There’s an App for That: Using a Mobile Health App to Support our Workforce

Room: Cherokee

Many direct-care staff know intuitively that attuned and sensitive relationships with safe and responsive adults help youth recover from trauma. However, recent research is clarifying how “good relationships” serve as the conduit for healing and that this change actually happens on a neurobiological level. Providing trauma-sensitive care to youth in residential settings requires high levels of self-awareness, effective relationship skills, and considerable behavioral and emotional regulation. Until recently, the critical importance of staff’s own social and emotional skills in delivering high-quality care has been largely overlooked. In partnership with Dartmouth College’s Digital and Applied Learning and Innovations Lab (DALI), a team of UX developers in Denmark, MA DCF staff, and with the input of agencies across the US, the Lionheart Foundation has created an innovative mobile health app that supports direct-care workforce in developing the self-regulation capacities and knowledge base at the core of building therapeutic and reparative relationships with youth. The workshop will focus on the multiyear process of developing this interactive app, as well as the challenges and opportunities of delivering individualized training via mobile platforms. The presentation will also integrate Lionheart’s previous NIH research detailing the protective factors of mindfulness in buffering vulnerable populations from the deleterious impacts of stress.

In these times of elevated stress, all members of an agency including administrators, support staff, direct-care workforce, and youth can benefit from explicit self-regulation instruction, mindfulness exercises, and opportunities for ongoing practice of these skills. The app integrates structured mindfulness and visualization exercises, animated videos, mood tracking features, and a cache of supportive tools, all of which provide ‘in the moment’ strategies and resources to help staff co-regulate with youth. The app is also designed to help buffer staff from secondary traumatic stress and burnout. In addition, the app contains resources to explain the neurobiology of trauma and its impact on youths’ behavioral reactions to triggers and traumatic stress. Evidence-based cognitive behavioral skills such as cognitive reframing and response modulation are presented and staff are given customizable tools and resources to set goals and monitor their growth. In short, the app teaches and reinforces the baseline self-regulatory skills that are at the heart of trauma-sensitive systems.

The creation of this app has been a collective effort, harnessing the voices of staff and collaborating agencies across the US, with the technical skill of multiple groups of designers and coders (all of whom have donated their time and talent on a volunteer basis) to increase workforce access to cutting edge and innovative technology. The presentation will share data collected from 8 residential Teen Parenting Programs and explore how staffs’ professional and psychosocial needs were directly integrated into the newest version of the app. During the workshop, participants will engage in various components of the app. Presenters will utilize a variety of interactive techniques including, real-time electronic surveys (e.g., Mentimeter), audio and video presentations, guided exercises, hand-outs and small group discussion.


Beth Casarjian, Ph.D.

Director of Clinical Services , The Lionheart Foundation


Jessica Linick

Director of Youth Programming , The Lionheart Foundation