158 – Health and Human Services: TAG – Think Act Grow

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Dr. Sandra Morgan and Dave Stachowiak talk about TAG, which stands for “Think, Act, Grow.” TAG is a “multi-sector approach that challenges organizations and professionals to improve adolescent health through a strengths-based, positive youth development approach that emphasizes youth engagement.”

Key Points

  • The TAG initiative acknowledges the limitations of the adolescent brain but it also focuses on the unique strengths that adolescents bring.
  • Adolescents are very quick to learn.
  • How do you use the ability to learn quickly as a point of resilience for adolescents?
  • There is now a rush to create a curriculum to support adolescents, but many of the creators don’t understand the whole picture.
  • Prevention usually has the least amount of resources devoted to it.
  • Adolescents can easily find information, but they need help processing it.
  • Risk can be a positive thing because it leads to growth.
  • Youth leading youth is much better than adults telling them what to do.


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Dave: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 158, Health and Human Services: TAG Think Act Grow.

Production Credits: [00:00:10] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave: [00:00:30] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie: [00:00:36] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave: [00:00:38] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, make a difference in ending human trafficking, and not duplicate the things other people are doing right, Sandie.

Sandie: [00:00:50] That’s right.

Dave: [00:00:52] We talk a lot on this show about the desire that all of us have to help and to serve. And in particular around the challenges of this issue the willingness that so many people have Sandie who hears about the dangers and horrors and awful stories around human trafficking to jump in right away and help. And one of the messages we’ve had is a consistent story over the last few years, story is maybe not the right word, but is to educate all of us on the fact that before we jump in with both feet and work to help one of the best ways we can help is often aligning with the resources, agencies, organizations that are already doing things. That rather than us reinventing the wheel, we can support in a very strategic way and I believe that today’s conversation Sandie we’re going to really jump into that again as a reminder for us through a different lens.

Sandie: [00:01:53] Absolutely. And I have to tell you that when I discovered TAG, I really looked at myself first. Why did I not go to the Health and Human services adolescent page? They have so many resources. And here we are thinking that we’re out here on our own fighting human trafficking and trying to build kids who are able to have the kind of developmental assets that make them more resilient. And how do we empower kids to say no to some of the lures that we’ve talked about on this show that lead to the commercial sexual exploitation of our children and even labor trafficking like we mentioned in the latest episode on homeless youth? And eight percent are lured into labor trafficking. So, when I discovered their TAG initiative, I just dove in with both feet and I recognized some of the markers for what we’ve already identified our best practices in doing prevention with young people.

Dave: [00:03:08] And just to take the 35,000-foot level view here for a moment Sandie so there are a number of government agencies that support awareness and prevention on human trafficking. The State Department probably is the most apparent one that we’ve talked about on the show. For those who aren’t aware, how does Health and Human Services interact with and coordinate with some of those other government agencies?

Sandie: [00:03:33] Health and Human Services at a national level, they have different offices. They actually have an office on human trafficking and one of our Orange County friends that we’ve interviewed here when she was the Nets director for Salvation Army in Orange County, Sherry Harris, actually works there and is developing technical assistance tools to train communities on human trafficking. But Health and Human Services does so much more than that. And they’re of course as their name says health they are looking at health and wellness from a physical, psychological, emotional issue and they want to be able to prepare the community and the responsible leaders to address those issues. So, providing tools and resources, they are a funding agency and people apply for grants that are best practice evidence-based efforts to extend those. And the adolescent office has a lot of work that they’ve done on resilience. They’ve done work on drug abuse and teens, other addictions, the brain, and addiction. They have toolkits. And one of the things that’s pretty interesting from my perspective is they haven’t labeled anything with human trafficking or any of the very sensational stories of what happens to marginalize kids sometimes. So, their tools are very accessible for everyday people and in fact in this particular initiative they talk about the call to action to improve adolescent health because you know if you’re stronger you’re going to have more resilience and resistance to illness and disease and other environmental aspects of your life. So, the Think Act Grow, TAG, is described on their webpage as “a multi-sector approach, challenging organizations and professionals to improve adolescent health through a strengths-based positive youth development approach that emphasizes youth engagement.” Now we back in episode number 109, we did an episode on Prevention-Saving Up for a Rainy Day. Because we looked at how using developmental assets actually prepare you for when the big storms come so that you can overcome. And so, this is a little less complicated. I don’t know if you remember Dave developmental assets had 40 assets for us to talk about. There were external and internal, but this is a much more approachable agenda of Think Act and Grow.

Dave: [00:06:37] And so this initiative. Those three components. I mean, this is the first time I’ve heard of it so I’m curious, how do they approach and look at each of these three lenses those three words think act and grow? What does that mean from a standpoint of the adolescent?

Sandie: [00:06:57] Well I think in the particular material that I was looking at, they really started with where we have in the past the brain development of young people. And I was again taken aback. And I’ve got to go back and study more. They did analyze like we have that a young person’s brain is not mature. We go back and you can, we’ll put links there are six short videos that if you wanted to watch them all at one time would take 30 minutes and it does address how the development of the brain for young people isn’t finished until you’re in your mid-20s. And so consequently risk management is a weakness. But it doesn’t just focus on the weaknesses, it really helps the young person because you can watch these with your adolescent. You can watch these with a class of seventh, eighth, or 12th graders. Have a discussion about that, so that they begin to understand their strengths and weaknesses. We focus on strengths, but the other side of that coin is there are some weaknesses as well.

Dave: [00:08:13] Well that’s one of the things that I found interesting when you were telling me about this initiative, is so often we hear about all of the pitfalls of the adolescent brain, and poor decision making, and all the things that we as adults we’re typically aware of especially if we have kids of that age or work with kids that age. And yet this initiative acknowledges that it has a presence of that, but it sounds like really also zeroes in on the strengths that adolescence in some cases uniquely bring that sometimes as adults we don’t necessarily tap into.

Sandie: [00:08:50] Well, I think one of the focuses that particularly attracted me, and I think it would definitely encourage a young person is it really focused on how quick an adolescent is to learn. They are in learning mode and they process new information very quickly. And you and I know that sometimes as we age our ability to process, and sometimes I think that’s because we think we already know so we have preconceived ideas, and that slows down our learning process. I think of grandparents who depend on their 13-year-old to program the remote control. Yeah, things like that. So, this strength of being a quick learner, how do we use that as a point in resilience and a focus of strength that becomes part of that think act grow?

Dave: [00:09:49] It sounds like so many fun ways to look at this from a standpoint of practicality. What are the kinds of things that Health and Human Services are asking us to do as organizations and maybe even just as individuals who are wanting to engage adolescence more?

Sandie: [00:10:06] Well I loved their initiative because it is multi-sector and the way that they describe it is that they want to work with educators, the faith-based organizations, health care, public health, social service, and out of school time community programs, as well as families, and teens themselves. So, when you when you’re looking at it across that section there are lots of people who want to start like an after-school program or they realize that there is the marginal youth in their neighborhood that is vulnerable to gangs and other kinds of unhealthy activities. So, this particular tool in the TAG and they have it’s called a TAG playbook, provides resources for those kinds of community sectors. I think that in education all of these resources this would be a great lesson. I sometimes have met with teachers and when they listen to the podcast they tell me you know what this was really good for me because I put this lesson plan together and then I had a backup lesson plan if I was absent because of illness or something. And so, this would be something a teacher could put together and have a substitute do the activity guide with their students just right there on site. And the wonderful thing about the discussion guides is they are set up for professionals to use them or for just everyday people, everyday families.

Dave: [00:11:51] One of the things we talked about in the intro is the fact that there is the tendency a lot of times when many of us want to help and jump in to duplicate efforts. And I suspect that happens around this age group too. When you’ve worked with organizations Sandie and even maybe schools who are interested in this, where do you see the duplication tends to happen with this age group?

