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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

ATN's Virtual Pivot

In the Spring of 2020, the Attachment & Trauma Network (ATN) staff and Board had to make a difficult decision. We decided our next conference needed to be virtual. Pivot.

It would be impossible to explain the work that went into pulling off a virtual conference (with over 1300 attendees) that still maintained the relational feeling that is ATN’s trademark. Everything had to be intentional. Everything.

From the events to the presentations and keynotes, the consistency of messaging about the effects of trauma on our most vulnerable children was evident. This pandemic will have far-reaching ramifications for all children (especially those with trauma backgrounds). It is a brewing storm; the far-off thunder is sounding the warning. Coming.

This was the fourth Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools conference. The trauma-informed movement is maturing and growing. It isn’t that we didn’t understand the effects of trauma from the beginning; it is that we are now linking arms with a more focused mission that expands our work into all areas of society. Understanding the effects of trauma requires systemic changes. Systemic.

For the first year, ATN included a parenting track in the conference. A grant from the Hilton Foundation provided partial or full scholarships to many parents/caregivers of children with trauma backgrounds. Helping these parents/caregivers is at the root beginnings of ATN; this felt like coming home. The session attendees included a mix of educators, parents, therapists, social workers, school counselors, and leaders in the trauma-informed movement. We are all in this together, a mighty force on a mission to help traumatized children. Together.

Personally, I considered the statistical truth that out of 1300 attendees, at least 300 were survivors of sexual abuse. They weren’t attending for that reason, but they were learning how to help themselves along with the children they serve. I would imagine that the percentage is higher because so many who suffered childhood adversity choose to pursue careers in helping professions. An important theme during the conference was self-care along with doing our own work to heal so we can better serve others. A dysregulated adult cannot help a child regulate. Self-care.

Along the way, I continued to understand more about myself and how I coped with the effects of developmental trauma. I moderated five sessions and attended five keynotes, and “sat” in two additional sessions. It is frustrating that I can’t remember very much from any of the sessions—general idea, but not who said what. This was surprising since I have attended conferences my entire adult life and never had this happen. Then it struck me that my ability to remember is very place-dependent. (I remember life events by what house I was living in at the time.) I didn’t walk to actual rooms for the sessions; they all took place inside my computer screen. I needed to sit in a different place in my house for each session. That wasn’t an option due to my moderator role, but it is a significant insight for the future. Lesson Learned. Lesson Learned.

Understanding trauma transformed my life and mission. As a person of faith, it has helped me to show compassion to others and myself. It explains the inexplicable and opens the door to relational healing. If you want to see this world differently, begin working to understand the effects of trauma. The silver lining to this virtual conference is that the sessions were recorded. You can purchase full access to the recordings. If you can, it is well worth investing in this resource. Be trauma-informed!

(Membership is free to all educators and caregivers of children affected by trauma. Check out these links for information on membership, ways to be involved, and donations--ATN depends on donations!)

Next year’s conference will be in Houston. Vaccinations give us hope that life will have returned to some semblance of normalcy. Though networking proved more difficult in the virtual conference, I still found many like-minded humans and look forward to meeting in person next year. Until then, there is much to do! I will be to sharing several blogs about trauma-informed resources and insights—after I go back into the recordings and figure out who said what. My brain always makes life interesting. Always.

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