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CBMP Students Lead Design Challenge to Improve Trauma-Informed Care for Vulnerable Populations

Scattergood CBMP Meets Patrick Kennedy
Drexel SPH alumni and students were on hand to meet with Patrick Kennedy. Pictured, from left to right, are Alyson Ferguson, MPH '12, Caitlin O'Brien, MPH '15, Shoshana Akins, MPH '15, Luke Butler, Marcelo Fernandez-Vino, MPH '09, Law '16, Patrick Kennedy, William Emmet, Timothy Clement, MPH '13, Joe Pyle and Steven Fried.

December 16, 2014

Meet Shoshana Akins and Caitlin O'Brien, second year MPH students concentrating in Health Management and Policy who are working at the Scattergood Foundation for their Community-Based Master's Project (CBMP).

As the main portion of their project, they are researching the impact of trauma among persons experiencing homelessness as well as running Scattergood's 2014-2015 Design Challenge, which is looking to crowdsource trauma-informed products for use in homeless shelters.

They are also working on other projects within Scattergood, including a parity project with the Kennedy Forum. They had the amazing opportunity to meet with Patrick Kennedy (pictured) recently to present on their Design Challenge and discuss the future of other projects.

We checked in with them to learn more about this year's Design Challenge, their motivation to help vulnerable populations, and how their coursework has prepared them to lead these projects.

What piqued your interest in mental health or attracted you to the CBMP project with the Scattergood Foundation?

Caitlin - Mental health has always been a part of the conversation at my house, as both of my parents are family therapists and have worked in the field since they were my age. Though I was always interested in their work, mental health did not become a passion of mine until I worked as a job coach for young adults coping with severe and persistent mental illness. It was then that I came to understand mental and behavioral health as serious public health issues. When I came to the Drexel School of Public Health, I began looking into opportunities that would allow me to explore this interest. As a grant-making organization with a focus on innovation in behavioral health, the Scattergood Foundation became an obvious choice for my CBMP placement.

Shoshana - For my CBMP, I really wanted to have a collaborative project that would provide me with diverse work experiences. Luckily, Caitlin reached out to me about applying to Scattergood and I immediately loved the environment. The Design Challenge gives me the opportunity to step into many roles as a researcher, facilitator, manager, advocate, and fundraiser and Scattergood is extremely supportive of its students taking on all of their interests in their CBMPs. But unlike Caitlin, I came into this project not knowing too much about mental health other than my work on the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Evaluation with Nancy Epstein at Drexel University. Since then, it has become a major interest of mine that I am considering pursuing.

What is the Design Challenge?
The Design Challenge is a project that the Scattergood Foundation, in conjunction with students from the Drexel School of Public Health, has been conducting for the past four years. Its goal is to address complex challenges for which traditional approaches have proven ineffective by disrupting the status quo. In the past the Design Challenge has focused on Mental Health First Aid, stigma on college campuses, and access to behavioral health care in retail clinics.

This year the Challenge aims to introduce trauma-informed principles into new elements of care for vulnerable populations. It asks people to create a low-cost, high-impact product that promotes resilience in the homeless shelter environment. The winning design will be implemented at Jane Addams Place, a shelter in West Philadelphia that creates a safe place for mothers and children after becoming homeless. In addition to developing a quality product that can be implemented at Jane Addams Place and other shelters, we hope to broaden the conversation surrounding the humanity of homeless shelters and how we can improve the spaces in which people recover and rebuild.

When presenting your Design Challenge to Patrick Kennedy and others, what has been the response?
Overall, we have been very pleased with the response to this year’s Design Challenge. Patrick Kennedy was really excited about this idea, particularly with regard to how trauma can be addressed among veterans experiencing homelessness. He and other members of the Kennedy Forum have expressed strong interest in how the Design Challenge format might be adapted to fit their work on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

Other individuals and organizations have been giving us quality feedback as well. The National Coalition for the Homeless identified the Design Challenge as an innovative way to address hunger and homelessness and promoted the Design Challenge as a part of their National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in November. We’re currently waiting to be featured in news articles on Generocity and the Philadelphia Business Journal, with a number of other news outlets showing interest in speaking with us. We’re hoping that this kind of response will inspire action, allowing us gather as many quality submissions as possible.

What is your role in the Design Challenge and at the Scattergood Foundation? What are some of the outcomes you are working towards completing during your CBMP?
We currently act as the project managers for the Design Challenge and work on a number of other Scattergood Foundation endeavors. Most notably, we conducted a Policy Hack at Scattergood’s Innovation Conference in October to crowdsource ideas for how to reform six of the City of Philadelphia’s public assistance programs using a trauma-informed lens. We have been analyzing the results from this activity and are currently writing a report for the Mayor’s Office on Community, Empowerment and Opportunity outlining our recommendations.

With regard to the Design Challenge, our primary goal is to identify a solution that the residents and staff at Jane Addams Place will be happy to receive. Beyond that, we hope to raise the level of conversation surrounding homelessness and trauma and help people broaden their view of what it means to be truly trauma-informed. We are operating under the framework that treating people with care and dignity is the first step in helping them to rebuild their lives after a traumatic event such as becoming homeless.

How does this correlate with your School of Public Health Classes? What are some of the skills that you are applying in your CBMP?
Our classes at the School of Public Health have greatly informed our work with the Scattergood Foundation. Many of the skills we’ve gained around communication and framing have been particularly helpful in developing our language for talking about the project. Further, much of our process in the beginning was conducting a literature review, developing a problem statement and completing a logic model. Having learned these skills in our first year classes, we were able to complete these tasks much more easily.

Ultimately, it’s the values of social justice and human rights that the School of Public Health instills in its students that have been integral to the development of this project.