Barra Awardee 2013
As a child, the young woman had experienced terrible trauma. Treated years ago at Children’s Crisis Treatment Center, today she’s in graduate school to become a child therapist.
CEO Antonio Valdes knows that’s “an awesome story” that reflects the agency’s success. “But there are simple moments that tell the story just as forcefully.”
He relates an anecdote about a young boy in a CCTC partner school who was on the verge of being suspended after being wildly disruptive all morning. Then, someone in the disciplinarian’s office asked him the key question: What happened? The boy explained that his grandfather, who’d helped raise him after his father passed away, had died unexpectedly over the weekend. The momentum against the child was halted; he was supported rather than suspended.
That key question is at the heart of CCTC’S mission. More than 2,500 children a year, including immigrant, minority and refugee communities, receive treatment predicated on the belief that unraveling the cause of behaviors will reveal the path to healing.
Valdes has created a dynamic dichotomy: an organizational culture that provides safety and stability for its people, while embracing risk and innovation for the institution.
“Safety is the foundation within which you’re allowed to talk about your emotions and feelings in an effective way to address the losses you’ve had in your life and then build a sense of future,” Valdes said. But “safe” on an organizational level can become stale.
The agency is vigilant about remaining informed of new developments in the field. CCTC has pursued novel strategies, including embedding itself in the social fabric of neighborhoods such as Philadelphia’s West African and Mexican communities—to learn their unique issues and gain their trust. The agency also has welcomed parents as participants in various undertakings, a bold departure from days when mental health treatment was paternalistic.
After leading a three-day retreat with 40 CCTC staff members, Nadya Shmavonian was “totally impressed by the uniform integrity of the culture.” Ms. Shmavonian, a strategy and management consultant to foundations and nonprofits, added: “Their focus on trauma-informed care runs through everything they do, including their own interactions with each other, and this allows them to execute seamlessly on their vital mission to serve children.”