DTAA Connections & Community

Date: April 12, 2019 Author: Kathy Soden Categories: DTAA


Developmental Trauma Action Alliance Spring 2019

Welcome to the very first edition of the DTAA's newsletter - DTAA Connections & Community. Through our work and our newsletter, we hope to highlight the importance of relationships and community in this very human work. Our connections with one another, with our communities, and with our own past, present and future are all key to healing, and preventing, developmental trauma. 

Thank you for your interest in this initiative!

Our Vision: A province that provides every child and every person with the necessary supports to heal from early adversity and developmental trauma, and realize their full potential.

DTAA 2018 Report


The DTAA began in late 2017 with a group of about 40 passionate and committed people from a variety of sectors and agencies, both professionals and people with lived experience. It's been an exciting and busy year. Our main goals this year were to raise awareness and increase knowledge about developmental trauma and engage stakeholders across sectors and with lived experience. 

In our first year together, the DTAA focused on the following two major initiatives: 

DTAA Webpage & Resources

Thanks to the hard work of our Messaging Committee and our Knowledge Base Committee, we created a DTAA webpage on the ACO's website. The webpage provides more information about developmental trauma, its impacts and how to address them, and also about the DTAA. As part of this work we curated a list of developmental trauma resources which we hope you will find to be useful whether you are someone with lived experience, a parent, a teacher, a family doctor, a pediatrician, a child welfare worker, a mental health professional, or someone working in the justice system. There are videos, books, articles, info-graphics and other great materials that help to explain the importance of early brain development and the impact of adversity on lifelong health. See our resource page here.

And a big thank you to Dr. Barbara Fallon at University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash School of Social Work Faculty and her colleague Susanne Truelsen who helped secure a "Partnership Engage" Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant. This grant will enable us to have a literature review and key informant interviews done about developmental trauma with the aim of developing and disseminating additional resources for professionals and families. This work will begin shortly.

DTAA's Healing Childhood Trauma Together Campaign

Ontario Roundtables

In the Fall of 2018, we launched the first phase of our Healing Childhood Trauma Together campaign across the province. With the input of our Stakeholder Engagement Committee and other members, our Campaign Committee planned a 2-hour DTAA "Roundtable" community conversation where we would do a one-hour presentation about the importance of using a developmental trauma perspective, followed by a community discussion.

We originally planned to hold 6 roundtables in the hopes that we would interest approximately 120 people to attend. We were thrilled that in the end we held 10 roundtables and had over 300 people register for them. We were able to meet over 250 people through 8 in-person roundtables in North Bay, London, Barrie, Ottawa, Toronto, Thunder Bay, Kingston, and Peterborough and 2 virtual roundtables.

Our presentation about developmental trauma and our hope that it can be used as a lens or perspective to help better understand and support children, youth, adults and families and communities who have experienced it resonated very well with roundtable participants, both those with lived experience and those who support them. We received some wonderful comments about how helpful this knowledge was to them. People also provided us with feedback on using a lens  - in many cases, it was preferred to medicalizing it. We also witnessed people coming together in their communities to work together to find effective ways to spread the knowledge. 

We also had some good conversations about the developmental trauma terminology we are using. Others use the terms "toxic stress", Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) or complex trauma to talk about the predictable and significant impacts of specific kinds of problematic experiences when they occur early in life.

We were told that the education system needed to understand this better so that children were better understood and appropriate approaches were taken.

We also heard about the lack of resources and support for many people living with and trying to address the impacts of intergenerational trauma, such as kinship families.

As a result of our Campaign, we have over 350 people interested in keeping in the loop on the DTAA and about 50 people interested in getting more involved in the group's work.

We are working on a Roundtable report and hope to issue it later this month. It will be circulated to all attendees and then posted on our webpages.

Youth Journey Mapping

After talking with and hearing from over 250 adults, we then wanted to hear what young people with lived and living experience thought. We formed a Youth Engagement Committee who developed a "Journey Mapping" process for youth, based on human-centered design principles. The journey mapping process enables us to talk to youth about developmental trauma in a safe and comfortable manner. We are in the process of meeting with interested youth about their ideas for how the future could look and feel.

We hope to continue to connect with our Roundtable and Journey Mapping participants as we continue this work in the coming year.

