The ACEs You Don’t Know…Adverse Community Experiences

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Echo has recently expanded its focus to look at Adverse Community Experiences. What is that, you may ask. The Adverse

DeGruy Photo Childhood Experiences Study is now almost two decades old, and it has revolutionized the way we look at physical, mental and social problems. The take-away message is that adversity has long-lasting and sometimes devastating effects on later life, but as the science shows, a safe, stable nurturing relationship with a caring adult can help children heal and build resilience.

However, no individual, and no family, exists in a vacuum. What about the toxic stresses that weigh heavily on certain communities? How does poverty, racism, forced displacement, homelessness or community violence, for example, affect the health and wellbeing of communities and the individuals who live in them?

This is the question that we will be attempting to answer in our 2017 “Changing the Paradigm” conference. Dr. Joy Degruy, author of “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome”, has agreed to be our keynote speaker. Stay tuned for more!

In the meantime, how are we incorporating this work into what we do at Echo?

Well, unsurprisingly, community trauma and community resilience have a lot to do with strong, connected relationships – the lack or the presence thereof. Often our individual or collective trauma gets in the way of creating those relationships – we have a history that inclines us to fear and mistrust. That fear and our attempts to cope with a scary situation may have at one time actually protected us, but now maybe they no longer serve us.

As psychologist, Darejan Javakhishvili, says in her work on displaced communities, without being able to get to the real persecutor (because they are dead, too powerful, or are in the country you fled), the ‘enemy’ is an empty frame of aggression, which freely floats around and tries to fit the first available object. The easier target is ‘the other’ – a different person or group – which results in intolerance towards different opinion, attitudes and mentality.

It takes consciousness and intent not to fall into the trap of creating enemy images. Trauma tends to polarize the mind, to group people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, to live as if you are fighting your childhood oppressor in every person who holds a different opinion or thinks differently to you. We none of us are immune, including the proponents of trauma-informed nonviolent parenting! Diana Ayala, Co-Executive Director at Echo, has long argued that we need to try to understand the ‘dominant’ paradigm of parenting and have empathy for those who have such a hard time giving up punishment and rewards as a means of controlling behavior.


The Echo Team.

2016 Changing the Paradigm Post Conference Blog Post

Monday, April 4th, 2016

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Echo Parenting & Education Changing the Paradigm Conference 2016 

“See it, believe it, act on it!” That was the exhortation at the end of the Building Trauma-Informed Schools & Communities conference last week. Around 250 people gathered to share experiences, best practices, questions and dreams as Echo hosted the first ever national conference on trauma-informed schools.

We were fortunate to have many extraordinary thought leaders, including Dr. Ross Greene “Lost at School” and “The Explosive Child” who flew across country to deliver his presentation to a captivated audience. (Please check our website for his slideshow coming soon.)

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Our second Day One keynote was Dr. Susan Craig “Reaching and Teaching Children who Hurt” and “Trauma Sensitive Schools” who serenaded the participants with a rendition of “Happy Talk”.

Other highlights included hearing from the team from Sally Ride Elementary, which is the pilot site for Echo’s Whole School Initiative.

Sally Ride team: Parent representatives including Katia Tovar (center), Catherine Daley, principal (right of center) and Lizeth Toscano, Echo parent educator (far right)




We also heard from Pia Escudero, head of School Mental Health for LAUSD and Superintendent Robert Martinez (pictured left).

Workshop Highlights


Popular workshops included a Restorative Justice circle from Roosevelt High School, Jose Arreola on the mental health of undocumented students and resiliency building from Elaine Miller-Karas.

Photo Gallery


Want to see photographs of you and your colleagues at the conference? We have the entire album available.


Echo Co-Directors, Diana Ayala (left), Louise Godbold (right) and Jane Stevens, founder of (center)

Conference Feedback

We were happy to get back many evaluations extolling the event, but if you attended the conference and didn’t get a chance to fill in an evaluation, could you please complete the online version. We work hard to incorporate your feedback in each successive conference, so please take the time to tell us what you liked and didn’t like.




Journey to Healing – Our Year End Appeal

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015
 With support from community partners like you, last year alone Echo trained nearly 2,500 parents through community classes and classes in domestic violence shelters…parents like Karen Gonzalez who was featured in a recent NPR broadcast.
Here is an extract from the story:


“After years of physical abuse, Karen Gonzalez finally fled her home in November 2011 after she said her boyfriend tried to strangle her. She hadn’t realized just how much the experience had affected her and her three children.

“My body would feel stressed or tight or I couldn’t breath or I would hold my breath and I didn’t even realize, ‘Oh, wow, I’m not breathing,’” Gonzalez remembers.

Then 29, she struggled to meet her family’s clothes, food and other needs, then realized that her children also had been traumatized. They acted out, had trouble in school, and developed fears of many things.

She said her life changed when Echo Parenting & Education came to her shelter and invited her to a parenting class. 

