Wellpoint Care Network Steps into Early Childhood Sector to Help Prevent Childhood Trauma
Research has proven that experiences in early childhood have a significant impact on brain development. It is a critical time for shaping a child’s future. High-quality, early education and care can provide a safe and nurturing environment for young children to learn and grow, while giving them a solid foundation for their future education. It can also act as a buffer for any stress they may be experiencing.
“Because of Wellpoints’s understanding of the science of adversity, our trauma-informed practice compels us to look toward prevention and early intervention,” says Vice President of Educational Services Sara Daniel. “We’ve developed trainings in our Compassion Curve model and our Seven Essential Ingredients for Trauma Informed Care, both specifically aimed toward the early childcare sector, to support and train educators.”
In Milwaukee, as in many communities, there is a shortage of high-quality early care opportunities for young children. More information can be found here.
People from communities of color often have less access to high–quality early childhood education, which can contribute to an already–existing opportunity gap in education. Historical trauma and systemic racism only deepen these disparities.
COVID-19 Acts as a Trigger
The pandemic has further exposed the existing disparities in early childhood care and has placed additional stress on our early care educators, parents and caregivers of young children. It was quickly revealed that early childhood education systems would be affected by reduced enrollment, staffing shortages and increases in safety and hygiene protocols. A rise in the needs of families and children also became quickly apparent.
All of these realizations occurred simultaneously as early care educators were needing to cope with their own family stresses and losses as a result of the pandemic.
Wellpoint was asked to help support the early childhood education sector by the Milwaukee Civic Response Team, a cross sector coalition formed to strategically, equitably and rapidly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in Milwaukee. Wisconsin Partnership brought together four Milwaukee organizations that advocate and create goals to stabilize the early childhood education sector.
In September of 2020, Wellpoint was invited to join this important team to support their work. Policy Director Daria Hall says that partnering with Wellpoing for training gave teachers exactly what they needed to support students through the pandemic.
“The first three years of life are critical, and early childcare lays the foundation for what goes on in a child’s life.” But teachers, one of the primary sources for supporting our youth, were going through an incredibly stressful year themselves regarding the instability and isolation created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hall, along with Executive Director of Milwaukee Succeeds Danae Davis asked Wellpoint to provide training in Trauma Informed Care that would help support stressed and overwhelmed early childhood educators and childcare workers who were trying to support stressed and overwhelmed families in Milwaukee. The project was targeted to the following zip codes: 53204, 53206, 53209, 53210, 53212, 53215, 53216 and 53218. Funding was provided via the CARES Act through the Milwaukee Mental Health Civic Response Team.
These trainings provided teachers with support so they could best support the students who need them.
Early Child Care is Preventative Care
Wellpoint also partnered with 4C for Children, an organization that provides training and educational services to childcare providers in Southeastern Wisconsin. Project Coordinator Terryl Wheelock makes sure continuing trainings for teachers continue to meet statewide standards.
Two micro–learning opportunities about recognizing toxic stress and its impact on the brain and body were made available and can be found here. These trainings focus on what Wellpoint calls the “Compassion Curve,” which highlights the need to increase compassion for ourselves and each other during this pandemic.
4C for Children also played a role in making the trainings accessible in Spanish and Hmong so more Milwaukee-area educators could be trained to support the specific needs of children in their own communities.
Ongoing training keeps teachers aware of new approaches to education and helps them succeed at their jobs. “Providers need to know the impact that relationships and connections have on children,” Wheelock says. “It’s all preventative care.”
Mitigating children’s exposures to stress begins with the adults in their lives. “We believe that partnering with early childhood educators, parents and caregivers of young children can be a powerful step toward preventing traumatic exposure in the first place,” Daniel says. “If we create widespread awareness about these concepts, we believe that, in partnership, parents, caregivers and early childcare educators can develop innovative, healing practices to build healthy brains for all children in our community.”
The success of this training has motivated the partners to collaborate on a second project. In this project, providers will take the training a step further to learn regulation strategies that can be used in the early childhood setting. “We are really excited to help early care have the tools that they need to take what they have learned and put it into practice,” says Daniel. The incentive for attending this training will be a regulation kit containing tools and strategies for children ages birth to five. Funding for this will be provided by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s MKE Responds fund.