Our latest newsletter showcases the ways in which our partners are breaking down silos, pushing beyond organizational boundaries and unleashing the potential for change, all to increase access to wellbeing for people living at the intersection of poverty, trauma, violence and oppression. Read it here to learn more, catch our latest blog post, meet new faces and find out who’s spreading the word!
The Full Frame Initiative (FFI) recently began an intentional examination into how, as an organization, it can step up its efforts as a racial equity champion. This summer, I was invited to a day-long conversation with a small group of FFI partners and allies to a consultative session “to inform the design of a process and structure that would allow FFI to better address the critical intersection of wellbeing, race and oppression.” Having been on the staff of FFI and now serving as an FFI Senior Fellow, I was excited to participate. Moreover, as an African American woman and “social justice warrior” I was especially eager to explore this critical topic with the leadership of FFI and several admired colleagues. We were able to have a relatively candid conversation that day: about the challenges of advocating for racial equity within the systems that stubbornly uphold status quo policy and practice despite their rhetoric; about the dearth of funding that incentivizes and supports a shift to equitable practice and policy; about the difficult conversation race and racism is in diverse company; and about how an organization like FFI, which has been predominantly “white,” steps into and embraces an appropriate role. The conversation was a forthright beginning, and together with a follow-up conversation I led with some of the other participants, some concrete recommendations were lifted up, upon which FFI can act. Additionally, the conversation revealed some important process points that can inform FFI’s actions as an ally of organizations of color at the forefront of the movement to undo systemic and systematic racism within the human services sector and beyond.
With regard to recommendations upon which FFI can take action, there are several building blocks in FFI’s existing approach and Five Domains of Wellbeing framework to build from. These strengths include:
- A focus on people from marginalized communities who are not inherently broken but who struggle mightily because of/in spite of the conditions that confront them in toxic environments
- A desire to co-create (read: recognize that solutions cannot be prescribed from outside these communities) conditions that are more supportive of wellbeing
- A strengths-focus, that assumes that all people (even those, maybe even especially those, in the “deep-end of the deep-end”) have strengths and assets to build from
- Movement building, which acknowledges that programs that fix people are not the answer, but that the challenges faced by marginalized communities are systemic and require a comprehensive, coordinated and sustained effort by many stakeholders
- That value-based structural changes are the only means to transformed institutions, policies and practices that currently maintain inequity and disproportionality
One recommendation is for FFI to use its influence to ensure that the voice and participation of intended beneficiaries of color center any discussions/decisions about what works to support their pursuit of wellbeing. For each of the Five Domains of Wellbeing, FFI is encouraged to include even more explicit descriptions of how each domain is experienced by people of color at the intersection of poverty, violence and trauma. For example, how does being African American or Latino affect one’s perception of safety when one’s very identity is questioned or debased or serves as the basis for racial profiling? FFI should revisit existing documents, communications and training materials and make a focus on race equity more explicit (for example, by incorporating more cases, examples and statements that name people of color and their struggles and triumphs in striving for the same respect and opportunity available to others). FFI had already taken steps to make changes based on these recommendations and is continuing to do so.
With regard to FFI’s actions as an ally of organizations of color at the forefront of the race equity movement to undo racism, FFI intends to courageously delve into the question of what being such an ally means. The answers are not so simple, and I for one am glad that FFI recognizes this. I know that FFI has made serious attempts to diversify its staff and create a more inclusive environment where all staff contribute their value. In the meantime, how does an organization like FFI, which has been predominantly “white,” lead without minimizing the leadership of organizations of color? Are there specific realms of action that FFI should lead on versus follow? And given the hard-scrabble existence non-profits have to grow or even sustain their own work, where do FFI and allies find the space, time and resources required to build the trust necessary to forge strong, diverse racial equity partnerships? And yet it starts simply by recognizing the importance of sincerely asking these questions and acting responsively. I know that FFI is serious about asking and answering the tough questions and will seek able consultation to help them in developing a long-range plan of action. FFI recognizes the critical importance of engaging informed allies in its networks for change; it is encouraging that it recognizes also the critical importance of being/becoming an informed, engaged ally for/with others in the common ground network for race equity.
Audrey Jordan is FFI’s Senior Fellow of Community Engagement. Through her fellowship, she is exploring ways to “translate” and document how the Five Domains of Wellbeing are understood by people and communities with lived experience with poverty, violence and trauma.
