The tragedy at Sandy Hook is something that we never want to experience again in any school anywhere. The loss of life and emotional pain that occurred in that community has been devastating for so many. However, it has also spurred a new sensitivity to traumatized children throughout the state. In fact, it has resulted in a significant plan of action to provide trained professionals who are trauma-informed throughout the entire state of Connecticut. It is a statewide effort to change the way children are evaluated and treated.
Clinicians trained to focus on root cause; sensitive to triggers
Following is the article by Josh Kovner in the Hartford Courant describing the progress since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that has been made toward Connecticut becoming a more trauma-informed state.
New therapy approach: recognizing and responding to trauma in children
At the new Sandy Hook School in Newtown, teachers and principals are extremely careful about the way they handle fire drills and other disruptions of the routine, lest harmful associations to the mass shootings three years ago are triggered in the children.
That recognition of the effect that trauma has on the psyche of children is key to treating trauma in all of its different forms for thousands of children across Connecticut, say professionals who have been working for a decade to spread trauma-informed therapy across the state.
Tuesday, a statewide research organization released a report card of sorts, describing where Connecticut stands in its effort to install in schools, pediatric offices, and community mental-health centers the kind of therapy that focuses not on the symptoms of trauma, such as depression, anxiety, stress, and acting out, but on the traumatic episode itself — the damage to children that comes from exposure to domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and the effects of poverty, or dysfunction at home.
There are now more trauma-treatment sites than ever before — about 80 across the state.
Clinicians, doctors, teachers, and probation officers have been learning to recognize post-traumatic stress disorder and help children confront and overcome the trauma in their lives, according to a report by the Child Health and Development Institute, based in Farmington.
The development institute for several years has worked with the Department of Children and Families to improve children’s mental health treatment in the state. DCF, in the spotlight recently over the use of restraints and seclusion in its juvenile correctional programs, has trained its case workers in the regional offices in trauma therapy. Every child placed in the custody of DCF’s child-protection division is screened for trauma, said Kristina Stevens, clinical-support team director at DCF.
Trauma therapy represents a departure from the standard treatment, in that it confronts traumatic episodes directly, even if the child and parents haven’t said they’re ready to talk about it.
“It may be very anxiety-provoking, but it helps children heal,” said Jason Lang, of the Child Health and Development Institute and a co-author of the summary released Tuesday.
Grants to train clinicians
The development institute and other groups parlayed several million dollars in state funding and federal grants to train more than 8,000 clinicians. Nearly 2,000 children received trauma therapy over the past year, up from a little more than 500 in 2010.
“There are finally enough people and organizations practicing trauma therapy to have a system statewide,” said Alice Forrester, executive director of the Clifford Beers Child Guidance Center in New Haven, one of the clinical teams involved in the recovery effort in Newtown.
The next step, Forrester said, is to dramatically increase trauma therapy in schools, and mental-health and trauma screenings in pediatrician’s offices. The expansion in schools is beginning to happen in New Haven and Bridgeport, and the Department of Children and Families recently sent out a request for proposals from treatment providers to provide the therapy in schools once they get the training.
DCF, however, is just starting to implement more extensive trauma screenings and therapy at the two juvenile correctional programs it runs in Middletown for boys and girls. The expansion of mental-health counseling follows nearly eight weeks of media coverage of DCF’s use of restraints and seclusion inside the Connecticut Juvenile Training School for boys and the Pueblo Unit for girls. The Office of the Child Advocate revealed an overreliance on restraints in an 18-month probe that concluded on July 22, and then illustrated the point earlier this month by releasing a series of DCF’s own videos showing violent take-downs and the seclusion of youths, including some who were suicidal.
There are only 70 juveniles in the two locked units — boys and girls who have been designated as juvenile delinquents by the court, and who have failed repeatedly while on probation or in other programs. In contrast, about 11,000 youths enter the juvenile court system each year. The Judicial Branch’s juvenile support division has increased training of probation officers and treatment providers in trauma recognition over the past two years, said Catherine Foley Geib, manager of clinical and educational services in the court support services division.
Setting the trend
This is a trend setting development that needs to be developed in more states in our country. Since trauma is so prevalent in so many lives of our children, we need this kind of effort to help our children cope, recover and be able to have a normal post-traumatic life.
I deeply appreciate these efforts to bring health and hope to trauma-impacted children.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network