Empathy goes a long way when talking with someone who’s endured hardships in life, but there are ways to go even further to create a connection.
Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS) of Greater Philadelphia — in partnership with KleinLife — was recently awarded a grant of nearly $100,000 by the Jewish Federations of North America Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care, which was established in 2015, for innovations in Person-Centered, Trauma-Informed (PCTI) supportive services for Holocaust survivors.
The two-year grant is designed to help both agencies better connect with and serve the Holocaust survivor community by providing multiple trauma-informed training sessions.
For JFCS, which served hundreds of survivors in 2015-16, it’s perfect timing.
“As an agency, JFCS has been talking about moving towards becoming more trauma-informed in how we provide services across our programs,” explained Paul Groch, evaluation and process director. “When this grant came around, it was kind of a natural fit for where we wanted to go as an agency and specifically with the survivors given the trauma that they have endured.”
The desire to become more trauma-informed is rooted in the idea of better understanding the survivor experience.
“Being trauma-informed really is recognizing the effects of trauma in survivors and then using those effects to understand the experiences that someone has in their behaviors or their mental health status,” said Carly Bruski, who oversees JFCS’ Holocaust Survivor Support Program. “It really kind of addresses the effects and the consequences of trauma and helps us implement procedures and care plans on a smaller level that understands the symptoms, the red flags and how to avoid retraumatization.”
The person-centered approach helps filter client behaviors. For example, if a client is yelling at you, Groch said, it’s not because they’re a bad person. It may be a manifestation of trauma.
“Trauma has a lasting impact on their lives,” he said, “and when we, as social workers, are approaching it and working with them in their lives, it’s important that we understand that that trauma manifests itself in ways that might not be obvious to the layperson.”
As part of the grant, 145 staff members from both JFCS and KleinLife will receive three tiers of person-centered trauma-informed training.
The first part of the program involves a general training — PCTI 101, as Bruski put it — for all staff; a more specialized training for agency leadership; and yearlong monthly training sessions for staff who interface directly with Holocaust survivors.
The grant will also allow for a reassessment of the way JFCS and KleinLife, which serve Holocaust survivors in different capacities, connect with one another.
“We saw the need to really strengthen the referral process between the two agencies so that we’re not duplicating services and so we’re serving each survivor in a very holistic and comprehensive way,” Bruski said. “We want to avoid that retraumatization where if a client happens to be one of our clients and is going to KleinLife for something else, that they’re not forced to retell their story.”
For Amy Oropollo, director of grants management at KleinLife, the grant will help fill a gap in services.
“We can communicate and engage with these individuals,” she said, noting a large majority of the population KleinLife serves are from the former Soviet Union and many happen to be Holocaust survivors, “however we don’t understand the psychological piece of it, and that’s why we want to be trauma-informed. JFCS provides the psychological counseling that we do not provide here — we’re more of the socialization and education and that type of thing. By getting informed here, we will know better how to navigate our clients to the right resources and that is what has been key.”
The training will help KleinLife and JFCS staff understand the experience of their clients in a deeper way.
“You understand the trauma that these folks have gone through and you can share empathy,” Oropollo said, “but [the training] gives you the psychological perspective … to … know when to intervene and direct people for additional resources, say like psychological resources, which JFCS does provide.”
Bruski pointed to the specific benefits for social workers.
“It’s going to equip the social workers that work with these survivors with a strengthened skillset,” said Bruski, “and a very specific toolkit to go into the homes, be able to recognize red flags of trauma and be able to really create unique specialized treatment plans for the survivors so they can continue to age in place in safety and independence and dignity, which is really what we’re going for as an agency.”
“And that person-centered, trauma-informed care is sort of intuitive to social workers,” Groch added, “but at the same time, this grant allows us to provide a framework that we’re all operating under. So when I’m talking about how I’m being trauma-informed is the same way that the next social worker and the next social worker and that our CEO is talking about. It’s giving ourselves a common language to describe a process.”
JFCS President and CEO Paula Goldstein looks forward to offering the training to the board as well.
“As the agency, the organization, that’s really tasked with taking care of Holocaust survivors,” she said, “we always are looking for ways to provide the best care that we possibly can. And I think that this particular grant will enable us to look at the way that we support survivors from a clinical perspective that really honors their past and their hardship.
“Actual training for our staff is really critical,” she continued, noting that she is excited to be able to partner with KleinLife in this endeavor, “and we’re never in a position to say that nobody needs any more training. We need ongoing training all the time and there’s not necessarily one model that fits all in terms of the way that we support individuals.
“This is significant because it gives us another very important perspective in our toolbox in terms of taking care of survivors.”
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