FFI guest blog author Lynne Marie Wanamaker recently facilitated a webinar about boundaries convened by members of FFI’s Domestic and Sexual Violence (DSV) Cohort. The idea for a dedicated conversation on the topic grew out of prior DSV Cohort meetings, where discussions about boundaries were rich with ideas and emotion. The webinar seized on this energy and offered new tools for talking about this essential element of practice.
“Catherine” is an expectant mother and a participant in the program where you are a direct service worker. Catherine asks you for something out-of-the-ordinary: To be present at the birth of her child. How do you feel about assisting Catherine as she gives birth? How do you imagine Catherine feels about asking you? What do you think will be most helpful to Catherine? Where do the boundaries belong? How do you know?
As an empowerment self-defense instructor for the last 25 years, I’ve been privileged to help countless students identify and assert personal boundaries. An essential component of this work is the self-awareness to know when something feels comfortable, safe and acceptable–and when it doesn’t. A student of mine once called this “The Internal OK-Meter.”
Listening to one’s own Internal OK-Meter–and respecting others’ OK-Meters–is essential for building authentic relationships. This is why, when I entered social work school I was surprised how little attention was given to developing self-awareness with regard to our own boundary preferences. Instead, boundary training for emerging human service workers often boiled down to concrete lists of “dos” and “don’ts.” The intent of these guidelines is admirable and essential: to protect people in programs. But the effect can be rigid practice that doesn’t consider the unique context and intent of each interaction or relationship.
As I learned more about the Full Frame Approach, the “bright-line” model of professional boundaries concerned me even more. Agencies in Full Frame practice know that porous, moveable, context-dependent boundaries are most effective when working with highly marginalized folks. This case-by-case approach is part of what Professor Lehn Benjamin of Indiana University, a Full Frame Initiative (FFI) partner, calls the craft of front-line work. In this method, boundaries are flexible and can be adjusted in response to what will be most helpful to the individual being helped.
Participants in the Engaging Boundaries webinar braved the virtual learning environment to experiment with their own Internal OK-Meters and also to consider sophisticated models of professional boundaries borrowed from nursing and psychotherapy. The story of Catherine inspired careful reflection. Some participants, based on professional or personal background, felt their Internal OK-Meters in the comfortable zone. Others felt decidedly not-OK with this request, like the FFI staff member who remarked, “I’m not even sure I would want to attend my own birthing event!”
When we don’t give our own “Internal OK-meters” sufficient credence, noticed Anna Melbin, FFI’s Director of Network Growth and Strategy, it can be tempting to turn to rules or policies to protect ourselves from discomfort. But when we acknowledge our authentic responses, we have more room to creatively explore what will work for us and be most helpful for the people we are supporting.
Webinar participants wondered what would be more helpful to Catherine: Serving as her birth partner, or helping her find support elsewhere? The answer to this question–“it depends”–required admitting how the request sat with them personally. It required reflecting on how Catherine felt about making the request. And it required consideration of how the decision might contribute to Catherine’s stability, mastery and social connectedness. There were no right or wrong answers, but thoughtful engagement with this gray area of practice.
It was my hope that the Exploring Boundaries webinar provide a tool-kit for considering complex boundaries in Full Frame practice. The answer to nearly every boundary scenario will be “it depends.” With a common language and commitment to the wellbeing of all involved, Full Frame agencies and staff can continue their rich discussion of what it depends on.
Lynne Marie is a student at the Boston College Graduate School for Social Work with a specialization in Macro Practice: Social Innovation and Leadership. Her 2014-2015 academic year placement has been at FFI. Her professional experience in the non-profit and higher education sectors includes coalition advocacy, communications, donor relations, event production and volunteer management. Lynne Marie is an accomplished anti-violence educator with over twenty years of experience helping individuals and organizations develop skills to avoid, interrupt, defend against and heal from interpersonal violence. She holds a B.A. in Women’s Studies and American Literature from the City University of New York (CUNY), CUNY Baccalaureate in Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies.
Note: This guest blog has been adapted with permission by the author from ACES Connection.
Compassion and the Five Domains of Wellbeing
By James Encinas
I believe that ending violence requires more than the use of our resources to minimizing the harmful impacts of violence. I believe that there must be a step beyond taking on violence to avert deaths. We need a long term vision to guide our projects for social justice. And that includes an eye on prevention of violence in the first place. We now know that children brought up in a destructive environment live a traumatized existence and of course fail to get their developmental/emotional needs met. We also know that these same children often become acting-out teens and, later, acting-out adults.
