Published in Children’s Voice, Volume 32, Number 1
by Julius Mullen, Kiera McGillivray, and Mike McHugh
Supervisors are an essential link between direct service and administration and governance, responsible for helping ensure that agencies and organizations fulfill their missions. This link is strongest when supervision reflects a mission-driven model of practice that is culturally and trauma-informed. This article describes the journey of a statewide multi-service agency to make that promise to those they serve and the staff who serve them. It includes the project’s background, design, outcomes, limitations, and next steps.
Background: Legacy and Going Forward
In 1884, concerned members of an area later known as Wilmington, Delaware, came together to help meet the needs of their neighbors. Thus began the legacy of Children & Families First (CFF). In 1920, with just 36 years of being “in business,” CFF became one of 20 human service agencies that would become the founding members of the Child Welfare League of America.
Today, CFF engages over 25,000 individuals annually statewide, steadfast in the commitment to making health, safety, and well-being of children and families a top priority. The board of directors and staff acknowledge a shared obligation to build a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive future for those they serve. According to CEO, Kirsten Olson, “We seek to be on the leading edge of approaches to promote child and family well-being, using brain science research, and listening to the voices of those we serve.” By using intentional collaboration, she added, “we innovate, advocate, transform systems, and continuously improve our policies and practices to improve outcomes for children, families, and communities.”
LeadU Training Initiative: History and Description
CFF sought to create a professional development platform for all agency supervisors across varying disciplines to inspire and support best practices. The intent also included a name to reflect the overall goal of enhancing the agency’s current training platform to a structured, academic, and higher-level resource. The appealing name of “LeadU” was unanimously selected.
Under the leadership of Dr. Julius Mullen, chief clinical officer, the initial LeadU team developed a two-year curriculum with traditional non-profit executive topics in mind: board governance, finance, performance and quality, risk and liability, technology, change management, and more. Partnerships with content experts across Delaware provided high-level knowledge in a relevant, practical, and mission-aligned manner. The initial cohort developed and implemented the two-year plan with tremendous success, which set the tone for the next LeadU team. The timing was perfect for integrating trauma-informed care as an official model of practice for all supervisors.
Reconnecting with CWLA
In 2015, members of the Foster Care and Adoption Unit began working with CWLA’s Training Team to integrate CWLA’s PRIDE Model of Practice to develop and support foster and adoptive (resource) families as team members in child protection and trauma-informed care of children. According to Theresa Broome, MSW, Program Manager, “The importance of parallel process resonated profoundly with our team members. Helping resource families empathize with birth families and view children’s behaviors through a trauma-informed lens was working to mindfully align foster and adoptive families in better supporting the children and their birth families.” In June 2019, Dr. Eileen Mayers Pasztor—a principal developer of the PRIDE Model of Practice curriculum and trainer—came to Wilmington to help roll out the Trauma-Informed Supervision training and research project. Dr. Pasztor was joined by Charlene Ingram, MSW, from CWLA’s consultation team, emphasizing the role of supervisors in organizational change.
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Dr. Julius Mullen is a national speaker, nonprofit executive, and university professor where he specializes in trauma-responsive care, clinical supervision, and workplace wellness. He has spearheaded several trauma-informed initiatives leading to systemic change, policy development, and positive outcomes across organizational landscape and has trained thousands of professionals on the prevalence of trauma, the impact of toxic stress, and best practice strategies in addressing psychological adversity throughout the agency-wide continuum. Dr. Mullen has a doctorate in educational leadership, a professional license in mental health, and is well-trained in trauma based interventions.
Kiera McGillivray, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the Chief Program Officer for School-Based Initiatives with Children & Families First (CFF). She has more than nine years of experience working with children and families, ranging from couple and family outpatient therapy to school-based counseling. She earned her master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and has been published in internationally peer-reviewed journals on the topics of trauma and children. She is a clinical supervisor, advisor to the LeadU and Workforce Resilience CFF initiatives, and co-chair of the Brain Science Training Institute.
Mike McHugh, MS, is a supervisor with the Foster Care and Adoption Unit at Children & Families First, where he has served for more than 17 years. He was a foster parent and is the adoptive parent of two children who are now adults. Mike credits his sons as his best teachers about trauma and its effects. He also serves as an adjunct professor with Springfield College School of Social Work and Behavioral Science.