Providing Trauma-Informed Care

By Moran Center Deputy Director and Director of Social Work Services Kristen Kennard

In most cases, the first time the Moran Center lawyers and social workers interact with a child, it is after an incident that resulted in court involvement or school discipline. These first interactions often take place in a courthouse, jail or school office. At first glance, our staff may appear to be just another adult who is there to judge or punish them, or perhaps to help them but without truly understanding them. But we have learned to approach these initial interactions by demonstrating that we are interested not just in the incident that led to the “problem” but also in what happened in the days, weeks, and even years leading up to the incident. 

Just as many adults ask the question “why is this young person behaving this way?” or “what is wrong with this young person?”, the young person is usually asking themselves those same questions. By using a trauma-informed approach, the Moran Center has been able to help shift those questions in that young person’s mind by explaining that when someone experiences trauma their brain learns adaptive responses in order to help them deal with and survive in the situation they are in. While everyone’s responses may be different, all are adaptive and this is normal given the circumstance. Moran Center social workers have utilized this trauma-informed approach during therapy and it is clear the relief that is immediately felt by our clients. I observe their shoulders being tense and stiff in the beginning of this conversation and by the end of our session, their shoulders are slowly dropping and relaxed. I can see the sense of relief on their faces with a small smirk while a light bulb goes off in their head reassuring them that they are not bad or different. Their life experiences have caused these adaptive responses. Once this young person is able to recognize this, we can begin the real work of developing new responses that will improve how they feel about themselves and how they interact with others. 

While clients may spend the most time with their social workers, their interactions with their attorneys, is just as crucial. Following our team’s recent trauma trainings, I had a very lengthy meeting with one of our attorneys and a client. This meeting involved discussing some heavy material and talking through some really important decisions that could potentially change the rest of this client’s life. As I observed the interaction between our client and his attorney, I couldn’t help but notice the many different trauma-informed practices that the attorney was using. I watched our client who typically does not feel comfortable opening up to people be extremely open and vulnerable with his attorney. He presented relaxed and comfortable even though the conversation was not an easy one. Following this group meeting, our client confided in me that this meeting felt different to him. He really felt heard and understood by his attorney and he felt that his attorney was extremely patient with him. This resulted in the client feeling more confident in his attorney’s ability to advocate for him. Using a trauma-informed lens contributes to the client’s self-worth and is absolutely invaluable to the relationships we are working to build with our clients.

Understanding Childhood Trauma and ACEs

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. They may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. ACEs are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance misuse.

ACEs include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance misuse within household
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

If a child has reactions that impact his/her daily life after a traumatic event, these responses are called child traumatic stress. These reactions may show up in different ways, such as changes in behavior (being irritable, withdrawn, or acting younger than his/her age), difficulties in interactions with others, problems or changes in sleeping or eating patterns, and/or school performance. 

When these stress symptoms develop, they happen automatically (i.e., are not in the child’s conscious control) as the child attempts to manage negative emotions (like fear) that emerge in response to memories of the event. The difficulties or stress symptoms can present immediately or show up later. They may also continue for days, weeks, or months after the traumatic experience and/or may resurface at different periods throughout a young person’s life. 

Learn more about childhood trauma and ACEs here and help us increase recognition that when children or young adults “act out” such actions likely stems from trauma. Childhood trauma is not an excuse for self-destructive behaviors, but an explanation which will hopefully prompt further calls for rehabilitation as opposed to punishment.  

Join Us For Justice!

The excitement is building as we approach the big event on May 11th. We hope you have already purchased your ticket and plan to join us as we come together to change trajectories by supporting justice for youth in our community. Kim Foxx, State’s Attorney for Cook County, will be our special guest and premium ticket purchases will include an intimate cocktail reception with Kim. Entertainment for the evening includes jazz, acoustic guitar from William Dillon, an exonerated felon who served 27 years for murder, and the eclectic hip-hop of Evanston-raised ProbCause. It will be a memorable evening that you will not want to miss!

See details and purchase your tickets here. Can’t attend? We will miss you but hope you will consider making a donation in support of youth justice.

