The Power of Collaboration: Helping Children Cope with Trauma

Nov 6, 2017 | Features, Mental Health and Crisis Intervention, Philanthropy Journal

Covenant House and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims collaborate on training and resources so mental health workers are better equipped to help children who have experienced trauma.

Meredith Fabian-Ludke

Roberto Cubero Espinal

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Jennifer Balios

For more than 20 years, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has been awarding nonprofit organizations for their extraordinary contributions toward alleviating human suffering. During this time, the 22 recipients of the prestigious Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize formed an independent alliance called the Hilton Prize Coalition to achieve collective impact in humanitarian assistance, human rights, development, education and health.

In the fall of 2016, the Hilton Prize Coalition’s Secretariat, Global Impact, received a profound idea for a new collaboration from one of its award-winning members, Casa Alianza, the Latin American arm of Covenant House.  The proposal centered on launching a “Trauma-Informed Care Models” pilot project to help children affected by multiple forms of trauma in Latin American countries.

The Casa Alianza team had extensive experience and success in providing shelter, protection and rehabilitation for children and teenagers abused, trafficked, or abandoned; however, they noticed a lack of resources on this subject for Spanish-speaking care providers. The goal of the pilot project became to leverage the proven work being done in the U.S. by one of Covenant House’s Medical Directors, Dr. Ken Ginsburg, M.D., M.S. Ed.  Dr. Ginsburg had decades of experience working with adolescents as a pediatrician specializing in Adolescent Medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The team was inspired to translate and adapt Dr. Ginsburg’s findings to create culturally-sensitive reference and training materials for these care providers.

At this time, another Coalition member, the International Rehabilitation Council of Torture Victims (IRCT), identified this topic as a need in common and a capability to provide valuable resources through their Latin American networks.  IRCT was interested in learning from the Covenant House approach and applying this to the context of survivors of torture, modifying the approach in accordance to IRCT’s practice and experiences in the region. Once this connection was made, IRCT was brought in as a co-lead for this project.

“Each organization brought particular strengths to the collaboration,” said Samantha Ducey, Director of Partner Solutions at Global Impact, the Secretariat of the Hilton Prize Coalition. “Most importantly, both teams were willing to openly discuss ideas and different perspectives to find the best path forward.” Ducey worked alongside these nonprofits, making sure parameters were set early and deadlines were met over a year-long process.

Local experts within the organizations were identified and brought in. Gabriela Monroy, Covenant House’s psychologist and regional project lead in Guatemala, played a key role in translating concepts and providing context based on the trauma-informed care model that Dr. Ginsburg pioneered.

IRCT experts who analyzed the trauma-informed care approach based on their work with survivors of torture included Dr. Emma Bolshia of the Institute of Therapy and Research (ITEI) and the Coalition Against Torture in Bolivia and Dr. Edith Escareno of the Collective Against Torture and Impunity in Mexico.

“This project opened doors for local collaboration,” said Roberto Cubero Espinal, IRCT’s Regional Associate for Latin America. “At times this work can be isolating, so having a strong network of peers is invaluable.”

Covenant House and IRCT meet in person to kick-off “Trauma-Informed Care Models” pilot project at IRCT International Scientific Symposium in Mexico, December 2016.

Covenant House echoed IRCT’s sentiments about synergy. “When collaboration can happen directly at the local level, you find real richness and expertise,” said Meredith Fabian-Ludke, Vice President of Latin America and Project Lead at Covenant House’s international headquarters in NYC. “We learned a lot about our own processes while gaining valuable insights from IRCT’s practices, curriculum development and cultural knowledge of other Latin American countries.”

Covenant House and IRCT offered 3 key tips for nonprofits starting a collaborative process:

  1. Engage experts within your organizations as early as possible. Local and regional expertise was critical for this project.
  2. Meet in person when possible, especially for a first meeting. Relationship-building is an important part of the work, and the investment in one-on-one connection supports the collaboration.
  3. Discuss the decision-making processes in each organization. Then, co-design goals and processes.

Leanne MacMillan, IRCT Director of Research Development and Project Lead

Leanne MacMillan, IRCT Director of Research Development and Project Lead, recommends defining the decision-making processes in the beginning. The plan should also include who and how to ensure a smooth process because there are different organizational cultures to account for.  Also, the facilitation of the relationship by a third party, in this case Global Impact, was crucial to keep the collaboration moving and to navigate different types of organizational setups.

Fabian-Ludke added, “You will most likely think and operate differently, so instead of trying to fit into each other’s way of operating, learn about your differences and leverage what you have.”  

In November, the teams plan to roll out a co-authored background paper, “Cultivating Resilience,” and a training package, which was inspired by Dr. Ginsburg findings as well as “Reaching Teens: Strength-based Communication Strategies to Build Resilience and Support Healthy Adolescent Development,” published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The materials will be made available for download on the Hilton Prize Coalition website.

For further information on this collaboration, please contact: Meredith Fabian-Ludke, VP of Latin America, Covenant House at, Leanne MacMillan, IRCT Director of Research Development, at, or Samantha Ducey, Hilton Prize Coalition, at

Jennifer Balios is a public relations consultant based in Northern Virginia. She helps nonprofits and businesses tell their stories. Connect with her on Twitter @jenbalios.

Covenant House, headquartered in New York City, is the largest private charity serving homeless, abused, abandoned, trafficked and migrant children and youth in 31 cities across six countries in the Americas. In Latin America, Covenant House is known as Casa Alianza in Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, and La Alianza in Guatemala. Over a 35-year history in Central America and Mexico, the organization has become highly respected for providing shelter and a portfolio of multi-disciplinary services to help exploited children and adolescents, ages 12 to 18, reclaim their lives.

The IRCT is a health-based membership organization that supports the holistic rehabilitation of torture victims and the prevention of torture worldwide. IRCT’s members comprise more than 150 independent rehabilitation organizations in over 70 countries. Today, it is the largest membership-based civil society organization to work in the field of torture rehabilitation and prevention with over 40 years of experience. Eleven IRCT members providing torture rehabilitation services and carrying out anti-impunity and torture prevention work have a longstanding presence and firm roots in Latin America.

The Hilton Prize Coalition is an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the Fellows Program, the Collaborative Models Program and the Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations and led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat, Global Impact.

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