Recently I had the pleasure to sit down with the founder and CEO of The Full Frame Initiative, Katya Fels Smyth and Audrey D. Jordan, The Full Frame Initiative’s Director of Community Engagement and Evaluation. We talked about domestic violence, poverty, and trauma and its impact on our children, families, and communities. They introduced me to The Full Frame Initiative’s Five Domains of Wellbeing. These five domains cover the universal, interdependent and non-hierarchical essential needs that we all have. They encompass social connectedness, stability, safety, mastery, and meaningful access to relevant resources.
Throughout my childhood I lacked safety, stability, and to some degree healthy connection. As I grew, the absence of these vital assets hindered my development, denied me the tools that lead one towards mastery and impeded my capacity to acquire meaningful access to the relevant resources that one needs to thrive and be happy. Growing up with domestic violence and trauma robbed me of fundamental core developmental needs, needs that today I feel deeply grateful to have acquired and posses.
A few days after my meeting with Katya and Audrey, I attended an all day training at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles titled “Batterer Dynamics, Assessment & Intervention”, presented by Alyce La Violette. She’s been working with battered women since 1978 and created one of the first batterer men programs in the nation; at this point she’s been running groups for men for over thirty-five years. As I sat and listened to her speak, it dawned on me that over 18 years have lapsed since I’d last seen her. At that time I had decided to embark on a film dealing with the subject of domestic violence, focused on men who abuse women, and Alyce was one of the people I sought out for guidance and help.
A consummate storyteller, Alyce is passionate, poignant, humorous and has a unique gift for effectively speaking to the sensitive topic of domestic violence. She is also a kind and compassionate human being. Looking back on it, I credit Alyce with my decision to eventually attend a batterer intervention program that helped support me in my own personal growth and development as a man.
During the training, Alyce shared scenes of a documentary in which some men from one of her batterer men groups had agreed to participate, with the hope that other men who watched the film would benefit. (By the way, if we are going to look at the issue of domestic violence through a trauma-informed lens, we are going to have to do something about the terms “batterer” and “perpetrator”. Alyce explained that in Canada the term used is “people who use aggression”.).
The scenes gave us a glimpse into some of the issues that men who use aggression contend with, as well as insights, learning and transformations that transpired throughout the group experience. One of the men’s group participants was Dave. Dave, who stood almost 7 feet tall, was a man who used severe aggression that gave rise to disastrous aftermaths. In a fit of rage he broke his wife’s neck—a crime that put him in prison, severed his relationship with his children and physically, emotionally, and mentally damaged and traumatized the woman he at one time promised to love and protect.
Not until after Dave left prison and joined the men’s group did his life began to change. We viewed as Dave struggled with his guilt and shame. Observed him coming to the realization that what he’d done was inconceivable and irreversible. Witnessed his remorse, sorrow, anguish and pain. When the scenes came to an end someone asked Alyce, “What happened to Dave?”
“Dave ended up getting throat cancer,” said Alyce. Throughout his cancer treatment he continued in the men’s group. At one point, doctors had to remove part of his tongue and graph some skin from his forearm to rebuild it. Other men in the group ribbed him about that, asking to see his hairy tongue.
Dave learned, and as he did he began to obtain the essential needs identified by The Full Frame Initiative and commenced the transformation into the person he was meant to be. He grew socially connected to his men’s group, developed stability and safety, set off on the pursuit of mastery and started the ball rolling towards seeking out the meaningful access to relevant resources that would enhance his life. Dave became an advocate against domestic violence and spoke at schools, shelters and batterer men programs. He modeled and practiced restorative justice.
One day Alyce got a call—it was Dave. He told her that his children called and wanted to see him. This was the one thing he wanted more than anything in the world. Dave died shortly thereafter, with Alyce and all the men in his group at his bedside.
James Encinas is currently on a bicycle “Ride for Change” across the country to help bring awareness to and gather support for Trauma Informed Care Services and Solutions. James, who originally moved to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career, obtained a teaching credential in 1996 and for fifteen years was an educator and role model for the heavily Latino population at Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice, California. In 2012, James took a leave from the LAUSD School District to work as Lead Organizer, Teacher Recruitment & Development, at Future is Now Schools. James, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Saint Joseph’s University, is a member of the first ever cohort of Aspen Teacher Leader Fellows and a Cotsen Fellow. He will be blogging during his ride and you can follow him via ACES Connection.