that
you’ll see where they strive and work very hard because they realize that it’s very attainable.

Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.

Thank you.

JOHNSTONE :     All right.  Thank you,

This has been Raphael Pope-Sussman with the Center for Court Innovation speaking with Nancy Wagner and Lieutenant
Jay Johnstone. For more information on the Center for Court Innovation visit www.courtinnovation.org.