Knowledge Translation & Mobilization Activities by DTAA Members


Adult Mental Health

Dr. Robert Maunder, Psychiatrist, Mount Sinai Hospital, Professor, Consultation/Liaison Psychiatry, Adult Psychiatry and Health Systems

On February 28, I was honoured to be invited to speak to the Ontario District Branch of the American Psychiatric Association about the impact of developmental trauma on adult health. The effects of early life adversity on mental health are well known but many healthcare providers are not aware that childhood adversity increases the risk of physical disease and often interferes with getting the best healthcare. We had a good discussion about how psychiatrists can contribute to the rest of medicine by increasing awareness and helping our colleagues to become more comfortable discussing this topic with their adult patients. The talk was called “Childhood Adversity, the Medical Risk Factor that Hides in Plain Sight: It’s Time for Psychiatry to Transform Medicine”.

Children's Health/Paediatrics

Dr. Sonia Menard, Paediatrician, Markham Stouffville Hospital & Children's Aid Society of Toronto

On March 20th, I took on the task of presenting at Grand Rounds in the community hospital I work at because I want to start increasing awareness about trauma and toxic stress. Tackling this topic seemed nearly impossible in a 1-hour session.

The first question I wanted to answer was “Why should I care?” I talked about different forms of stress, the ACEs study, the impact of toxic stress on brain development, chronic disease, and life expectancy as well as the epigenetic changes that have been studied. I talked about the fact that this affects healthcare providers in all fields of medicine. I talked about the idea that these patients’ maladaptive behaviours are based on a need for survival and that they are, therefore, merely ways of coping. That if we only focus on the life habit or disease state itself, we are putting a Band-aid on the issue and not dealing with the root cause of these behaviours. We ended with the viewing of the short film titled “Remembering Trauma” that gives us a look into the life of a young adult from childhood to the present time, working through misdiagnoses and polypharmacy that just “numb the feelings, but don’t make things better” and finally ends with a trauma-informed approach to healing from trauma.

I am now working on Part 2 of our trauma rounds, where we will focus on various ways in which healthcare providers can change their approach to care and work toward increasing resilience. I created a parenting “Tips and Tricks” document and would like to create a local resource database for their use. The audience was very interested and engaged and many suggested this become a “way of being” throughout the institution. The door is open to further the dialogue, which is often the first step toward creating positive change. 

The brain has plasticity that we can take advantage of to reshape it. It sometimes takes years of work, it always takes human connections.

Child Welfare

Dr. Wendy Manel, Psychologist, Trauma-Informed Practice Lead, Toronto Catholic Children's Aid Society

The Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CCAS) has identified Trauma-Informed practice as one of its key service priorities. We are excited to share that our journey to becoming a Trauma-Informed Organization is underway. For this initial stage, the focus has been on awareness-raising and foundational knowledge-building. To this end, over the past few months, over 600 staff (direct service and support staff), caregivers, and volunteers participated in an introductory learning event. The event included information about the impact of toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences on brain architecture and the subsequent impact on social-emotional development, resiliency, and the principles of trauma-informed practice. All 600 participants were also introduced to the term Developmental Trauma.  As part of the training, participants had the opportunity to play the brain architecture game to help reinforce the concepts included in the learning event. The learning event has been very positive and people are really excited about CCAS’ trauma-informed journey!

Detective Constable Tom Knowles, Toronto Police Service
Adopting my daughter opened my eyes to the impact of developmental trauma and how understanding it is essential in dealing effectively with all people. In policing we regularly encounter people who have experienced trauma at all stages of development and into adult life. A proper understanding of DT would allow us to serve our communities more compassionately and more efficiently, and to that end, I would like to see DT become a part of training for all police officers. I have approached the Toronto Police College with a view to incorporating DT into its curriculum, and I look forward to seeing it become a part of the courses offered there.

Alberta Family Wellness Initiative

During 2018, the DTAA became aware of the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI). The AFWI, with the support of the Palix Foundation, mobilizes knowledge about early brain development and its connection to lifelong physical and mental health, including addiction across sectors. Their website has a wonderful collection of videos suitable for everyone about topics such as brain architecture and brain resilience. They also offer a free online course called The Brain Story Certificate for those interested in learning more about the brain science. A group of DTAA members is currently taking the course together and talking through its implications on our work. Others may be interested in dong the same within their agencies, professional fields or as part of support groups. See more information about the AFWI here.

