Applying Guiding Principles to Organizational Change

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Chad Harris and Stephanie Sheldon, from Cornerstones of Care, were our March podcast guests. The conversation focused largely on re-branding and merging five organizations into one —Cornerstones of Care.

Our conversation with Chad and Stephanie offered something wonderfully unique and brilliant about their approach. Their use of a trauma-informed care model with their clients led them to also apply this method to their reorganization process. We were so intrigued and asked them to expand further by writing this blog post. Thank you to Stephanie Sheldon and the Cornerstones of Care Sanctuary Circle for sharing their insight below.

What does it mean to be trauma-informed? Tell us more about that concept.

To us, being trauma-informed is the commitment to understanding, recognizing and responding to the effects of trauma. We believe recovery from extreme stress and adversity requires an environment that promotes healing among all of its members.

It’s a personalized approached practiced with our children and families and each other. Whether we’re engaging with a child in our care, an executive leadership member or community volunteer, we know everyone has a story. Even if we don’t know the details of their story, we believe it is important to consider how that story, and any trauma attached to it, may impact their behaviors and choices.

Here’s how a few of our team members internalize the philosophy: 

  • “It’s creating a safe space for someone to be who they are— not who you need them to be.” 

  • “It’s an invitation to hold space for someone’s complexity.”

  • “Trauma is complex and so are people. Hurt people, hurt people.”

  • “It’s reshaping the question from ‘What is wrong with you?’ to ‘What has happened to you?’”

For the children we work with, we’re especially mindful of the way trauma is shaping the brain. When a child’s mind is stressed or in crisis, it cannot learn. We first must create a safe physical and emotional space that allows the child to feel valued and allows us to meet them where they are. Sometimes that means stepping out of “our language” to speak theirs. One of the most important things to remember is that unsafe or unhealthy behaviors are reflections of untreated trauma. These behaviors often serve children and teens as survival skills. It’s not until the child is physically, psychologically, socially and morally safe that the brain can rewire to create safe, healthy reactions to its surroundings.

Cornerstones of Care is different than many other organizations as not only does it embrace trauma-informed care, but it is certified in The Sanctuary Model® of trauma-informed by the Sanctuary Institute®.

What made your team think this would be an effective way to manage the difficulties around change? Describe some examples of how those principles were applied.

The Sanctuary Model® of trauma-informed care is built to scale from one-on-one to complete organizational change. We utilize the S.E.L.F. Framework regularly with children and families and recognized its power to engage staff during a time of transition.

  • Safety

    • Are we physically, psychologically, socially and morally safe right now?

  • Emotion Management

    • Is the way we’re expressing our emotions harmful to others? How can the safety plans we created help deescalate our emotions to benefit ourselves and those around us?

  • Loss

    • With all change comes loss. Let’s develop practices for individuals and groups to process loss.

  • Future

    • Growth and change may be difficult when stuck in the pain of the past. Setting goals, seeking assistance and celebrating successes are part of building the future.

“The merger [of Cornerstones of Care, Marillac, Gillis, Healthy Families, Ozanam and Spofford] was not as overwhelming as it could have been because we had our safety plan and context surrounding our trauma-informed philosophy.” – Cornerstones of Care team member

Did you face resistance to the approach? If yes, why? How was that resistance managed?

There was little resistance to the execution of the trauma-informed care philosophy as a model of change as each organization had been practicing the approach for years before the merger. Staff and teams were accustomed to the framework, tools, and language. It was a matter of elevating the approach from one-on-one or individual organizations to our complete network of agencies, supporting communities and peers. Together, we created larger spaces to reflect on our emotional management, process loss and prepare for the future. 

How did it all work out?

Every day our team grows stronger as Cornerstones of Care. The community-impact and awareness of our organization have increased substantially in the last 18 months. Our commitment to the trauma-informed philosophy continues to drive our decisions as our staff, leadership team, supporters, and community further align to improve the safety and health of children and families.