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Grant-funded program will help kids touched by trauma – such as school shootings, domestic violence and illness

The team that will direct the $1.6 million federal grant to create Akron Children’s Center for the Treatment and Study of Adverse of Childhood Events include Pat Seifert, PhD; Robin Tener, PhD; Sumru Bilge-Johnson, MD; Sarah Ostrowski, PhD; Melissa Peace, LISW-S, and Norman Christopher, MD. The grant will enable Akron Children’s to join the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, train clinicians and educators in how to identify and help children touched by trauma and conduct research.

Childhood trauma comes in many shapes and sizes. People might typically think of a mass shooting or a natural disaster, but trauma can also stem from domestic violence, divorce, the death of a loved one and even a chronic illness in the family.

Akron Children’s has been awarded a $1.6 million federal grant to provide services and support to children and families who have experienced psychological trauma.

The hospital joins a national network of more than 130 child trauma centers that address a range of traumatic experiences, including physical and sexual abuse; domestic, school and community violence; natural disasters and terrorism; and life-threatening injury and illness.

With the four-year grant, Akron Children’s becomes a member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), whose mission is to improve the quality, effectiveness and availability of services for children and families who experience traumatic events.

Community surveys suggest that by their 16th birthday, 67 percent of American children are exposed to at least one significant traumatic event.

With this new funding, Akron Children’s will develop the Center for the Treatment and Study of Adverse Childhood Events, with the goal of providing leadership, training and consultative services in the area of childhood traumatic stress for northeast Ohio.

The center will create a trauma-focused network of care, which will improve access to treatment, help identify children who’ve been exposed to adverse events, and create a trauma-informed system of care throughout the continuum of care offered by Akron Children’s.

“Tragic shootings in Copley, Chardon and now Connecticut reinforce the importance of trauma training for teachers, doctors, nurses and others who work with children,” said  Dr. Norm Christopher, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Akron Children’s and the author of numerous studies on childhood trauma. “And it’s not just these headline-generating tragedies that can have lasting effects on families and communities. This grant will also enable us to deliver age-appropriate and research-based responses to the death of a high school student, the chronic illness of a sibling, or domestic violence, as they can be equally devastating for loved ones.”

Melissa Peace, a social worker who spent 10 years leading the Summit County Children Who Witness Violence Program, will serve as project director.

According to Peace, her team is creating a community trauma advisory council and rolling out trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy (TF-CBT) for Akron Children’s clinical staff and community mental health providers and then to area school personnel. TF-CBT is an evidence-based approach to help children create and share “trauma narratives” to cope with their emotions stemming from a traumatic event.

“Children who experience trauma don’t always necessarily need therapy,” said Peace. “Most of the time, they just need and want to talk about it and the talk should be at their level. They need a lot of caring, concerned adults – parents, teachers, coaches and friends – around them.”

The grant also has a research component, led by pediatric psychologist Sarah Ostrowski, PhD.

“As a member of the network, we will have a direct connection to the experts and most current research in childhood traumatic stress,” said Ostrowski, who will serve as principal investigator. “And through our own research, we will be contributing to that body of knowledge as well.”

The NCTSN is a collaboration of academic, clinical, and diverse community service centers, and is coordinated by the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress (NCCTS), co-located at UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and Duke University Medical Center.

The NCTSN combines expertise in child traumatic stress, knowledge of child development, and attention to cultural and family perspectives as it supports the development and dissemination of evidence-based and trauma-informed treatments and services.

Peace said they hope to spread knowledge about childhood trauma to all those who work with children.

“Teachers who have already been through the training say they have learned a lot. They look at their students differently and maybe don’t label them as quickly based on their behavior,” said Peace. “Given the shortage of pediatric mental health professionals, it is important to teach as many people as possible how to spot a child who has been affected by trauma.”

Related Audio

Melissa Peace discusses the new $1.6 million grant that will link the hospital with the federally funded National Child Traumatic Stress Network, as Akron Children’s expands its services for children who have experienced psychological trauma, such as the recent school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Originally aired on WAKR on Jan. 27, 2013.

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