Championing Mental Health: The Birth of A Trauma-Informed Care Specialist at BBBSKC
May 21, 2024

At Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City, we understand the importance of mental health support and supporting the mental well-being of our Littles, Big, families, and staff. In a recent interview, we sat down with our Trauma-Informed Care Specialist (TICS), Carrie King, to dive into the impactful work she does. As well as Paul Kushnir, the spearhead supporter behind the funding for this new role.

Understanding the Role

The TICS role at BBBSKC is multifaceted, providing support to staff, Bigs, Littles, and guardians. Utilizing a background in mental health, the role’s responsibilities range from training and therapy sessions to referrals for resources. Being trauma-informed is at the core of the approach.

A Vision Takes Flight

After fifteen years of dedicated service on BBBSKC boards, Paul Kushnir and his wife Shannah Kushnir, wanted to help pave the way for a new endeavor— one that would have a lasting impact on the organization and its community. When it was brought to their attention that there was a need for additional funding to support mental health initiatives, Paul and Shannah recruited a group of passionate individuals to launch The Defender’s Circle.

The idea was simple yet profound: create a platform for friends and colleagues to come together, pool their funding, and champion mental health initiatives within BBBSKC. It all began two years ago, with a shared commitment to making a difference in the lives of youth and mentors facing mental health challenges. “Micheal Lawrence [CEO of BBBSKC] shared the need for this role and that it was a missing piece that couldn’t be carried out due to lack of funding,” said Paul.

What drives this collective effort of support? A newfound appreciation for the importance of mental health support, especially for youth facing adversity. Paul shared that The Defender’s Circle recognizes that many BBBSKC Bigs are not mental health experts and may struggle to address the complex needs of their Little. By funding initiatives like Trauma-Informed Care Specialists, The Defender’s Circle aims to provide the resources and support needed to help both youth and mentors thrive.

Meet Carrie

Carrie King joined the BBBSKC team in March 2022, filling this important role that our agency had dreamed about filling for some time, but could not afford to do without The Defenders Circle. With a foundation in Psychology and Leadership Studies from William Jewell College, followed by a Master’s in Counseling and Guidance from UMKC, Carrie brings a wealth of experience to their role. Her professional journey spans diverse populations, from adults with severe mental illness to youth involved in foster care and juvenile detention.

Stories of Resilience

Among the stories that resonate most, Carrie recounts experiences of children suddenly bereaved of parents. “Everything changed for them overnight. They were in new homes, with different people, different rules, different food, different music, you name it, and it was different. There is so much loss that comes with the death of a parent.”

Amidst upheaval and loss, the consistent thread of support from Bigs and BBBSKC shines brightly, fostering hope amidst adversity. “And as I checked in with the children and their new caregivers and we worked on support services and resources, there were a couple of unifying factors they all talked about, and it was the love and support they felt from their Bigs and from BBBSKC. Hope is vital for our mental well-being, and our Bigs and the staff at BBBSKC help foster that hope.”

Empowering through Training and Resources

Carrie has also conducted essential training with BBBSKC staff, ensuring they are all equipped to address youth mental health challenges promptly and effectively. From Youth Mental Health First Aid to Compassion Without Fatigue, these sessions empower our staff to navigate complex situations with knowledge and compassion.

Carrie says that the most rewarding aspect of her job is helping individuals discover available resources and providing support during challenging times. “I help refer families to all sorts of resources, such as therapy resources via direct referrals, support groups, financial support resources, academic support, food and clothing resources, and really anything they ask for, I’m going to do my best to find a resource for.”

Milestones and Achievements

From extensive staff training in Youth Mental Health First Aid to noteworthy partnerships, such as the collaboration with Resolve Counseling and Wellness, Carrie’s role has further enriched the organization’s ability to serve its community.

Since Carrie started at BBBSKC just over two years ago, she has currently completed over 868 meetings, provided over 812 resources, and trained 191 staff members in Youth Mental Health First Aid, making BBBSKC the only agency to have one hundred percent of the staff certified. 

Carrie has also implemented Quarterly Big Solutions trainings. These give Bigs who are struggling with topics a chance to come together, hear from professionals about ways to work through situations with their Littles, and network with other Bigs going through similar scenarios.  

BBBSKC is also proud to be the only Big Brothers Big Sisters agency to employ a full-time TICS.

In essence, her role embodies the spirit of BBBSKC— empowering individuals and supporting them in navigating life. Through her efforts and the efforts and support of The Defenders Circle, lives are transformed, and futures are brightened. 

Stories of Impact

The following stories are a few examples of how the addition of our TICS has impacted Guardians, Bigs, and Littles in the BBBSKC program.

“Although I have had a lot of fun being a Big and absolutely adore my Little, it is undeniable that my Little has her own battles and challenges that she needs help navigating. I am not a specialist when it comes to trauma, but I do know that my Little has gone through a lot and needs support that I don’t always know how to best give. When I found out that Carrie was a trauma-informed specialist on staff, I decided to meet up with her to talk through a couple of challenges I have been experiencing with my Little to see if her input could help strengthen my relationship with my Little even more. I met with Carrie and was able to give a lot of professional and insightful input on how to react and respond to my Little. I want to be the best Big I can be, and the information Carrie shared was extremely helpful and encouraging. Now I have a few more tools in my tool belt when I need help in responding or guiding my Little’s behavior. I also learned a little bit more about how trauma impacts children’s brains and why my Little may respond in the ways she does.”  

A Big in the program was feeling concerned about some things for his Little.  He wanted to talk through it, so Carrie went to his house and they sat and discussed the situation.  Carrie was there to support, validate, and problem-solve with the Big.  He stated, “I’m so amazed by BBBSKC.  I’ve never seen a program with such a quickness to help.  I mentioned a concern, and within a day, I was already getting connected to the right people and being listened to”. 

A Big was feeling concerned for his Little and the Little’s family.  Carrie reached out to the guardian and talked with her about their situation and needs.  After their call, Carrie was able to put a request in for financial assistance through CarePortal [a network of local churches], and the family was able to get their rent paid and not face eviction.  After getting this basic need met, Carrie reached out to the church resources for help with further assistance in job placement and financial stability going forward and connected the guardian with that contact. The guardian stated, “I don’t know how I can thank you enough. Big Brothers Big Sisters just keeps showing up and I don’t know where we’d be without you”.

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