Safe First Steps: Early Childhood Trauma Recovery Program

Promoting Resilience among Youth and Families Affected by Community Violence Through Leadership, Collaboration, and Action

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  4. Safe First Steps: Early Childhood Trauma Recovery Progr...

Safe First Steps: Early Childhood Trauma Recovery Program

Safe First Steps: Early Childhood Trauma Recovery Program

About Safe First Steps

Safe First Steps is a part of the University of Illinois Chicago's Urban Youth Trauma Center (UYTC), a SAMHSA funded program designed to promote and disseminate comprehensive, integrated, and coordinated care for families affected by trauma and community violence.

Safe First Steps was created by clinical child psychologist, Dr. Lynda Gibson to support children experiencing chronic community violence and trauma exposure. By partnering with schools and other child-focused agencies, we aim to share information with child providers, school staff, and families about the areas of child development that are impacted by trauma, and the strategies that can be implemented to reduce re-traumatization and promote recovery. 

The Safe First Steps training and consultation program explores strategies for building a trauma-informed school or agency, how to reduce secondary traumatic stress among early childhood providers and school staff, and strategies for increasing collaboration with other service providers and support for families. It is expected that participation in the Safe First Steps Training and Consultation Program will result in (1) an increase in trauma knowledge and awareness; (2) increased implementation of trauma-informed practices; (3) increased collaboration with other child service systems among training participants; (4) the use of positive self-care strategies to decrease occurrences of job-related secondary traumatic stress; and (5) increased support for children and families dealing with trauma exposure.


What services and support are included in the Safe First Steps program?

Partnership with the Safe First Steps program can include the following:

  1. Agency trauma-informed practices needs assessment
  2. Trauma-focused training and consultation for staff
  3. Parent workshops focused on trauma recovery, positive parenting, and family wellness

Lynda Gibson PhD

  • Director, Psychological Services Center
  • Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Dr. Lynda Gibson is a Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of the Psychological Services Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Northeastern Illinois University, and she received her M.S and Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Dr. Gibson completed her doctoral internship with the Dallas Independent School District's Department of Psychological and Social Services, and her postdoctoral residency was completed at the University of Chicago Medicine and Comer Children's Hospital—with a specialization in child trauma. Dr. Gibson's research and clinical work focus on risk and resiliency factors in African American and Latinx communities, barriers to treatment for underserved families, early exposure to trauma and community violence, and strategies for building trauma-informed schools. 

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Mayra Gaona PhD

  • Clinical Research Coordinator, Intervention Study
  • Urban Youth Trauma Center
Mayra A. Gaona, PhD is a Clinical Research Coordinator at the Urban Youth Trauma Center. Dr. Gaona earned a B.S. in Psychology from Dominican University, an M.Ed. in Educational Psychology, and Ph.D. in School Psychology from Loyola University Chicago. Her research and clinical work focuses on trauma-informed schools, trauma professional development for school professionals, and the delivery of mental health interventions with newcomer immigrant youth.

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Sungha Kang PhD

  • Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
  • Loyola University Chicago
Sungha Kang is an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Loyola University Chicago. She completed her Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and completed her predoctoral internship at UIC Department of Psychiatry.  Dr. Kang’s research interests include how externalizing behaviors are identified and treated in racial/ethnic minority children, and ways to mitigate the impacts of structural racism in systems of care that serve those children including schools and healthcare systems.

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Lucybel Mendez PhD

  • Assistant Professor Clinical Psychology
  • University of Tennessee-Knoxville
  • Research Collaborator, Pediatric Stress and Anxiety Disorders Clinic
Lucybel Mendez, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Clinical Psychology area at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. She completed her Clinical Psychology doctorate at the University of Utah, with a predoctoral internship at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Her research focuses on the developmental trajectories from traumatic experiences, violence, and victimization to behavioral and psychological wellbeing among marginalized and minoritized youth. Additionally, she examines socioecological processes of risk and resilience. Dr. Mendez currently volunteers as a researcher within the Pediatric Stress and Anxiety Disorders Clinic.

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Justyce Harris

  • Student Intern/ Pediatric Stress and Anxiety Disorders Clinic
  • Safe First Steps program, Urban Youth Trauma Center

Justyce started her degree at Harold Washington and is now planning to graduate from the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) with her Bachelor’s degree. She is a research assistant for the Safe First Steps program and Black Girl RISES (Relationships and Interactions with Staff in Educational Settings).

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Partnership, Training, and Consultation Opportunities: If your agency is interested in partnering with the Safe First Steps program, please contact Dr. Lynda Gibson at lgibson1atuic [dot] edu or 312-355-1293.

Resources: For information about child and adolescent trauma exposure, and to access resources for child welfare providers, school staff, parents, and more—please visit the website for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.


Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology Ongoing training and consultation activities for the Safe First Steps program is supported by the Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology Child Mental Health in Action (CMHA) Award.