Mt. Hope Family Center has been awarded a three-year, $1.2 million grant to join the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a federally funded partnership of academic and community-based centers aimed at improving care for children and families struggling with abuse, neglect, community violence, and other forms of trauma.
The new funding will allow the University of Rochester center to provide treatment for 270 young children in foster care and their biological and foster families and to develop effective therapies that can be used at centers nationwide. Mt. Hope is the only program in Western New York invited to join the network.
"Being selected is huge because Mt. Hope will now be able to partner with about 60 centers across the nation, all focused on evidence-based therapies for children recovering from trauma," says Sheree Toth, executive director of Mt. Hope Family Center. "It's an incredible opportunity to bring in resources, one that not only enhances our capabilities, but that changes our community."
Toth explained that the new resources will strengthen ongoing efforts by Rochester-area service providers to understand and recognize the effect of trauma on children. For instance, she explained, a high percentage of youngsters referred for behavior problems or mental health issues in this community also have experienced trauma. Understanding that history and learning how to help children recover can be key to preventing a lifetime of problems.
The grant will supply support for a variety of innovative therapies that have been clinically proven effective, including one of the center's most promising: Child-Parent Psychotherapy. "We believe a strong parent-child relationship is the key to preventing maltreatment and building healthy families," says Toth. To reinforce those ties, psychotherapists will meet with families weekly, helping parent and child nurture a close, connected relationship and encouraging appreciation for the child's developmental level. Research shows that the psychotherapy program builds parents' sense of competency and strengthens children's sense of security and attachment, improving their chances for success. Without such intervention, explains Toth, families struggling with trauma often fail to create a secure relationship, which "sets children up for a cascade of failures in their whole life." As an indication of the success of the approach, says Toth, 48 of the 60 members of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network have expressed interest in child-parent psychotherapy.
The grant also will make available one-on-one therapy with children to help them better understand and cope with the emotional shock they have experienced. For example, children who have suffered physical abuse often believe that they deserve the ill treatment, explains Toth. Therapy helps children let go of these unhealthy feelings of guilt and recover a sense of safety. It teaches children problem solving and self-calming skills and helps them to identify and express emotions appropriately. To ease the adjustment to foster care, center therapists also work with caretakers, encouraging understanding of and appropriate responses to the negative behaviors that often accompany post-traumatic stress.
The exciting thing about this grant, says Toth, is that it will bring proven treatments for trauma to those who need them most. "That's a significant advance over the 1970s and 80s, when service providers basically thought, 'Well, I'll be a nice person to these children and somehow that will make them better," she says. "Children and their families now have the possibility of benefiting from interventions that we know will work."