Gonzalez said she learned that how she responded to her children’s behavioral issues mattered. She was taught “how to break the cycle of violence, how to look at the children [with] compassion and [with] love — basic human needs that we’re all trying to meet,” she said.

Gonzalez felt she received life-changing benefits from the Echo trainings, so she took the 100-hour certification course and now conducts classes herself.”

Through Echo’s classes, many families experience what it is to overcome generational trauma and all parents learn how to create loving, connected relationships so that children can grow up happy and healthy…and continue this legacy to their own children.

A contribution of $500 sends a whole family through our 10-class parenting series and covers the cost of providing safe, caring childcare while parents are in class. With your gift of $50, $100, $500 or any amount, you can be assured that you are helping Echo change lives of many families from different backgrounds and experiences.

Please send your contribution today or visit our website to make an online donation. And thank you for your support, in all its manifest ways.

Carol Melville
Board Chair, Echo Parenting & Education

Stories from the Whole School Initiative

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

This month, Echo was invited to participate in a webinar hosted 5073552229_3dd9459eeb_oby Region IX Equity Assistance Center at WestEd for educators in the Western Region of the United States. We were honored to be highlighted as a ‘promising practice’ for trauma-informed education

For those of you who don’t have 90 minutes to listen to the whole webinar, we thought we would pick out a few of the delightful stories related by Catherine Daley, the principal of Sally Ride Elementary,  the site of our Whole School Initiative pilot:

“I have a student who frequently gets sent to the office for his behavior. He’s usually pretty flooded when he gets to me. Maybe before I might have demanded that he explain himself immediately. Now I’m letting him know he can have time to regulate, to breathe, and I invite him to talk when he’s ready. 

“Usually, when he gets to me, he’s stuck… he can’t move, he’s breathing really heavily. I might let him know, I’m here, its okay…you can take your time. And I’ll start to see his shoulders relax, his hands unclench, and he starts to look around, like he’s coming back into the room. Then we can talk. This seems to give him the catharsis he needs, allows me to understand him better, gives him a chance to go through the emotions he needs to go through. It also gives him a chance to practice using the strategies with support in a place where he knows that he’s safe, so that he can do them independently in other situations… Now he’s coming to me and telling me, “I walked away Ms. Daley. I breathed, and I didn’t hit anybody.  I walked away.””

“A few weeks ago a student was sent to the office because he had called a teacher a strong expletive. In the past, I probably would have told him that it was unacceptable behavior, demanded that he apologize, and then call his mother so that he could explain his actions.  

“This time, I had made a conscious decision that my goal was to repair the relationship between that teacher and the student. I began by inviting the student to talk about what he was feeling before he said what he said, and with that invitation, the student was able to recall what happened before he got angry. 

“After acknowledging his feelings about the interactions that led up to him calling his teacher this word, we talked about what he might want to do to repair the relationship. He kept saying, “I think I should be punished. 

“That was the first time that I realized that for many people, making a reparation in a relationship usually involves a punishment. We talked about what I meant by repair, brought in the teacher, gave them each a chance to hear each other, helping them each to reflect back what they were hearing. 

“At the end of the conversation, both teacher and student were able to acknowledge each others’ needs in that situation and make a plan for the future that would allow them both to feel safe while still completing the activity. Since then, I’ve continued to employ this focus when working with students and have not needed to give any negative consequences in order to create repair in the relationship.”

Cathy also shared Freddy’s story:

“Every day, Freddy would arrive in the middle of morning meeting, or later, and had a hard time integrating into the class. Previously, his teacher might have just asked the parent, “Do you realize he’s been late every day this week?”, or, “Why aren’t you bringing him on time?” This time, instead of confronting his mom, she took the time to find out what was going on. 

Apparently, Freddy’s mom was working two jobs – a day and a night shift.  After getting home every night at 3 or 4 am, she was struggling to get up again a couple hours later to get her kids to school at all. Instead of dismissing Freddy’s tardiness as a sign of his mother’s failure to support his education, the teacher chose to look deeper and see the incredible lengths his mother is going to in order to meet her family’s basic needs and get her kids to school every day. 

Freddy’s teacher started to feel more empathy. She was able to explain to the mother why she was worried about Freddy coming in late – that he was missing out on the morning routine and it was having a negative impact on him. The teacher then asked if there was anything she could do to help. In this way, an interaction that could have been confrontational and disconnecting became a point of connection and support for both the mother and the teacher.

We hope you enjoyed these encouraging stories of a school community on the journey to become trauma-informed and nonviolent. We thank Ariel Wrye, our lead trainer at Sally Ride, and Cathy Daley for their commitment to this work and for compiling the stories and other information for the webinar. We would like to thank you too for continuing to support our efforts and wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

How to Talk to Kids About Domestic Violence

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Temuco_childrenEcho has been working with domestic violence shelters for many years, helping parents and children who have experienced domestic violence. Recently, one of our Parent Educators, Lizeth Toscano, who has been working closely with domestic violence shelters, gave an interview to a reporter from We thought what she had to say was important to share with all our newsletter readers, not only for those parents whose lives have been directly impacted by domestic violence, but also in the light of the controversial ‘black dot’ campaign that revealed the need for professionals to have more information about how to have conversations about domestic violence.

