Hybrid Courses, Micro-modules, Video-streams, and Retreats…Oh My!

Training Institute 2.0: We’re Mixing Up Our Learning Strategies in 2017

The Action Alliance Training Institute has been responsive to the needs of our field for 20 years and was developed through thoughtful leadership and deep listening to our members and allies. That listening has found us traveling all over Virginia to provide practical information and build advocacy skills; to host critical conversations about changes in our field and how social justice and anti-oppression approaches impact our work; to strengthen relationships between local partners in regional and community-based learning environments; and to respond to emerging trends in survivor advocacy while addressing growing diversity in size and scope of staff at the local and state level. The Action Alliance’s commitment to experimentation has brought us to Training Institute 2.0 which will launch in 2017 and will include more opportunities for engagement using various methods and technologies.

In 2016, we utilized webinar technology to provide opportunities for experts from across the country to join advocates in their offices and for advocates to engage directly without having to travel to a conference or session in another state or county for that matter. We hosted Lunch ‘n’ Learns to give SDVA staff a chance to dig into specific concepts and have conversations over lunch whether they were in Richmond or Radford. We began the development of online courses that will become the backbone of our hybrid class model which includes in-person and online learning opportunities. These courses will include synchronous classes (real-time virtual or in-person classes that occur at a specific time and are led by Action Alliance faculty/staff) and asynchronous classes (self-paced work moderated by Action Alliance staff).

We are excited about being able to provide critical information to advocates and staff across Virginia in ways that meet the needs of our members and help to ensure survivors are able to access competent, consistent services regardless of their location. We will be launching online courses throughout 2017 and we will also be launching several online communities of practice for individuals who are interested in learning more from peers in similar roles at other agencies. We envision space for SDVA staff to share tools, problem-solve together, learn from each other, and build relationships across geographic barriers. Directors will have a space, prevention staff will have a space, legal advocates will have a space, and more! If you are interested in seeing an online community of practice around a particular role you have, please let us know. Email us at training@vsdvalliance.org; we’d be happy to discuss the variety of cohorts we can create together!

Staff have been hard at work testing our live-stream options for meetings and trainings this year. We look forward to being able to offer more opportunities for live-stream and to increase the ability for individuals to actively participate in training activities from their desk. The Action Alliance launched its Training Institute Micro-Site this year and will continue to use this platform for all training registrations, materials and resources from trainings, and as a portal to various communities of practice. You can view the site by clicking here. We aren’t the only ones who continue to experiment with how we deliver training and information to the field and anyone interested in this work. We learned a lot by watching how the School of Social Work at SUNY Buffalo developed and launched its MSW Online Program. We’ve seen the explosion of online learning in recent years related to everything from first grade mathematics to graduate level physics.


Action Alliance Training Institute Microsite

We also recognize that for a lot of our work and critical conversations you just need face to face time. That’s why we remain committed to offering a robust calendar of basic and continuing advocacy trainings, advanced topic summits and conferences, and of course our Biennial Retreat which is on deck for June 2017. Our staff and faculty are also available to provide customized trainings on request across Virginia. We encourage our members to work regionally to identify needs and submit training requests together for maximum impact. Interested in learning how to bring a training on request to your organization or community, visit our microsite here for details.

The Action Alliance Training Institute consistently seeks to experiment with new ways to offer invigorating and exciting learning opportunities in person and online in order to deliver forward-thinking and accessible education, training, and resources to SDVA staff, allied professionals, and members of the community who work on the front lines to address and prevent sexual and domestic violence. Our offerings, whether virtual or IRL (in real life), are based on 3 “lenses” – Racial-justice; Trauma-informed; and Asset-building and focus on enhancing the experience of training participants regardless of the topic or modality. We are excited to learn and grow with you and hope to be in community with you either in person or while you’re at your desk next year!


Staff from Project Horizon, Safehome Systems, and New Directions discussing trauma-informed advocacy at a recent on-site Training on Request



Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org






Are You Governed by Your Intake Form?

