Throughout the last nine months, youngsters at Beacon Light Behavioral Health Systems have been encouraged to select calming colors for their bedroom walls, while staff have been rewarded for promoting safe environments for their clients as part of the agency’s new Trauma Informed Care efforts.

Beacon Light’s efforts in the new program were recently recognized nationally by the National Council for Behavioral Health. The agency, based in Bradford, provides mental health services to children and adults at more than 30 locations in multiple counties throughout Pennsylvania. Beacon Light was specifically recognized for its participation in a National Learning Collaborative that focused on Trauma Informed Care. 

John Policastro, director of communications, said the agency was one of only 27 organizations from across the country selected for the initiative. 

He said the initiative was inspired by “growing research that suggests millions of people experience trauma at some point in their lives.” The research further indicates that most people are not equipped to handle trauma effectively. Research also has shown that trauma often results from unexpected loss, natural disasters, abuse, neglect or abandonment and can be most pronounced in children resulting in mental illness or behavioral health challenges.

Dr. Denise Bean, executive director of the Children’s Center for Treatment and Education at Beacon Light, said the agency began the first step with its new program by creating a team that included staff from a variety of disciplines in behavioral health care. 

“I think we went down to Washington, D.C., in May” for the National Council Conference that provided sessions on Trauma Informed Approaches and strategies, she said. 

The ultimate goal of the endeavor is to “create a safe environment for the clients served at Beacon Light” as well as train staff to recognize the effects of trauma on clients as well as with their coworkers and peers.

“Three of us went to the conference for the kick-off … and we took one of our peer specialists with us,” she recalled. Bean said peer specialists typically have had a history of mental health difficulties, and have received state training and certification to help other adults.

On another note, Bean said statistics show that 56 percent of the general adult population has experienced some type of trauma in their lives. 

“We try to not only focus on the care we give to all of our clients, but also for our staff,” Bean continued. “We try to mindful of that when we’re working with co-workers — if somebody is having a bad day, we try to spend a little extra time with them, too.” 

The agency implemented the training through a number of initiatives. In addition to the clients choosing their bedroom colors, the team initiated the TIC-TAC program. Essentially, members of the Trauma Team and residential managers reward staff members with a TIC-TAC mint each time they act in a way to promote a safe environment for their clients or other staff members. 

Other initiatives include active webinar participation by the Trauma Team to learn more techniques; the design of a calming room at the Custer City School to create a safer environment for the children; and the creation of a letter regarding the new trauma program for parents and residents at the time of admission. The team also holds monthly meetings with employees regarding the program.

It was noted that these efforts will ultimately become permanent parts of the ongoing treatment plan for residents in Beacon Light’s programs. 

“This is reminding people that we’ve updated our training for our staff,” Bean said.