We apply mixed qualitative and quantitative methods to measure the impact of our programming on enrollees, including the following:
Each month, community members within our Parent Peacemakers program fill out a confidential written "Peace Tracker" form that describes at least 3 incidents within the month in which they used their peacemaking training to mediate a conflict and find peace. We talk about what is said in the Peace Trackers within counseling sessions. These Peace Trackers also provide ongoing stories about how the community achieves nonviolence and helps us measure our impact.
As a result of these measures, since 2019, we have achieved the following 15 milestones:
We are also discovering the following:
Concerning SEL Education
We began our work in 2019 after immersing ourselves in literature that found that Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) can prevent violence.
Yet, by the summer of 2023, we discovered that the five interrelated competencies of SEL (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making) remain challenging for our enrollees.
Over 90 percent annually reported heightened and increased self-awareness that helped them make better decisions to avoid and mitigate harm. Yet, only 43 percent annually reported progress in self-management, routinely raising concerns that the struggles of poverty made it exceedingly difficult to self-manage their everyday commitments and feelings.
71 percent annually reported improved pro-social awareness. But, of these many at the same time said that their social awareness was better tuned to how they could protect themselves instead of building new or revised healthy relationships. These enrollees said that, for them, social awareness meant that they were learning how to nonviolently confront those that seemed to be against them, and that our SEL education helped them become more adept at, as one community member said, "watching my back."
In other words, the same number of enrollees annually reported better relationship skills, but that did not mean that their relationships were positive.
Overall, only 13 percent reported maintaining positive relationships from 2019 to 2021 with a small increase of 2 percent in 2022 and 2023.
Thus, we distinguished between being able to build relationships that made them feel less isolated (71 percent) and being able to maintain positive extended relations (only 13 percent).
Most enrollees said that the SEL education helped them to avoid people who harmed them or focus only on those relationships that seemed most emotionally and physically safe.
We accept these discoveries as milestones while also acknowledging that we hope that enrollees can achieve more than safe relationships. We hope for them to have and maintain very supportive, caring, reflective, and imaginative relationships too.
While 63 percent of enrollees annually reported being able to make more responsible decisions, many also reported that what they thought were the best decisions often still had problematic outcomes because of the continuing effect of poverty and unsafe conditions in their lives—matters that seemed out of their control.
Thus, we have much work to do over the next years in sorting through the complex ramifications of our SEL education.
Concerning Trauma-Informed Care
Likewise, we had effective, yet also mixed results in our implementation of trauma-informed care and trauma-informed practices.
70 percent or enrollees annually reported improved capacities to move away from the 7 "Fs" (or common reactions) to trauma with the help of trauma-informed care.
(These Fs are fighting, fleeing, freezing, flopping, finagling, fawning, and flash-backing).
Yet, only 12 percent of youth and 5 percent of adults reported feeling completely improved (repaired, restored and resilient) as a result of trauma-informed practices.
In other words, while they learned to cope and avoid problematic reactions to trauma, they still did not feel completely better emotionally in their lives. Continuing mental health challenges and diagnoses and addiction played a role in the ongoing challenges of trauma in their lives.
The strategies valued by the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (NCTIC) emphasize sensory and embodied practices. But, it seemed that sensory and embodied experiences were often so triggering for our enrollees that they said that it was difficult for them to sustain their attention within our healing-centered mindful art education, music education, and movement education.
The demand to sense deeply, move their bodies in structured ways, or touch in safe dance exercises frequently triggered and alienated our enrollees who reported that the mindful movement (apart from solo meditative hand gestures or mudras) was "scary" or "demanding" even when they seemed to like aspects of the education. 3 enrollees reported shutting down because the sensory and movement experiences made them "flash-back" to traumatic experiences in their lives.
Overwhelmingly, enrollees reported feeling more relaxed when listening to the meditative music played upon entering the learning spaces. Yet, enrollees overwhelmingly felt that the music used during healing lessons was culturally insensitive (even though the instruments were ancient African and Indigenous forms) while also agreeing that the music that they enjoyed (which often contained violent and hyper-sexual language and depictions and loud, driving rhythms) also did not seem conducive to cultivating their healing. Many youth enrollees just wanted to make and record TikTok dances instead of mindful movement.
Healing art education seemed to be the most effective. Yet, as 11 youth reported at the end of 2022, these art lessons were best suited only for short periods of no more than a half an hour of sustained art-making with drawing and paper-play being the most effective (as opposed to painting, sculpture, and other media).
Thus, we have much work to do over the next years in sorting through the complex ramifications of our trauma-informed care and trauma-informed practices.