Safe Horizon and rapid response

An update from our CEO Chelsea, who is on a study tour, thanks to a Churchill Fellowship. To stay up to date with her learnings, sign up to an occasional newsletter.

There are certainly some interesting approaches to better supporting young people affected by violence being shared with me in meetings I’m having as part of my Churchill Fellowship. One of the groups I spent time with recently was Safe Horizon, a victim assistance organisation operating a range of programs across New York City.

Among those is an evidence-based, trauma-focused, cognitive behavioural therapy program that provides a toolbox of different ways to support young people affected by violence. This program works to get them back to school, with their peers, and involves supporting both the young person and the caregiver by tooling them up to manage what’s happened.

Safe Horizons is also involved in the Child Trauma Response Team (CTRT), a dedicated partnership with the NYPD and the District Attorney’s Offices. CTRT works closely with 12 Police precincts across Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens. At these precincts, Safe Horizon’s child trauma responders and domestic violence victim advocates work hand-in-hand with domestic violence police officers to provide timely, expert outreach and support to children and caregivers impacted by domestic violence. The team also works closely with Safe Horizon’s Helpline, Community Programs and Shelters programs, which refer families who have experienced violence.

CTRT aims to engage as soon as possible after an incident happens – ideally within the first week – and undertakes an assessment to identify what trauma reactions might be going on. Practical tools and strategies are then provided to reduce trauma reactions and avoid PTSD.

It involves up to eight sessions (but can be extended) for the young person and their caregiver – which could be a parent, foster parent, aunt, uncle, sibling – any appropriate person the young person trusts. The sessions are not so much about what happened, as Safe Horizon has that information from the police or other referral sources, although they do try to develop common language around the incident. Their main concern is what the young person is experiencing now and putting in place strategies to repair their protective shield and reduce the symptoms affecting their ability to function and cope.

While sometimes there is resistance to having the caregiver involved, Safe Horizon works hard to ensure the young person understand the role that the caregiver can play in supporting them. Simultaneously, they will be working in parallel with the caregiver, so they understand what’s happening and how to best support. The focus is on developing a shared language around what’s going on for everyone and understanding what trauma looks like, so they can start to see each other as support mechanisms.

It’s really about building empowerment. One of the by-products of this approach has been that it begins to normalise help-seeking and therapy and gives them all a taste of what to expect from future interventions. Importantly, it also helps develop skills on how to advocate for themselves and their mental health, and for the caregiver, which can extend to child welfare or the legal system. Interestingly, families that have had interventions and support from Safe Horizon are far more likely to step into longer term treatment because they’re stabilised.

Another interesting part of our discussion was the importance of creating non-gendered responses and supports – including non-gendered language and even in designing spaces that are open, trauma-informed and welcoming to everyone, regardless of gender.

We also discussed the importance of bringing young people together to learn about the dynamics of relationships. Safe Horizon has a program that involves youth doing a deep dive into what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like and then going back into their communities and sharing what they’ve learnt.

The organisation also tries to build understanding among youth about how witnessing family, domestic or community violence might have affected them. They do this outside the clinical setting, where young people might think a therapist is telling them what to do. They also highlighted the importance of having peer-support and for young people to have somewhere where they can go to feel safe.

Once again, all invaluable insights from an organisation deeply immersed in this work. Thanks again to the staff I met with for giving up your time to chat.