Monday, November 5, 2012

Trauma-focused treatment new approach at CFSA

On October 21, 2012, Child and Family Services Agency announced the receipt of a federal grant to make trauma-informed treatment the bedrock of CFSA's work with child victims of abuse and neglect.   CFSA will receive $3.2 million―$640,000 per year for five years.

According to the CFSA announcement,

Trauma-informed treatment has been shown to dramatically speed and improve healing of child victims of abuse and neglect without relying on medications, hospitalizations, or prolonged counseling. Using the latest scientific findings about the effects of trauma on brain development and functioning, trauma-informed treatment focuses not just on the child or youth but also on his or her relationships and surroundings. It looks for triggers in each child’s environment and seeks to minimize them while also teaching the child new ways to feel safe and in control.

This is important, but more important is what we know about abuse and neglect in DC.   Consider, for example, in CY 2011, CFSA substantiated 1,506 incidents of child abuse and neglect.   Of these, 58% were neglect, 34% physical, and 7% sexual.

Mindy Good, CFSA PIO, says this:

By the time children/youth come to the attention of CFSA, they’ve already experienced one or more traumatic events: never knowing where the next meal is coming from, witnessing domestic and/or street violence, being reliant on a parent or caretaker with erratic behavior due to substance abuse or untreated mental illness, being homeless or moving a great deal or both, being left alone or with strangers, being responsible for younger siblings, being severely physically punished and/or molested and fearing what will happen if anyone finds out—and more.

There’s a strain of "common wisdom" that thinks: "If child welfare would just get kids out of those bad homes, they’d be fine." And when child welfare intervenes, the first goal is to stop the abuse/neglect.

But what probably isn’t well recognized is that for child welfare, that’s just the start. Child abuse/neglect leave scars—sometimes physical but nearly always emotional as well. So as soon as child welfare gets a child to safety (keeping in mind that removal may be necessary but is an additional traumatic experience), then the next challenge of healing begins. Child/youth victims are great kids who have been through bad things. As a result, most have strong and often conflicting emotions that they struggle to process—sometimes productively and sometimes destructively.

Trauma-informed treatment will increase the capability of all of us in the system to understand and help these young people come to grips with their feelings, rise above their traumas rather than be defined by them or stuck in them, heal, and move on to broader horizons. Trauma-informed treatment offers methods that are much more effective and far less traumatic than the overused responses of hospitalization and medication.


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