Ottawa "Brain Lab" 

In March, three DTAA members had the opportunity to attend a 2-day "Brain Lab" sponsored by the Canadian Centre for Substance Use & Addiction (CCSA) and the AFWI in Ottawa. Attendees were able to hear from a number of professionals from various sectors primarily in Alberta about how they are embedding the AFWI's Brain Story into their agencies and work. We were then tasked with developing action plans in small groups and individually to embed the Brain Story into our work and agencies. Plans are underway to continue this work as a group over the next two years with CCSA's continuing involvement.

Adoption & Permanency

Kathy Soden, Manager, PACT program, Adoption Council of Ontario

At the Adoption Council of Ontario, we plan to develop a webinar series using some of the brain science videos developed by the AFWI as well as other key resources to help pre-adoptive and adoptive families and the professionals who work with them better understand the impact of early life adversity on children and help families learn how best to support their healing. 

Children's Mental Health 

Karen Moore, Clinical Director, Open Doors for Lanark Children & Youth

At Open Doors for Lanark County Children & Youth, we are doing a few things:

  • All our clinical staff are taking the brain story training. We have focused our clinical inservice agendas for the next 3 months to this curriculum to look at how we change/inform our practice based on the learnings of the Brain story.
  • We have set up meetings with our clinical partners in addiction and adult mental health to look at how we can introduce the concepts of the Brain story with them and look to see how we can have a county movement to the work.


Cathy Lethbridge, Principal of Well-Being, Simcoe County District School Board

At Simcoe County District School Board, some staff are expanding their learning by participating in the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI) Brain Story online course.  Some of our Educational Assistants, Social Workers and Child and Youth Workers are working through the modules to learn more about the impact of Toxic Stress and brain development.  The learning aligns with our board’s strategic priorities under the pillar of Well-being.  We are beginning to incorporate some of the AFWI resources into our Trauma-Informed Practice professional development for staff.  Our Mental Health and Well-being team is working with our community partners at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and the Simcoe Muskoka Opioid Strategy to bring the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative team to a community learning day entitled “Preventing Harmful Substance Use through Promoting Healthy Brain Development” on May 8.  We look forward to continuing our learning journey.


Upcoming Events:

  • April 11 & 12: Expanding Horizons for the Early Years: From Science to Practice, Infant Mental Health Promotion Conference, Toronto; organized by Dr. Chaya Kulnari, Director IMHP; DTAA panel being presented by Dr. Bob Maunder, Susan Dundas & Mary-Jo Land. Info here: http://imhpromotion.ca/Training-Events/Expanding-Horizons-for-the-Early-Years-2019
  • May 4 & 11: Creating School Communities of Well-being, Ottawa & London. Bringing together parents, teachers, other educators and community partners to create school communities that are positive, safe and welcoming for children who experience foster care, adoption and other situations that make them vulnerable. To Register: https://www.adoption.on.ca/community-of-well-being-registration
  • May 8: Preventing Harmful Substance Use through Promoting Healthy Brain Development, Barrie. To Register: Contact Pamela DeChamplain at pamela.dechamplain@smdhu.org by April 22nd.
  • June 17-18, Complex Trauma Symposium: Canadian Perspectives & Initiatives, McGill University Centre for Research on Children & Families, Montreal Quebec. DTAA panel being presented by Dr. Sonia Menard, Dr. Wendy Manel, Karen Moore and Kathy Soden. Registration opens April 15.

Funding of the DTAA Initiative: 

The DTAA was grateful to receive initial funding from an Ontario Trillium Foundation ("OTF") Stage 1 Collective Impact grant in 2017. This grant comes to an end on April 30th. Though Collective Impact grants are no longer available through OTF, we have applied for an OTF Seed grant to continue our work and bring people and communities together through a symposium in 2020. We will learn in June if we have been successful. If you are interested in supporting the work of the DTAA or if you know of people or organizations that might be interested in funding or sponsoring some of our work, we'd love to hear from you! Please contact us at devtrauma@adoptontario.ca.

Thank you!

Thank you for reading the DTAA's very first newsletter. We hope you found it to be interesting and a good use of your time. If you have ideas for future newsletters, please let us know! 

To Learn More about developmental trauma and the DTAA: https://www.adoption.on.ca/developmental-trauma

Questions? Comments? Contact us at devtrauma@adoptontario.ca  

Interested in getting involved? Complete an expression of interest form - click here

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