There are also corporate sponsorship opportunities available. Join the Justice League – the superheroes of youth justice whose leadership and corporate citizenry restore hope for children and families and strengthen our community. 

Justice League Heros

  • Hagerty Consulting
  • Strategy Group

Justice League Super Friends

  • Northwestern University
  • Schiff Hardin
  • Vistria

Justice League Advocates

  • Kirkland & Ellis
  • Stone Heritage Properties

In-Kind Donors

  • Hannah Handmade
  • KOVAL Distillery
  • Temperance Brewery
  • Musicians: Jim Tullio, Antoine Day, Eddie Lowery

Directors’ Showcase: Janet Alexander Davis, an “Evanston-made” Activist and Advocate

Janet Alexander Davis has been a loyal and active member of the Moran Center Board of Directors for nearly 10 years. Janet first met Judge Moran when he was serving on the Evanston City Council. She recalls that he was, “a staunch supporter of rights for youth, showing mercy and real justice.” A few years later, Janet was then introduced to the Moran Center (then named the Evanston Community Defender). Janet had seen first-hand the impact of incarceration on our community and immediately recognized the critical lifeline that the Moran Center could provide to youth by helping them stay in school and out of prison. “The Moran Center is crucial in helping troubled youth get the services they need to disrupt the school to prison pathway so many young people travel. My respect for the staff at the Moran Center is immense. These are not their children, but you wouldn’t know the difference seeing their level of engagement and the lengths to which they will go to help a client.”

Janet is truly “Evanston-made” and as much as the Moran Center is fortunate to have Janet on our board, the entire Evanston community is fortunate to have Janet as an engaged citizen. Janet describes Evanston as a vibrant city with an abundance of social services available and she encourages others to get involved and make a difference. “I believe service is at the core of my spirit and with that, a desire to work with others, accomplishing our work for the good of all. This path has led me to engage myself in myriad ways, always reaching for a higher level of engagement, service and personal growth… My time in Evanston has always been interwoven in activism, from childhood, and as I matured into adulthood, I did not slow down, did not sit down, but rather invested myself more fully into doing the right things in support of others.”

As a child of the 60’s, fighting for civil rights in our public schools, Janet continued and expanded her activism and built a strong network with many other Evanston activists. She became an advocate for youth and a mover and shaker for better education for children, especially those affected by poverty. Below are some of the various roles that Janet has had in making a difference for Evanston.

  • Citizens Greener Evanston – Environmental Justice Committee Member
  • Evanston Human Relations Commission — Board of Directors
  • Evanston United Neighbors — Board of Directors
  • Evanston Youth Initiative — Founding Member
  • Habitat for Humanity: The Evanston Project — Board of Directors
  • McGaw YMCA: Honoring the Emerson Street YMCA Committee
  • Shorefront Journal – Contributing Author
  • WEST – West Evanston Strategic Team — Founding Member, 5th Ward Newsletter Committee 
  • West End Area Block Club – Communications Management

Janet has also received several honors in recognition of her community activism:

  • West End Area Block Club, Hospitality Award 2008
  • Cook County 13th District Commission on Women’s Issues Awardee: Unsung Heroines 1996
  • Outstanding Citizen Award, 2016, Presented by the Yen Family’s Grand Re-Opening of the Evanston Holiday Inn

PizzaFest 2017

We are grateful to be a beneficiary of the Rotary Club of Evanston’s PizzaFest 2017. Join the Rotary Club of Evanston, and our fellow beneficiaries — Mudlark Theater and The Ridgeville Foundation at PizzaFest 2017! This annual all-you-can-eat pizza and pop extravaganza raises funds to support community projects and initiatives vital to the well-being of Evanston. 

All-you-can-eat pizza will be served at Gigio’s Pizza (1001 Davis | Evanston) from 4:30-8:30pm. Adult tickets are $20 and kids tickets are $12. Join us for this fun family-friendly event!

Purchase tickets in support of the Moran Center here.

Learn more about the event here. 


Ellie and Patrick Keenan-Devlin at PizzaFest 2016.

Ellie Keenan-Devlin at PizzaFest 2015.