How did you learn your technique for interviewing?  Did it come naturally, did you learn it from an experienced mentor, or did you stumble into it, making it up as you went along?  I remember when I was a law student, interviewing my first clients in a legal aid clinic, I was petrified that I would “miss” something, so my interviews were epic, two-hour-long ordeals. It never occurred to me until years later that I was probably re-traumatizing clients by marching inexorably through my exhaustive list of questions, crossing the line from interview to interrogation. Yes, I got what I “needed” to fill out the forms, but was there a better way?

If your job description includes interviewing trauma victims in order to obtain critical details, you need to know how to sensitively ask for information in a way that does not re-traumatize the victim AND that gets you the essential facts you need to do your job. What are best practices for working with a client whose responses to trauma may vary?  I have come up with tools and techniques that help to resolve that conflict between relentless pursuit of the facts of the case on one hand and an understanding of the needs of the traumatized client on the other hand.

The Action Alliance’s conference, Trauma-Informed Approaches to Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence (May 4-5, 2016, in Charlottesville https://heartisamuscle.wordpress.com/ ) will include a workshop I developed to help professionals and volunteers identify the best techniques for working with traumatized victims in an interview. Whether we are social workers, shelter staff, attorneys, law enforcement or medical professionals, we need to fill out intake sheets and learn about the facts surrounding the victimization so we can offer tailored service, advice and referrals.

pixabay free image of intake form

photo credit: Pixabay

But what if our own interviewing has unwittingly become part of a long process of victimization? It is possible to consciously equip ourselves for those interviews with specific tools for working with a traumatized person.  You can learn how to create an atmosphere of safety and security; which techniques work best with angry, combative, fearful or disoriented victims; and what to do at the end of interviews to help the victim with next steps. Have you ever wondered how you could best work through an interpreter, handle sensitive issues regarding sex and drugs, or prepare for the next steps in the victim’s journey? And just as important as our awareness of the potential of re-traumatizing the victim is the critical but often overlooked topic of the interviewer’s self-care and vicarious trauma.

When you attend the workshop, you will learn:

  1. The three essential techniques for conducting an interview with a traumatized client
  2. How to set up your office or work space with a victim of trauma in mind;
  3. How language you employ in interviewing can hurt or heal; and
  4. The healing power of choice for a traumatized interviewee.

Ann H. Kloeckner, Esq., Executive Director of Rappahannock Legal Services, has spent over 30 years working with survivors of intimate partner violence.

The Heart is a Muscle: Trauma-Informed Approaches to Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence Conference will be held May 4-5, 2016 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Find keynote and workshop descriptions hereRegister here.


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Black Lives Matter: Racial Justice and Trauma-Informed Advocacy

Gynnya McMillen was 16 years old when she died in her sleep while in custody at a juvenile detention center last month in Kentucky.

This was the first night she had ever spent in detention. She had been arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge on a family member. Guards used a martial arts-style restraint on Gynnya when she refused to remove her sweatshirt as part of the facility’s search and booking procedure; she was found dead in her cell 24 hours later.

The tragic death of Gynnya McMillen raises critical questions about how she was treated in the detention facility and what exactly caused her death. Her story also raises broader questions about the extreme and overly punitive ways in which we approach children and teens of color whom we deem “non-compliant”.

The U.S. detains and incarcerates girls of color at staggering rates. African-American girls constitute 14% of the general population nationally, yet make up an astounding 33% of girls detained and committed.1 Native American girls are also disproportionately involved in the juvenile justice system: they are 1 percent of the general youth population but 3.5 percent of detained and committed girls.2

The vast majority of detained and incarcerated girls are trauma survivors. According to a study conducted by the Human Rights Project for Girls, the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, and the Ms. Foundation for Women, more than 80% of the girls in some states’ juvenile detention centers have been sexually or physically abused prior to incarceration.

Challenging behaviors exhibited by children and teens are frequently rooted in trauma and abuse. Yet instead of being viewed and treated as survivors of trauma, girls of color who exhibit trauma reactions are often suspended or expelled from school or referred to law enforcement.

Educational and legal systems fail to address the root cause of problematic behavior, which in turn exacerbates feelings of isolation and disconnection. In the face of being sanctioned, rather than supported, young survivors’ trauma reactions worsen. Sanctions grow harsher for worsening behavior, and so on.

Studies on racial bias have shown that white people feel less empathy for black people experiencing pain than they do for white people experiencing pain. The same bias has been reflected in white children as young as seven. The toxic combination of individual and systemic racial bias, along with the criminalization of trauma responses results in a terrible, unnecessary cycle of suffering and imprisonment.

At the Action Alliance, we believe trauma-informed work must be done from a racial justice lens. That means, in part, taking into account the impact of racism on individuals and communities. Think for example: how might these 5 tenets of a trauma-informed response operate differently when we consider them from a racial justice lens?
• Safety
• Trustworthiness
• Choice
• Collaboration
• Empowerment

Likewise, how might we rethink and respond to behaviors typically labeled as “failure to comply”, “defiant”, or “combative” when we look at them from a trauma-informed lens? Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington is an excellent example of the stunning changes that happen when struggling teens are approached from a trauma-informed lens.

At the detention center on the morning of January 11, Gynnya did not respond to a verbal offer of breakfast at 6:30am, nor for snack 2 hours later. She did not move when guards said her family members were on the phone waiting to talk to her. Each one of these instances should have been cause for alarm, a cue to check on her at a facility where policy dictates that juveniles in isolation be checked every 15 minutes. Even after she was eventually found unresponsive, guards waited 11 minutes to perform CPR on her.

gynnya-mcmillen2-credit facebook

photo credit: Mic.com/Facebook

Gynnya McMillen is remembered as a “quiet, beautiful person” by one of her former counselors at Home of the Innocents, one of Kentucky’s largest emergency placement centers for children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse, abandonment or neglect.

Gynnya should have been cared for well before she was found alone in a cell, unresponsive. Like so many other girls of color presently living in detention, Gynnya should have been cared for–by any number of educational, social, or other systems ostensibly created to help children stay safe and achieve their potential–before she ever entered a detention facility.

Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected, a report by the African American Policy Forum, offers comprehensive recommendations for lifting up the experiences of girls of color and turning back the tide of overly punitive sanctions in favor of more restorative ones.

As allies and advocates, we have the power to lift up the experiences of girls of color and center them in our work. We can integrate what we know about trauma-informed approaches into our direct advocacy work in schools and detention facilities, as well as our policy work at local, state, and national levels. We can and must risk the discomfort of noticing and talking about systemic racism while working to undermine it. We can and must show up for racial justice and for kids who struggle every day with unrecognized trauma. We can and must show up for kids like Gynnya.


Kate McCord is the Communications Director for the Action Alliance. Kate’s work as a white ally to racial justice began in 2004 and has included serving for 3 years on Virginia Organizing’s statewide racial profiling campaign, serving on the Action Alliance’s Racial Justice Task Force, and raising her amazing kids to be actively anti-racist.

For more information about conducting trauma-informed advocacy through a racial justice lens, register here for our February 16 webinar, “Racial Justice as Trauma-Informed Advocacy”.


1 As referenced in “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story“: Melissa Sickmund, Anthony (T.J.) Sladky, Wei Kang & Charles Puzzanchera, US Dep’t of Justice, Nat’l Ctr. for Juv. Justice, Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement: 1997-2013, http:// www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/ (last visited May 24, 2015); Annie E. Casey Found., KIDS COUNT Data Center, Child Population by Race and Age Group (2013), http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/8446-child-population-by-race-and-age-group?loc=1&loct=1#detailed/1/any/false/36/13,66,67,68,69,70,71,12|/17077,17078 (last updated Feb. 2015)

2  As referenced in “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story”: Sickmund, supra note 8; Annie E. Casey Found., KIDS COUNT Data Center, Child Population by Race and Age Group (2013), available at http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/8446-child-population-by-race-and-age-group loc=1&loct=1#detailed/1/any/false/36/13,66,67,68,69,70,71,12|/17077,17078 (last updated Feb.2015).



Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org