Breaking the Chain of Poverty, Starting with the Children by John Elizalde

BREAKING THE CHAIN OF GENERATIONAL POVERTY, STARTING WITH THE CHILDREN, May 7 2017 By John Elizalde About 60 people gathered under the banner of the Interfaith Alliance on Poverty to learn about how trauma, especially childhood trauma, impacts our lives and the lives of those living in poverty. Dr Mandy Davis, director of Trauma Informed Oregon ( led the afternoon workshop. It was terrific!

Medical and social sciences have progressed enough to recognize the long lasting effects that trauma has on our lives. None of us escape without some form of trauma as we grow up, face life on life’s terms, raise families, have jobs, struggle with relationships, money and so many more of day-to-day reality. As Dr Davis pointed out, faith communities are often providers of safety net services. Our members serve meal sites, shelters, offer encouragement and support to families in transition and many other direct service activities. The communities where we live, work, worship and serve are populated with those who have experienced adversity, trauma, and toxic stress. So, with every interaction we have an opportunity to restore, reconnect and repair the people we serve and serve with.

We got a good, working definition of what trauma informed care is: “A program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery; recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system; and responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices, and seeks to actively resist re-traumatization”

The workshop then took us through the learning we needed in order to realize, recognize, respond and resist re-traumatizing. Just understanding trauma was a chore. It can be a single event, a series of events that may recur over time, there could be interpersonal violence or violation at the hands of a trusted figure, or even events that impact a group or have occurred to family in the past. Many of us found ourselves thinking about our own past and the events that may have impacted us.

It seemed the key was why trauma is important for those of us concerned about poverty, economic justice and making a positive difference in the lives of our neighbors. It is important because:

—Trauma is pervasive.

—Trauma’s impact is broad, deep and life-shaping.

—Trauma differentially affects the more vulnerable.

—Trauma affects how people approach services.

—The service system has often been activating or re-traumatizing.

Thus, if our work is to break the chain of generational poverty we need the awareness of how trauma sets the stage for this generational inheritance. We talk about starting with the children because we learn that science has taught us about

how vulnerable children are (sure we knew this but current research has put a sharper focus on children and trauma). Trauma (toxic stress, adversity) impacts the way our brain develops and functions (neurobiology). We learned that trauma can have impacts that persist across generations (epigenetics). And, we find that adverse childhood experiences are particularly important due to the neurobiology at play with young minds. Dr Davis puts it succinctly: “The take home message about ACEs is that adversity in childhood leads to challenges in health for adults and helped us understand why. It linked adversity to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, copd, etc.” These experiences show up in education results, earning power and can indicate the likelihood for lesser education and economic outcome.

This summary cannot begin to discuss the details of the ACEs study and its findings. Suffice to realize that children are at the foundation of generational poverty and need our support, lots of our support. And, that we can make a positive difference if we look for and develop ways to create safe, stable and nurturing relationships so children can learn skills such that they can reach their full potential.

We learned that our resilience actually allows us to experience positive surroundings that reverse, prevent or heal the disruption caused by trauma. Our service activities and the facilities we work in offer opportunities for us to connect personally with those we serve and serve with. Resilience affords the chance to become self-aware and to learn and understand self-reflection and self-care. This leads to becoming more flexible, curious and persistent and being able to be of service to others. Like so much of life we learn that resilience is a capability we need to develop and nurture if we are to thrive living life on life’s terms.

And so there were concrete steps we could take to enhance our relationships. Creating physical and emotionally safe places for our service is a step in the right direction. Dr Davis provided examples of how we might do that and help restore power and value to the people we interact with. So much of trauma informed care is about the way we work rather than the work we do. The workshop didn’t get deep into skill development but it is clear that being ‘trauma informed’ is an area of development for most of us.

Often we hear it said, “it’s not about the food/shelter/clothes or other direct service. It is about how we provide the food/shelter/clothes or other service.” Dr Davis is likely to endorse that perspective. Those who attended “Breaking the Chain of Generational Poverty: Starting with the Children” have plenty to reflect on. That’s a good thing.

Learn more at Trauma Informed Oregon ( and get a copy of the handouts from the training by emailing: