285 – Focus on Children Under Stress, with Stacy Deeble-Reynolds

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Sandie and Stacy Deeble-Reynolds discuss FOCUS, a program designed to intervene when youth experience a traumatic event and provide guardrails, support, care, and a safe environment at an early stage when need is most critical. They reflect on similar programs in other states and how someone can bring FOCUS to their community.

Stacy Deeble-Reynolds

Stacy Deeble-Reynolds serves as the Director of the Student Achievement and Wellness unit at the Orange County Department of Education. Stacy has over 20 years of experience working with students, parents, educators and community stakeholders in Sacramento, Orange County, and throughout the state of California. She currently serves in various leadership capacities among Orange County work groups focused on student mental health and wellness, family engagement, prevention, and positive youth development. Stacy holds a bachelors degree from UC Irvine, and a Masters degree from CSU Long Beach.

Key Points

  • FOCUS is designed to provide support for children who have experienced violence or trauma through collaboration between first responders, schools, and community resources.
  • OCDE’s program was inspired and developed by West Virginia’s Handle with Care and Stanislaus, California’s FOCUS program.
  • Trainings to law enforcement and schools are designed to be accessible and flexible to maximize trainings.
  • Interested school superintendents, police departments, and community leaders can contact Stacy to bring FOCUS to their schools.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 285, Focus on Children Under Stress, with Stacy Deeble-Reynolds.

Production Credits [00:00:11] 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, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, you were just telling me before we started our conversation today that you have known today’s guests for a long time. I’m so glad to meet her and to welcome her to the show. Stacy Debble-Reynolds is our guest today. Stacy serves as the Director of the Student Achievement and Wellness Unit at the Orange County Department of Education. She has over 20 years experience working with students, parents, educators and community stakeholders in Sacramento, Orange County and throughout the state of California. She currently serves in various leadership capacities among Orange County workgroups, focused on student mental health and wellness, family engagement, prevention and positive youth development. She holds a bachelor’s degree from UC Irvine and a master’s degree from Cal State University of Long Beach. Stacy, what a pleasure to have you with us.

Stacy [00:01:34] Thanks so much, Dave.

Sandie [00:01:36] I’m very excited. We just finished Priceless a few weeks ago and your new program, FOCUS, received one of our Diamond Awards. And the thing to know about our Diamond Awards is they’re not just glitzy. Those awards are models of replicatable programs that people anywhere can learn how to do and make available in their own communities that contribute to healthy communities that are resilient and reduce exploitation and even human trafficking. So we were really honored to present this award to focus at Orange County Department of Education. And I’m not going to tell people what FOCUS is because I want you to do that, Stacy.

Stacy [00:02:32] Oh, thank you, Sandy. And you’re correct, this is definitely something that others can easily replicate. And it’s what we did. Here at the Orange County Department of Education we partner often with Vanguard University’s Ensure Justice conference. Thank you, Sandie, for inviting us to be a partner every year. And at one of the conferences we learned about Handle with Care. It’s a program in West Virginia that we decided to model FOCUS after. And this program I’ll tell you about it in just a second. But what I want to share is that we learned all about it at Ensure Justice. So we’re so grateful to you and to the conference that you provide every year because it’s a really wonderful opportunity for connections to be made and for people to do even more macro work in prevention.

Sandie [00:03:27] And I love the connections and the way ideas are spread. We have listeners in 148 countries. And I want to say to people, when you finish listening to this podcast, if you decide to start this journey, please email us so that we can kind of create a map and see how when ideas spread, it changes our communities for the good. And for those who would like to listen to the interview we did with the folks from West Virginia on Handle with Care, I’ll put that link in the show notes. So let’s go ahead and tell us about what FOCUS looks like.

Stacy [00:04:17] Okay. So FOCUS is essentially a notification system that’s designed to decrease the negative impacts on children after they’ve been exposed to violence and trauma. And how we do that is by improving communication and collaboration between first responders, schools and community resources. And really, Sandie, the goal is to provide children with a more stable alternative in the aftermath of any kind of traumatic event. And so–.

Sandie [00:04:47] Wait, I have to tell a story here.

Stacy [00:04:50] Sure.

Sandie [00:04:51] I went to pick up the Diamond Award, and most of the awards are pretty clear. There’s a person’s name and stuff, but the whole Focus on Children Under Stress. So the person who is checking these out, making sure everything was correct, stopped me and said, ‘What does that mean?’ And when I told her it is based on this idea that a child who was present during some sort of law enforcement presence in their home or in their community, some kind of violence might show up to school the next day in the same clothes without breakfast, doesn’t have their homework with them. And instead of giving them detention for not having their homework, we actually provide more support. And this is when I lost it. She got glassy eyed, teary, and said, That was me. So, I believe it is time for FOCUS right here in Orange County.

Stacy [00:06:00] Well, Sandie, I appreciate that story because when we talk about this, we receive two common reactions. The first is, oh, that’s a no brainer. Why haven’t we been doing this for a long time? And then the second reaction is some sort of personal connection, like what you just shared. And traumatic events can be outside of the family. They can happen within a family. Some examples that I’ll share, you know, a house or an apartment catching fire, burning down, maybe someone witnessing, a child witnessing a car accident or being involved in a car accident within a family. Maybe witnessing an older sibling experiencing a drug overdose. And oftentimes, these kinds of things don’t necessarily warrant Child Protective Services involvement, which, of course, there is communication when social services is involved. But in these situations, there is often a first responder at the scene or involved with taking a report. And so what we have been doing here in Orange County is providing trainings to law enforcement agencies like Anaheim Police Department and also providing a separate training for school staff at Anaheim Union High School District and Anaheim Elementary School District. And so we train officers on how to submit a notification through a Web based app. And I’ll tell you a little bit more about that in a minute. And it basically is just asking for the child’s name and birthdate and without any details, we’re unable to share details of what occurred. But basically, when the officer submits that child information, name, birthday and the school that they go to, we have an app that is preprogrammed so that when the child’s school is selected, it automatically sends an email to the administrator, the school social worker, whoever is been identified at each of these school sites, it notifies them that a child has been involved in a traumatic event and he or she is returning to school tomorrow and please handle with care. And so that is the message they get, the email they receive, and the expectation is that they will pass it on to the child’s teacher or teachers, plural. If it’s a middle or high school student, they have multiple teachers. And that exactly what you just described, there would be some supports in place for that child as immediate interventions such as homework, forgiveness, maybe allowing the child to rest at the nurse’s office, maybe postponing a test or seeing if the child needs something to eat. And these are things that if a school is not at all aware that a child has been involved in a traumatic event, they have no understanding of this major shift, this adverse experience that’s happened in their life. And so for them, when the teacher is able to be involved right away, at least to know this child needs a soft place to land in the coming days, they need a lot of TLC here at our campus. We’re going to provide them with extra supports, even though we don’t necessarily know what’s occurred. Hopefully, the communication between the child’s family, perhaps guardians, if they are not currently residing with their family. And the school is already strong. And this will allow everyone to come around and support the child with whatever’s going on in their life.

Sandie [00:09:53] So what will be the result of that kind of early intervention for that student?

Stacy [00:10:01] That’s a great question. So, if a child, but let’s go to the example I gave earlier of a child maybe witnessing their older sibling having a drug overdose. Obviously, the family’s attention is going to be to the older sibling who might be hospitalized, could have even passed away. That the family’s attention is going to be really focused on that child or arrangements that need to be made. And in the meantime, if no one at the younger sibling’s school has any idea of what’s going on or that anything happened at all, then there’s a good chance that that child’s initial response in school is that they might have emotional outbreaks without explanation. They might have trouble with that sort of self-regulation or pushing teachers away or feeling like things are their fault, maybe even having difficulty with some of the things they normally have no problem with, like packing your backpack at the end of the day and keeping all of their items organized for school, and suddenly they’re struggling with those things. The difference here is that when a staff member knows something has happened, when I talk about a, you know, a soft place to land or this cocoon of support, this child is going to feel permission to feel. They’re going to understand it is okay to feel sad, to feel angry, to feel scared, all of these things. They’re going to understand that their school is a place of support, that the teachers are not going to get angry because the child missed a test or that the child failed a test, that their whole school year is not going to get destroyed, which for a lot of young people, I mean, most young people want to do well in school. They want to do well. And so these life experiences can really trump that. They can really take over where your mind’s focus is for days, weeks, months on end. If a family’s home burned in a fire, there are so many different things that are going to be the priority in that child’s and that family’s life. So getting into the child’s life at that early stage of trauma can make a huge difference in how the child comes out of the situation. Hopefully more resilient, hopefully feeling more supported and able to feel confident that they can get through this experience, feeling assured that adults in their life care about them and are going to take care of them.

Sandie [00:12:49] Okay. So before we had this notification opportunity for first responders, I think it’s important to understand that there are barriers and challenges for that to happen outside of a process like this. First responders are paying attention to what they’re doing. So it’s not like they can leave and go be a social worker for a child who is witnessing this. And then in certain circumstances, there are HIPA laws that prevent disclosure. So this app makes it easy for a first responder to do two or three clicks and be done and know that someone is going to be the person making sure that student gets a soft landing. I like that term. So how do you pull together the team, and how much training does it take, and how much does it cost? And I have like I’m thinking of all the questions of somebody who just found out about this that’s a schoolteacher in another area.

Stacy [00:13:58] Great questions. And I’ll start with our first step, which was to reach out to Handle with Care in West Virginia and find out what is your program, how does it work, how much money does it cost to run this? We learned that they were using faxing to submit the notifications, and when we learned they were using faxing, we asked them, is there a better way you could do this? And they said, absolutely. We know we need to work towards some sort of electronic notification. And then they shared that a county in California, Stanislaus County, their DEA office, actually had been working with their county office of Education, which is the organization I work for here in Orange County. County office of ED. Stanislaus’ had also reached out to Handle with Care. They had heard about the program and they had started the program under the name FOCUS. So we actually my colleagues and I reached out to Stanislaus County Office of Education and learned all about what they were doing, which was very similar to West Virginia, with the exception of they were in the process of building an app and it’s actually a website which can be saved to a cell phone as an app, if you know what I mean, Sandie. It’s kind of like a network. And it allows for anyone to use it without having to constantly update a particular app. So, you know, everyone who cares about kids should care about sharing things that are good for kids, in my opinion. And Stanislaus County said, Hey, we’ll share this code with you. We’ve built it. We’ll share the code with you to build this same website for your county. And they did. And so we’re very grateful to Stanislaus FOCUS program because we were able to work with our own I.T. department to use that same code and build the same submission program. And on our end then it did cost a little bit of money because we had to hire an IT person, not a full time person, but like a consultant, to help us tweak a few things in the app to make it work for us better. And we we wanted to make sure that the trainings were really clear, that we were giving the officers–all the first responders, everybody involved–we were giving them the examples of what they would need to submit. Because you’re right, it had to be just a couple of clicks and they’re not social workers. So we made sure they understood that they could go back to the precinct where they write their report or in their car, in their patrol car, where they type up their report. And as long as they’ve got that child’s first name, last name, birthdate and the child’s district and school, then the notification can be sent directly to the school. So, as far as the costs for this I.T. consultant, I would say, gosh, probably about $20,000 total to make all of the changes that we’ve needed to support that. We did receive a grant. It’s one of the ACEs Aware grant through the state of California, which helped fund a little bit of my time and one of my colleagues time to provide trainings. And now we’re just doing that in-house. And so our organization really values this program and sees that the entire county hopefully will be doing it soon. But we had to start with a pilot. We had to start somewhere. We worked with a couple of initial school districts, including Buena Park School District and their respective police department, Buena Park Police Department. And that’s where we began. And we’ve just been growing ever since and providing trainings to both sides of this partnership, law enforcement and school districts.

Sandie [00:17:58] So I got a bunch of friends in the law enforcement realm, and there are lots of demands on their time. Their first question is going to be, how long is the training?

Stacy [00:18:12] Great question. The training that I was able to provide to Anaheim Police Department officers, I think I got it down to 15 minutes. I was at the 6 a.m. shifts for four days in a week. And we were able to really boil the training down to about 15 to 20 minutes, I’d say, to make sure we have enough time for Q&A. And yeah, it’s really straightforward. It’s introducing them to what the program is, showing them the app, how it works. We follow up afterwards with an email that gives them their username and password to log in. And once they’ve got that downloaded on their phone, that’s it. Or on their computer, they can just go to the website. It takes less than one minute to type in the information required to submit a notification.

Sandie [00:19:09] So to me, that change of shift briefing model is very doable. I used to run an operating room and when people wanted to bring training in I told them, if you can do it in our 15 minute change of shift meeting, come on down. If not, I’m going to have to go through all of the get a training room, reschedule people and then prioritize if I have enough people to reschedule so that everybody gets through the training. So I really like that component. What about the training for the schools?

Stacy [00:19:47] Great question. We have provided two separate trainings for school staff. One training is for school administrators who receive the notification directly. I’m talking about school principals, the lead school social workers, whoever a district has identified at each of the school sites as being the main points of contact. So that’s our first training. The second training is for teachers, all staff at a school site. We want them to understand what this program is and that you might have a school social worker come to your classroom or call you and say, we received a notification for this particular child. Please handle with care. And then we talk about some of the things that they can do. Some of those early interventions. So there are two trainings. The training for administrators takes about 30 minutes, and that’s because we want them to understand all the ins and outs of receiving the notification, what to do after that, and how to mark in the back end of the website that they did, in fact, pass the information along to the child’s teacher. The training for teachers is about the same time we have to spend with law enforcement folks. It’s about 15 minutes. So we can fit ourselves into a staff meeting or we have also recently created an online training because we know that even staff meetings can be quite full. And because we have so many different school sites, it’s really challenging for the one coordinator on my team to get to all these different spots. And so we have created an online training so that they can take that on their own time.

Sandie [00:21:32] Wow. So accessibility is a key ingredient for success with FOCUS. We will also put in the show notes a diagram of the FOCUS notification flow chart. It’s a little difficult to visualize as we try to describe it in our conversation, but I think some of the key components is the first responder, whether that’s at this point mostly police departments, but might eventually be fire departments and other first responders. Then to OCDE through the Web page, and then it is filtered through the district and gets to the school. All that happens, though, by the police officer, the first responder, completing the fill in the blank and click. And the fact that the training is so abbreviated makes this much more doable from an administrative perspective to implement. So my next question is, do you have a guess about how long it will take to have every school in Orange County on board?

Stacy [00:22:52] You know, we are slowly growing in the Anaheim community. We started with Buena Park, then we reached over to Los Alamitos. A lot of this comes from interest from police chiefs, actually, or from a superintendent. Once we were in Buena Park, we grew all around there with Anaheim Elementary, Anaheim Union High School District. I mentioned the Los Alamitos. So this is happening simultaneously. We now have Magnolia and Savannah coming on board. I would like to think that in the next two years we would have all districts on board and all law enforcement officers trained. There are, of course, challenges. We don’t have a lot of staffing available. So I don’t have a dedicated person whose only job this is to support FOCUS who can be on the on the phone a lot of the time with all these different agencies and districts. But we’re very grateful to have people like you and this podcast to help us spread the word, because when we we get interested parties, that helps. That cuts out the step of us having to reach out to get another district on board when they call us. So we have been very appreciative of opportunities to present to the police, to Orange County Police Chiefs and sheriffs organization. They invited us last January to present to them. We also you mentioned that most is law enforcement. But through one of our presentations, CHOC, Children’s Health of Orange County–our local children’s hospital–they inquired and we provided training to them, Sandie, for their social workers who work with terminally ill patients. And they recognize that the siblings of these children who are maybe getting really bad news, that the siblings are going to really struggle with that and that that might be considered a traumatic event for them. And so we’ve trained their social workers as well to be able to submit notifications. And through all of this, we are learning because we learn ways to change the app, to do things a little bit differently and how to do trainings differently. You mentioned accessibility is key. So is flexibility. So we did not initially start with having trainings online that people could watch on their own time. We added that because the school district said there’s no way you can get our 400 teachers trained in-person within this timeline and we want to get moving on this quickly. So that’s why we were flexible and we’ll continue to do that. But I’d like to think that in the next two years, we could have everyone involved and trained.

Sandie [00:25:36] So it feels to me like if you want to make sure this happens in your area and you’re a PTA mom, maybe you would want to get your superintendent or your principal to reach out to your local police chief or sheriff’s deputy and have that partnership in place when you call FOCUS. Am I  guessing right?

Stacy [00:26:06] It would be helpful. But actually, even if just one party, if let’s say a superintendent was excited about this, then we would go to the the police chief. And there’s a really good chance that that superintendent already has a relationship with that police chief and could facilitate a meeting. That’s what Buena Park did. We started with Buena Park. We said we need this, their school district. And then the school district superintendent said, hey, we’ve got a great relationship with Buena Park PD. And so they helped to coordinate a meeting where all three of us were together. And it was the the easiest shake, if you will. And there’s no cost to the district. There’s no cost to law enforcement. And so it’s something that makes sense and it’s good for kids. And that’s what we always try and focus on.

Sandie [00:26:56] Because we want healthy, resilient kids. And this is an important part of alleviating the trauma from some kind of ACEs experience and adverse childhood experience that we know scientifically, experientially impacts a child into adulthood. So if we can alleviate that now, we’re going to have healthier adults as well as healthier children. I’m very excited about this. I want our listeners to know that if you go to the show notes, you can actually watch Stacy talk about this and see the PowerPoint and the diagrams, which are really helpful to visualizing and mapping it strategically for yourself, because I would be thrilled to see this spread way beyond Orange County and Stanislaus County and become a best practice across the state and in lots of other places across the nation. So we’re grateful for what O.C. Department of Education is providing this bridge between law enforcement, first responders and our schools. Because this is part of making sure every single child is getting a great education in a safe environment that is resilient. And I love that we get to partner again this year for Ensure Justice. Stacy, it’s coming up March 3rd and 4th and we have information for registration in our webpage, GCWJ.org/events. And so if you’re interested, check that out. And Stacy, I’ll be making sure that I share the link for this interview with you to spread to schools and local first responders. I’m so grateful for the work that you’ve done because I know it took about two years to roll it out.

Stacy [00:29:15] Well, thank you, Sandie. And it did take a while to roll out. But it is something that I think we are going to see grow across the state more. I have heard of at least two other counties that are trying to pick up FOCUS. I think one might be calling it Handle with Care. It’s all the same thing. It’s all about that communication and helping to get a child early intervention when they have experienced a traumatic event. Imagine how many of us adults could have received some kind of extra support after a traumatic event that back in the day we just didn’t receive. And there are a lot of adults that we speak to who share that experience. Gosh, it would have made a huge difference for me. So I’m so grateful for this opportunity and I invite any of your listeners to reach out to us and see how you can be a part of this, and we’ll help you get your program going as well, if you’d like to do something similar.

Sandie [00:30:15] Thank you, Stacy.

Stacy [00:30:16] Thank you.

Dave [00:30:18] I’ll reiterate that call to action. You know, one of the best places for folks to go if you’re listening for all of the links you’ve just heard, the resources, the video, endinghumantrafficking.org. Our team does a wonderful job every time we put out an episode of cataloguing all the things we’ve mentioned, linking those up. And so I’d invite you to reach out there and to find out more about what Stacy’s doing, what the Department of Education is doing. Sandie, I hear so much partnership in this conversation, not only between us and the Department of Ed, but, of course, across districts around the country and law enforcement. I mean, so many examples of what we all need to be doing in order to end human trafficking, all taking our part and working together. And we’re inviting you to take that first step as well. If you’re just listening for the first time or maybe the first few times, go over to endinghumantrafficking.org and we’d invite you to download a copy of Sandie’s guide, The Five Things You Must Know: A Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. It’ll teach you the five critical things that we’ve identified that you should know before you join the fight against trafficking. You can get access to it again by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. That’s also the best place to find out about supporting the Ending Human Trafficking podcast and the Global Center for Women and Justice through Patreon. You’ll see a link on the endinghumantrafficking.org page there. Details there as far as more resources and tools and the ability to support the work that we’re doing here to end human trafficking. All of that again at endinghumantrafficking.org. And as Sandie mentioned, Ensure Justice is coming up in March 2023. Details on the website there as well. You can also go over to GCWJ.org that has information about all the things we’re doing here at the Global Center for Women in Justice, and we will be back again in two weeks for our next conversation. Always a pleasure, Sandie. Thanks.

Sandie [00:32:09] Thank you, Dave. And thank you, Stacy, for being with me today.

Stacy [00:32:13] Thank you.

Dave [00:32:14] Take care, everybody.

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