Sandie: [00:12:14] Well I think that in my field of anti-human trafficking there has been a rush to fill the supposed gap in prevention materials and I am particularly concerned about that because people develop curriculum without having all of the backgrounds. And legislators contribute to that. We’ve talked about it. I’ve recently assigned my class here at Vanguard, the assignment of evaluating a California legislated prevention curriculum for students in 7th, 9th, and 11th grade. And so, we looked at the first segment, we evaluated it, and you think about the cost of initiating a statewide program. And you think about the pragmatics of the impact of something being legislated, so it jumps through hoops a little more quickly. So, my students analyze this and found it not nearly as best practice as we would like to think something that has been going down through legislation, to Department of Ed, and then to each county, and each school district. And so, looking at how do we start to slow down and go back and find the relevant components that are already there. There are so many resources that we’ve skipped because we include the word human trafficking in all of our searches. And if the thing I’ve learned mostly from reading the materials on this website is that I was missing an entire category of resources, an entire reservoir of resources that are already there that are already evidence-based. We already have the research so many times my colleagues have said well we need to have been doing this and this long, which is accurate in research, we have to have that longitudinal study. But here we have parallel themes. It just doesn’t say human trafficking on it and we need to be tapping into that and actively searching for people who have been doing this kind of research for a very long time.

Dave: [00:14:50] That begs the question of course, especially here in California, we, of course, have this curriculum, how would we either as an organization like the Global Center for Women and Justice Sandie or maybe as individuals who are interacting with school administrators, teachers, principals how do we utilize this in a way that honors what’s already there of course at the same time adds value and helps?

Sandie: [00:15:16] Well I think we have to slow down now right now. I’ve had so many conversations about duplication of efforts and starting another anti-human trafficking non-profit is probably not a good idea. There may be some exceptions to that, but you end up having to fund another set of administrative services as well as all of the design and structure that is required to run a nonprofit. And so, one of my colleagues suggested that all of that duplication actually ends up in fewer dollars and resources for victims and survivors and for doing prevention especially. And prevention, I’ve said it so many times has the least amount of resources available to it. So, everybody was very excited that this legislation was passed. But how are we going to do a better job of offering evidence-based curriculum to our schools? And there are resources there that we have neglected to explore and there are partners that we need to add to our team of collaboration.

Dave: [00:16:44] If I’m a parent of an adolescent Sandie who has seen this curriculum in school and knowing that there may be more opportunities to do this more effectively or to collaborate more effectively what’s a good starting point?

Sandie: [00:16:58] From a parent’s perspective, if you have a teenager then sitting down first and taking advantage of this toolkit, looking through it, doing the power of the adolescent brain discussion. So, watch all the videos and then plan a time to watch them with your adolescent and go through the discussion questions. The subject matter expert in this series of videos, Dr. Nora Jensen, and the information that’s presented is in age-appropriate language. There is a professional list of glossary of terms to help you be really confident that you understand what you’re talking about, and then engaging the young person asking them so are you surprised? Does something here surprise you? So, we’re not unloading information. We know that our kids have a cell phone or a computer and they can get knowledge, they can Google it really quickly, but what they need help with is processing so the whole idea of think so we’re creating an activity where you sit down with your kids and actually allow them to think about what they’re learning so they watch it, “what surprised you most?”, and how does that change the way that you think about teenagers so your peers and how they act. And it’s absolutely amazing when you talk to teenagers because they recognize that their peers are probably not very good risk managers that they take too many risks and so they may kind of dis their friends, but they don’t apply it to themselves. And that’s exactly the point of the content of the Power of the Adolescent Brain. So, I recommend downloading the discussion guide for the power of the adolescent brain and talking to your kids. And at the same time focusing on the strengths, not just the negatives. I love the second question on the guide it says, “Dr. Jensen explains how adolescents are prone to impulsivity and risk-taking and understanding that it takes some risks.” So, risks are a good thing, they’re positive, and so they actually encourage you to ask for some examples of positive risks that adolescents take. And it changes the way we start interacting. So, Dave thinks of some positive changes you’re closer to your adolescence than I am. What were some positive results that you took when you were an adolescent?

Dave: [00:19:52] Oh my gosh I should have taken more but probably be I remember being in a school play, it was a really positive thing having a solo. My eighth-grade play was a positive thing that I’d never done before which was great. And even a little beyond that I mean even early high school, or you know trying out for sports teams, and doing some things that I had never done before. I ended up being really positive things that even if I look back now almost 25 years later it has influenced my life in really positive ways, both of those things. And so, lots of examples of that.

