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Healing Childhood Trauma: Betty ‘BJ’ Adkins Discusses the Bounce Coalition’s Mission to Help Children with Adverse Childhood Experiences

Interview with Betty “BJ” Adkins, co-leader of the Bounce Coalition. The Bounce Coalition has been in 16 counties in Kentucky. They began in Jefferson County and recently expanded to South Central Kentucky.

Parts of this interview appeared in Healing Childhood Trauma: A KET Special Report. It has been lightly edited.

Renee Shaw: Ms. Adkins, tell us about the Bounce Coalition. I think many people have probably heard about it, but they may not be able to give a definition if you ask them. What is the mission and the vision of the Bounce Coalition?  And what is the difference between operating the Bounce model in an urban area like Louisville and a rural area like the Lake Cumberland region?

BJ Adkins
BJ Adkins

BJ Adkins: The mission of the Bounce Coalition is to bring awareness around ACEs  (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and build skill sets so that our children know how to bounce back with resilience when facing adversity. What we do is we educate and train, and we have a rigorous evaluation process. We look at policy needs and advocate for policies no matter where we are. We’re in 16 counties in Kentucky right now.

So how do we take (the program) from a big system like Jefferson County and then go into a system with fewer kids? In Jefferson County we focused on elementary schools. We identified the pilot school after determining where there would be administration support. What elementary school would welcome adding another program into their school system? Then we asked where are the greatest needs in Jefferson County? Over 90% of the children of our pilot school were on free and reduced lunches. So, after we identified school support and the needs of the children, we found a comparison school that was very similar to it.  From the comparison school we also looked at the district as a whole so we could evaluate all three and make strong comparisons of the effectiveness and the efficacy of Bounce.

(For the Bounce Coalition’s rural project) by going into a system of 3,000, working in three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school, we could cross all grade levels from K through 12.  Because of the school system size we have extreme support from the superintendent of the schools, and he is on conference calls with us every month.  I think the volume – the number of children – is really one of the strong differences. We want to make sure, no matter where children go, that they have an adult who can support them and understands the impact of trauma. And Bounce is set up for all children. We don’t focus on kids with trauma, but from the work, those kids bubble up. The teachers from what they learn can identify those kids – because not every child wears trauma through acting out behaviors. Some children are very quiet and sit in the back of the room. They’re the good children who don’t create disturbances in the classroom, but they’re in trauma as well.

In Jefferson County through parental engagement we were able to raise our pilot school from zero members to 213 members, which was really significant. We grew the parent- teacher counseling by 195%, looking at things such as, are report cards signed and returned? We had “lunch and learns.” We had family photograph night folding in an opportunity to educate a lot of parents around ACEs and it was an opportunity for them to take home a photograph of their family. Many people did not have that.

But it’s very different when you’re in a rural area. We worked with the Lake Cumberland District Health Department – they provide services in 10 different counties. We have trained the health educators on Bounce, so that they can employ it in their work and work within the community. We have done large trainings for that area as well, so we are spreading the word all the way through the schools, the community and bringing this level of information into 10 counties in Kentucky.

Renee Shaw: I would assume because of your work with families that perhaps identifying children who are experiencing adverse childhood experiences is one thing, but perhaps your work is also helping adults recognize their own traumatic experiences and how their own behavior is influencing their child? 

BJ Adkins: Exactly, and how do you break that chain? And I think awareness is the first step in breaking the chain. And then setting up communication and having a trusted adult available. In our schools we learned that the principals have very good rapport with the parents and the counselors did as well. We trained the school bus drivers, the cafeteria workers and 1,000 out-of-school time providers in Jefferson County. Our work is at three different levels: we do the basic interaction within the school classroom, and usually the counselor takes that lead. Then if there is a child who appears to have experienced a higher level of trauma, the child is referred to a support group that meets in the cafeteria and children get to know and support each other. Then if it goes to even a higher level, that’s where our referral network comes in and we recommend a behavioral health specialist if children and families need that support system.

Renee Shaw: So how do you evaluate success, and do you have a success story that you could share?

BJ Adkins: How do we evaluate? I need to say, we just began the rural project and were not even one year in when COVID-19 hit, so we don’t have data around that, but we do in Jefferson County. We were able to reduce the out-of-school suspensions, which is significantly important to keep a child in the classroom environment. We increased teacher retention and that consistent face of the teacher year after year. We improved the staff’s perception of how qualified they are to develop these skill sets and use these skillsets to address trauma. When we began, less than 30% felt comfortable, and then 86% and above felt they had really understood and could help children with trauma. 

As far as success stories, a school bus driver was in the compound and another bus driver was telling him that he had a student on his bus who was misbehaving and he thought he would have to suspend him from the bus. And the driver who had been trained recommended that he please talk to the counselor first, because of his Bounce training. The driver with the child who was troubled went to the counselor, and the family had intervention because there was abuse going on in the home. So that’s an example of that awareness and knowledge base for people to help.  

Another one that touches my heart deeply – one of the teachers asked her first grade class to finish the statement, “If Mrs. Jones only knew….” and the student could write whatever they wanted on a sheet of paper.

What she got back was, “If Mrs. Jones only knew I have to get my sister ready for school, that’s why I’m late all the time.”… “If Mrs. Jones only knew I live with my grandparents because mom and dad are in jail.”… “If Mrs. Jones only knew she’s the only one that loves me.” These came from different children, and they are real scenarios of what the teacher received back. So other teachers began incorporating methods to find out when a child walked into the classroom how they were doing – one of the first things they did is ask the children on a scale from 1 to 5, how are you today?  And a child would report I’m a 2, maybe one would say I’m a 4, so she knew which children were more troubled, based on the higher the number. They didn’t have to divulge what (the trouble) was, she knew that child needed some special love that day.

Renee Shaw: Ms. Adkins, you’ve helped us realize that we can make tremendous change in subtle ways,  to not put children on defense but give them the opportunity to really open up at their own comfort level to a trusted adult. Thank you.

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Healing Childhood Trauma: A KET Special Report was funded, in part, by a grant from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.