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Building Resilience in Complexity


Who does not live in a complex world these days? No matter who I talk with the information age has increased the complexity of work, leadership, family life, and health. The question is not “How do we decrease the complexity?”, but more , “How do we increase the resilience?”

Since 2014, I have been working with an amazing team at the Court Improvement Training Academy (CITA) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Lead by Robert Wyman and Kelly Warner-King, we have been listening, discussing, and offering trainings to one of the most complex systems - Child Welfare.

Rob and Kelly recently published an article on “Building Resilience Oriented Child Welfare System in The Juvenile and Family Court Journal" published by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Association, in their March 1, 2017, Special Issue:  Rethinking Foster Care. If you are interested in changing the child welfare system, please read the article. It offers insights and structures to improve not only children’s lives but also the people who work on the front lines of poverty, addiction, poor education, and lack of social support. 

The article suggests that resilience is the goal in a system that involves complex decision making. We know that without resilience a system becomes brittle, lacking responsiveness and innovation. In their pyramid of resilience, the base is self-care of personal health. Second, you establish an environment of civility which is to care about system and community health. Third, you set up a trauma responsive court so that further harm is prevented. Another way of explaining this tier is that you understand what behaviors are counterproductive and you seek to stop them. The fourth tier of resilience is creating avenues of healing such as Peacemaking Courts. In other systems, I think of this tier as establishing what your most productive behaviors are and creating incentives to have them happen. Now at the top of the pyramid you have the ability to have generative capacity.  You know that you have reach this optimal place when people are energized to work in the complexity. Individuals have the capacity to grow and thrive despite the stress of continual change. As a scientist, what I love about the frame is that at each level there are tools to measure success. This means that it can be studied and developed on a broader scale for not only child welfare, but for other complex systems such as business, non-profits, and government.

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About the Spokane Protein for All Project

In May 2015 the Court Improvement Training Academy (CITA) sponsored a talk at the Children’s Justice Conference by Dr. Kristen Allott on Optimizing Brains for High Stakes Events. Central to her experience working with CEO's, judges, lawyers, and individuals with PTSD, addictions and mental health disorders is that how what we eat, what we eat and when we eat can influence whether the decisions come from our reactive brain or responsive brain. Several Parent Allies were at that training and immediately saw that part of the experience of parents entering dependency court is their lack of food. However, the lack of food also carries to the lawyers, judges, and court administration, increasing the likelihood for burnout and turn over. 

Over the course next year, Rob Wyman and Kelly Warner King, the co-directors of CITA, and Dr. Allott engaged in conversation with judges, lawyers and Parent Allies in the Dependence Courts. In June 2016,  at the Children’s Justice Conference in Spokane,  Dr. Allott, Kelly Warner-King and the Parent Allies spoke about the importance of feeding the brain during high stake events for all participants: judges, lawyers, parents and children. During this talk different courts groups and individual law practices developed a list of steps to offer food to parents, colleagues and themselves in order to improve energy and mental clarity. 

Commissioner Ressa invited  Dr. Allott and Kelly Warner-King to help court officials identify ways to start implementing the information, particularly around the challenges in getting food to parents at shelter hearings, evaluations and visitations. 

The Parent Allies, lead by Heather Cantamessa, collected data from 50 parents at shelter care hearings and found that most were not eating protein before their hearings, which physiologically limited the optimization of their brains to understand and respond appropriately to the hearing, putting them at a disadvantage. They worked with all the different stakeholders to explain the barriers to getting protein to parents and successfully petitioned to change the rules about food consumption by parents and families in the lobby of the court.

Additionally, handouts were developed and made available online, in the Hope class (Parenting 101), and in the incarcerated Hope class.

Meetings were held with the food shelf, Second Harvest, to purchase a flat of protein bars. In working Second Harvest, Heather learned that protein is hard to come by in food shelves. This gives a different context to why people in poverty often have mental health problems, diabetes and obesity. Access to protein is essential for treating all three conditions.

The Spokane group persevered in finding new solutions to funding protein bars and drinks. In November 2016, they approached businesses asking them to each sponsor protein for one month per year at $100 per month. Additionally, two grants have been identified for 2017.

This website was created to provide online support for Parent Allies looking to help impoverished parents in the child welfare system gain better access to healthy food during high stake events.

Many thanks to all who are helping with the Spokane Protein for All Project: Commissioner Michelle Ressa, Bonnie Bush, Kelly-Warner King, Dr. Kristen Allott. And most of all Heather Cantamessa whose passion is moving the ball forward for the Spokane Court. Other Parent Allies that were essential to the formation of the Protein For All Project are Alise Hegal, Jason Bragg, and Kim Mays. 

If you would like to learn more, or make a donation, please contact us.