Sandie: [00:20:28] The first one that came to my mind was when I was 16 and getting my driver’s license and getting on the freeway for the first time. Doing that on-ramp and knowing that if I were successful at this it would open up an entirely new realm for me. I could get places that I couldn’t go if I stayed on all the backroads. Risk is a positive thing. I remember studying a culture where the grandparents were raising the kids as this city became more industrialized, and they began to realize that grandparents warned their kids don’t do that, don’t climb that tree. They don’t want them to take risks. But they’re in a developmental age where taking risks is how they grow and become stronger. And so, they suggested that grandparents may not always be so positive because we don’t want our kids to take any risks where they might get hurt.

Dave: [00:21:37] Indeed. And Sandie as you were talking I was thinking about Live2Free and you know so much of the work the Global Center for Women and Justice has done over the years and that Vanguard has supported and you’ve supported, has been around this age group. And I’m curious as you and Vanguard students have worked with this population at this age group, what have you learned?

Sandie: [00:21:58] Well we’ve learned that youth leading youth is so much better than adults telling what to do. And I think that’s probably everybody saying while we knew that. But seeing it in action and watching students teach each other, so they process the information, and then they practice it, and then they take it out and share it. And I think that what Live2Free does is very much a Think Act Grow activity and I intend to introduce this to our local club, so they can start using some of the resources here, especially as we get ready for Ensure Justice 2018. And we’re looking at substance abuse and the teenager. The resources on this page are amazing and looking even after looking at the brain and instead of just telling our kids say no to drugs because we know that didn’t work. This discussion starts connecting the dots. So, one of the positives that I mentioned earlier is the adolescent brain learns very quickly and it’s also though prone to another form of learning in that when it’s introduced to a substance it’s much more vulnerable to learning and addiction. And so how does that play? So, I want Live2Free to begin to use some of those Think Act Grow resources in understanding drug abuse and the adolescent brain.

Dave: [00:23:41] The conference, of course, coming up March 2nd and 3rd 2018 Sandie for those who haven’t heard of Ensure Justice before what would they gain by attending the conference for the first time?

Sandie: [00:23:53] Well I think that when you come to Ensure Justice the first time you’re expecting just a normal conference. But it is a little bit bigger than just going to workshops and having a keynote speaker. It’s about engaging our community and we’re very intentional about bringing a multi-sector representation into the same room. And that means that we’re going to have juvenile justice people there, we’re going to have health care people there, academics who are researchers, as well as frontline practitioners. For instance, in 2018 child victim services director for Drug Enforcement Agency DEA will be here. And that’s so important when we’re connecting the dots between substance abuse and human trafficking. So, it’s about the content but it’s also about having a multidisciplinary presence and then it’s about networking. You leave there having colleagues and friends and resources on the other side of the nation and sometimes globally you are introduced to resources that you didn’t know exists because we’ve stayed in our own little part and not reached out. And there are opportunities for students to find internships. And that’s been a very exciting thing for me as a professor.

Dave: [00:25:24] There’s so many fascinating things that happen every year at the conference Sandie and one of the things that you touched on that I think is so key is just the interdisciplinary nature of it and also just how much we do work to collaborate and partner together. There’s just so many complex aspects to this issue, of course, it being as difficult as it is. And so, we really work at the conference to address those and obviously look through different lenses each year but very much capture the complexity and to address it in a way that’s appropriately complex and thoughtful in our responses. And so, I hope you’ll consider that if you haven’t attended the Ensure Justice conference before, it is going to be coming up in Southern California, Costa Mesa this coming March 2nd and 3rd 2018. And you can begin registering early the early bird registrations now open at ensurejustice.com. That’s the very best place to go for more information on the conference. In addition, I hope you’ll reach out to us if today’s conversation triggered some thoughts for you or perhaps your work with adolescents or you care about this age group and this issue and you’d like to know more. Of course, the show notes are a wonderful starting point, but feel free to e-mail us as well feedback@endinghumantrafficking.org. Our new website is now up at endinghumantrafficking.org so check that out if you haven’t already. Thank you so much to a yoga pier who left a wonderful review on iTunes for us. We always appreciate those reviews, they’re so helpful in supporting other people finding the show. And Sandie we love reading them, too don’t we? It’s just so much fun.

Sandie: [00:27:12] I always feel so encouraged and ready to do the next one.

Dave: [00:27:15] It helps us too, so thank you so much. Sandie, we’ll see you in 2 weeks and have a great day.

Sandie: [00:27:21] Thanks, Dave.

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