“What are the main things a parent needs to be know before starting a conversation with a child who has witnessed domestic violence?”

Lizeth: There are three things a parent should be aware of:

Children need to understand that feelings such as being scared or worried are normal responses to the trauma they have experience
Children need to be able to share their story as part of the healing process
‘Trauma bonding’ (the result of the strong emotions elicited by the cycle of violence) may mean that the child still loves and wants to be around the abuser

“What are some things a parent can do to help facilitate the conversation?”

Lizeth: Allowing children to express themselves through art, movement or music can help children make sense of their domestic violent experience. Making sense of the experience (‘creating a coherent narrative’) is an important part of recovery from trauma. Parents can also use ‘empathy books‘ to help the child process their thoughts and feelings. Playing with molding clay helps children (and the caregiver) regulate the emotions that come up when they talk about the domestic violence experience together. These and other regulation techniques (belly breathing, blowing bubbles, imaging a safe place) can help create a sense of safety and reestablish the relationship between child and caregiver. It is also empowering for a child to learn how to self-soothe.

“When is it appropriate/necessary to talk to kids about domestic violence?”

Lizeth:: I’ve been working at in shelters for about 2 years and this is a question that comes up a lot. Always take the lead from the child. Talk when the child is ready. To determine if a child is ready, you can open the conversation with, “That must have been so scary for you.” “What was that like for you?” When the child is ready, they will begin to communicate either verbally or somatically (through their body’s reactions).

“How does trauma manifest?”

Lizeth: Trauma responses can be verbal or somatic (in the body). Somatic responses happen when kids internalize their response to the event. This happens when they feel it is not safe to talk. Also, if certain brain areas have not yet fully matured, their experience will be stored in their body.

It is important to watch kids after an event – is there anything that has changed or shifted. Bellyaches are common, especially with younger children. Some will be afraid to leave their parent(s). Particularly those under six may identify with the violent behavior in an attempt to regain a sense of control when they feel helpless or powerless. They may hit siblings or mom or begin using knives or scissors.

“How do you have that conversation about the child’s violent behavior when they’ve viewed a parent modeling it?”

Lizeth: Feelings are always okay. If a child is using motor actions to communicate, they may need other, safer motor actions to regulate before they can access the higher part of the brain that is responsible for language. You might use language such as, “It’s okay for you to feel angry, but it is not okay for you to hit mommy.”

These conversations should always start with empathy:  “It must have been so scary when so and so hit…” The children are using that behavior because it is something they’ve seen.

“Back to the broader conversation of talking to kids… What else should be discussed in that conversation?”

Lizeth: Helpful statements include: “It’s not your fault. The violence is not okay. I’m here to listen to you. I love you. I’m sorry you had to see that. That must have been so scary for you.” Sometimes these things are hard for parents to say because of their own trauma. It is appropriate to use physical containment to help kids through that process – that might look like a hug, or a rub on their back.

How should this conversation change with adolescents?

Lizeth: Some kids will use words, some will not. We like to use art and journaling; journaling works especially well with teens. A parent might say: “I know it does not feel safe to talk to me, but I hope we can talk about this through other form.

With teens, we help parents think about helping the teen define healthy relationships for dating. We need to identify core, healthy parts of a relationship. We look at gender stereotypes. These things are more difficult for children who have experienced domestic violence.

“Does your approach differ between boys and girls?”

Lizeth: I encourage the parents to think about the role models that each boy and girls gets from society… what other messages are they getting through video games, gender stereotypes, etc.

Also, we might start the conversation differently with boys: Boys tend to have more aggressive behavior than girls as a result of domestic violence. It’s more socially accepted for boys to express anger.

“Any other tips?”

Lizeth: To be able to talk to kids about domestic violence, parents need support as well.

There is no way for parents to have these conversations without being triggered themselves. Maybe parents will want to talk to a therapist or counselor to examine why these conversations are so hard to have with their child. Some parents may be transported back to when they were a child and the feelings of rage or shame that they experienced.

The thing to remember is that if you sit in silence, the child sits in shame and blame. Children will construct their own narrative around events. Having the conversation is hard on the survivor and may trigger anxiety and traumatic memories. But silence isn’t an option. Silence is saying it’s OK that the violence happened.


Lizeth Toscano, ACSW, Lizeth joined Echo in 2011 as a parent educator specializing in working with domestic violence survivors. She graduated with a MSW from USC in May 2015. Lizeth has worked with parents and domestic violence survivors since obtaining her BSW from San Diego State University in 2010, both as a case manager with parents for Home-SAFE, Early Head Start Services, and as an intern MSW therapist for Hillsides and the National Council of Jewish Women, Women Helping Women.