Blogger Liza Purdy

Do What You Do Best: Advice from a Child Welfare Expert

I’ve spent the last few months trying to educate myself on Childhood Trauma, ACES, and how to become a trauma informed library. The task is daunting! The learning curve is steep, the information is abundant and there are so many children in need of care. I was beginning to despair.

Then an old friend of mine from high school (shout out to the Shaler Area Titans!), Dr. Lisa Schelbe posted her new book, The Handbook on Child Welfare Practice, on Facebook. Dr. Schelbe is an associate professor in the College of Social Work at Florida State University. Her areas of expertise are child welfare and child maltreatment prevention, among others. I knew I had a resource that could help me focus; she literally wrote the book on the subject!

I reached out to Dr. Schelbe, and we had an amazing conversation about what practical steps we can take as children’s librarians to strengthen children and families at risk. My main goal from the conversation was to learn the best things that libraries can do to support children and families that have experienced trauma. Her answer gave me goosebumps.

  • Do What We Do Best

Dr. Schelbe said that in providing protective factors against child maltreatment and neglect, the best advice is to do what we do best. She said “If someone asks me, ‘What can I do to help my neighbor who has young children and is overwhelmed?’  Well, are you good at yardwork? Cut their grass. Are you good at childcare? Offer them a night out. Are you good at cooking? Make them dinner. The same is true for your library. What do you do best?” My fellow librarians, we know what we do best, and we love doing it! From storytime, to books, ebooks and audiobooks, to databases and educational resources, to safe public space, and all manner of classes and programming, all FREE, our mission is clear. We exist to support our communities!

  • Community Care

Dr. Schelbe also mentioned the importance of community care. Good self-care encompasses really hard things like establishing healthy boundaries, managing time well, and keeping your finances in order, not just binge-watching movies and vegging out. We need to take that robust definition of self-care and apply it to our communities. How can we reach out to our community in caring, supportive, loving, appreciative ways? The community that Dr. Schelbe spoke of was not just our outward facing community. It was also internal. How are we practicing community care among our coworkers? After all, with the pandemic and civil unrest of the past eighteen months, it can be argued that there is not one of us who hasn’t experienced some sort of trauma or loss.

  • Policy and Partnership

Dr. Schelbe named two other ways that libraries could become better trauma informed. We could shift the tone and intention of our policies away from “What’s wrong with that person?” to “What has happened to that person?” We can also form partnerships with front line workers in the area of child neglect and maltreatment. How can we collaborate with foster parents or the agencies that work with families at risk? We are not expected to be clinicians. That is not our training. But we can reach out to those who do this vital work, and offer our energy, time and resources to helping strengthen children and families who most need our care.

A million thanks to Dr. Schelbe for speaking with me! It was a truly crystalizing conversation. I will continue this series on the Trauma Informed Library with renewed energy and focus in the coming months. If there is anyone reading who would care to share how their library has adapted practices of community care, policy and partnerships with the rest of us, we would love to hear about it in the comments!

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