Trauma-Informed: A Journey Toward Advocacy


By: Jesse Kohler, Executive Director, Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice

I didn’t learn about trauma-informed care until I was in graduate school. While getting my Master’s in Educational Leadership, I had an internship with the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General in 2017-2018, where I helped develop a plan for the Pennsylvania Trauma-Informed Care Network to prevent spiking overdose rates and reduce recidivism throughout the Commonwealth. 

I experienced complex trauma at various points during my development, but it wasn’t until this internship that I had a fuller language and understanding of what my brain and body had been through. As I learned how my own trauma shaped my behaviors and emotions, it made sense that people who experienced chronic stress and overwhelming adversity would be more likely to misuse substances, resort to violence to themselves or others, struggle to keep up in school or the workplace, and other poor outcomes without support from their family or community.

The trauma-informed movement works to create conditions of empowerment through an understanding of the neurological, biological, psychological, cultural, moral, and social effects of trauma and violence on humans so that people can reach their full potential. 

I got more involved with CTIPP when I became the Director of Development at a Philadelphia community center and supported the organization’s fundraising efforts as a board member. My day job was to raise money to support programs ranging from child care to workforce development to emergency services like a food cupboard. But I realized the myriad ways that our country’s broken systems perpetuated stress. It was difficult to meet our constituents’ deep needs because a broader patchwork approach made our jobs challenging. 

This realization and regular reminders of our country’s brokenness made for valuable advocacy fuel. I struggled with the moral injury associated with realizing harsh realities of our world, and advocacy became my outlet to maintain wellbeing in my moral and spiritual dimensions. 

In addition to relationships with other CTIPP Board members, I developed a close relationship with Dan Press who loved my passion and taught me what he could about advocacy and policy. Along with many others, we worked to the best of our capacity as volunteers to promote trauma-informed work throughout society.  

When the pandemic struck, key decision makers could no longer pretend that our systems were working. Trauma-informed care went from being a more niche topic – though those of us who have been in this work longer have known it was the root to promoting flourishing and healing – to a key part of the solution needed to rebuild from the collective trauma of COVID. 

CTIPP went from being an all volunteer organization to building a paid team. I have had the privilege of being able to serve as executive director since April of 2021. At first Dan and I were the primary “employees” for the organization, but when he got diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in the late summer of 2021, he and his family made a one time gift that allowed us to hire our first paid staff members and build the organization. Unfortunately, Dan’s condition worsened throughout the last year and he lost his battle with cancer this past October.

2022 was our first year with staff, and while reforming the organization to support full-time staff and consultants, we accomplished a tremendous amount, particularly given our limited capacity. You can learn more about our accomplishments in our annual report

As we gear up for the coming year and the new Congress, we are starting 2023 strong by leading the #TakeOnTrauma Campaign. Nearly 900 advocates have signed our letter we will send to every Congressional office with constituent signatures educating about how trauma is a root cause of so many issues our society faces. Alongside Congressional champions and a growing network of advocates across the country, we will continue to coordinate and advance the movement to prevent trauma and foster resilience. 

We are fortunate to partner with organizations, like the Trauma Research Foundation, to amplify our work. We hope for your support in any way you are able to as we continue working toward systems that prioritize prevention and healing on a pathway toward a hopeful future.

Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash

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