Stand Against Racism


Join the Moran Center and the YWCA Evanston/North Shore as we take a stand against racism.  This has become a fun annual tradition for our community. We usually have a lively crowd gather at our busy corner. Grab your co-workers, friends, family and join us!

Friday, April 28, 2017
11:30am – 11:55am
at the corner of Ridge and Emerson


CDBG Funding Crisis – Postcard Campaign

The Moran Center is partnering with local gallery Stumble & Relish for a trunk show featuring local artists Ben Blount and Joanna Kramer. Ten percent of proceeds will be donated to the Moran Center. 

In conjunction with this show, we are also launching a Postcard Campaign, encouraging the community to rally around the Community Development Block Grant Funding crisis that threatens to cut-off funding of critical services to low- and moderate-income individuals. Ben Blount has designed and produced postcards with a strong social justice theme and we suggest that you purchase his postcards for this campaign. Stumble and Relish will donate postcard postage stamps to support the effort.

Click here to read more and download a template that you can use to contact your local representatives.

Moran Center Board endorses District 65 Operating Referendum

By a unanimous vote last night, the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy’s Board of Directors voted to endorse Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s Operating Referendum. The Moran Center supports the Operating Referendum because quality, accessible schools require adequate funding. This is a vote to strengthen our community as a whole and preserve the opportunity to build a more equitable school system for all students.

As advocates for low-income children and their families, the Moran Center acknowledges the persistent inequities which exist within District 65; yet, despite such inequities, the Moran Center also recognizes that if the Operating Referendum fails, our clients — low-income children, many of whom have disabilities — would be the most at risk of being harmed by cuts to personnel and programs. The Moran Center therefore strongly encourages Evanston/Skokie residents to vote in favor of the Operating Referendum on April 4th to eliminate the need for significant reductions and maintain services. 

Upon passage of the referendum, the Moran Center stands ready to be a part of the process in developing innovative local policies to make certain that the property tax increase will not overly burden low-income families, who already struggle to meet basic needs. Relief from the property tax increase is a critical step in ensuring that Evanston is a just, welcoming, and inclusive community.


Video: Panel Discussion of “13TH” Documentary Screening

On Sunday, March 12, the Moran Center hosted a special screening of Ava DuVernay’s incredible documentary, “13TH.” Following the screening, Executive Director Patrick Keenan-Devlin facilitated a panel discussion. Below is a video of the discussion that followed featuring panelists: 

Melissa Blount, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist & Moran Center Advisory Council Member
Kate Masur, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Northwestern University’s Department of History
Ismalis Nuñez, MSW, District 65 Family & Community Engagement Coordinator/Social Worker
Morris (Dino) Robinson, Jr., Founder & Director, Shorefront Legacy Center

The screening was co-sponsored by Northwestern’s Center for African American History and Dance Center Evanston. Studio5 provided the screening facility and produced the discussion video.



Directors’ Showcase: Sarah Frudden and Jeff Bergman – Youth Justice Heroes

Jeff Bergman and Sarah Frudden are quiet heroes for youth Justice. Jeff has served on the Moran Center Board of Directors since 2013 and his wife Sarah has been a volunteer since 2015. Jeff is a business trial attorney at Mandell Menkes LLC and has had many successes in litigation, arbitration, and mediation. Sarah, also an attorney, supports the Moran Center by volunteering a couple of days a week. Both Jeff and Sarah are concerned with how the shifts in both the national and state-level government might trickle down and impact youth in our community.  Jeff states that: “In both 2015 and 2016, Illinois saw bipartisan support for new legislation that made the juvenile justice system more fair, and increased opportunities for rehabilitation. Now that there is a new administration in Washington that campaigned on a ‘law and order’ platform, we need to work to make sure that this positive momentum for reform at the state level does not stall out.” Sarah adds, “I see how hard the Moran Center’s staff works every day to support and protect Evanston’s youth. In this uncertain time, when so many of our kids are feeling threatened by their own government, it’s more important to me than ever to support the Moran Center’s work.”

You can follow Jeff on twitter @JeffRWLawyer. To follow Sarah, your best bet is to head to the lakefront – where you can find her out for a run most mornings. We are lucky to have both Jeff and Sarah on our team!