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Trauma Prevention and Recovery Programs

CFS is working with several community partners in Florida to evaluate programs aimed at the prevention of and recovery from traumatic experiences suffered during childhood.

Dawn Center- Hernando County

The Dawn Domestic and Sexual Violence Shelter provides quality services to women and their children who are victims of domestic violence, rape or sexual assault. In recent years, the center has been involved in numerous awareness efforts throughout the community, including the development of a school-based curriculum focused on the prevention and intervention of teen dating violence and bullying. With the goals of ensuring healthy and respectful relations, reducing gender stereotyping, and increasing assertive communication and by-stander intervention, the curriculum is being delivered in Hernando County schools.

CFS team members Debra Mowery, PhD, Teresa Nesman, PhD, Leslie Pagan, MBA, and Svetlana Yampolskaya, PhD are working with the Dawn Center to evaluate the effectiveness of the school programs, and survey responses from students reveal a wide variety of ways in which they have made positive impact. The programs have helped students understand various roles in which they might find themselves or others (victim, bystander, and/or aggressor) and alternatives to expressing their anger in violent ways. One student said, "it has shown me how to calm myself down instead of just going straight to violence."

Responses also indicated increased awareness of personal responsibility for emotions of anger and jealousy. Some students indicated that their attitude about what they would accept in a relationship has changed because they understand that violent relationships are not healthy.

Participants have also made suggestions for additional training topics, including how to identify an "abuser," understanding the difference between fighting and defending yourself, and how to handle "mean comments."

As part of the Dawn Center programs, the CFS team is also evaluating school climate surveys that look at campus safety for students. In addition, they are evaluating another project of the Dawn Center that trains young men from various community groups to provide outreach as peer mentors.

For additional information, contact Debra Mowery at 813-974-6191.

TRI Center and the Children's Home Society- Escambia County, Western Division

For the last 3 years, CFShas been working with the Children's Home Society (CHS) in Pensacola and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) on a Department of Health and Human Services SAMHSA grant to develop, demonstrate and evaluate the effectiveness of the Trauma Recovery Initiative Center (TRI-Center), the only center in Florida that addresses the needs of children who have endured multiple complex traumas.  The TRI-Center provides community-wide trauma screening for youth through collaboration with the dependency system, while increasing the availability of trauma-focused services for children and youth in northwest Florida. It is also working to engage the community to create a child welfare system that is trauma-aware, trauma-informed and trauma-educated.

As part of the TRI-Center evaluation, Dr. Vergon is comparing the provision of trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) with standard care. TF-CBT addresses the unique needs of children with PTSD symptoms, depression, behavior problems, and other difficulties related to traumatic life experiences through individual treatment sessions for the child and for the parents or caregivers, as well as joint parent-child sessions. Based on findings, the TF-CBT has been modified to accommodate the population being served. Additional lessons learned have resulted in adjustments to staff recruitment and roles, quality of supervision, and engagement of families, service providers, judiciary and community members.

Dr. Vergon is also working with CHS of Florida on a national crosssite study examining a variety issues related to the NCTSN.

"Being a part of the NCTSN has provided CHS of Florida with an opportunity to discover and participate in the latest advances in the field of trauma-informed services, and a responsibility to pass on what we learn for the benefit of others," said Cynthia Blacklaw, Executive Director CHS Western Division.

Ms. Blacklaw recently visited CFS to discuss her current efforts in the area of trauma and possible future ideas for collaboration. She met with USF staff of the TRI Center, and with several CFS faculty whose research interests overlap with Ms. Blacklaw's Division.

"Cynthia has been a wonderful partner, and is very concerned about the impact of trauma on children and families," said Dr. Vergon.

Training in Trauma-Informed Behavioral Support

Armed with knowledge that trauma-informed programs can lessen and prevent a wide range of health, behavioral health and social problems, many child-serving agencies are taking steps to gain a greater understanding of how trauma impacts the life of a child receiving services and orienting staff to the principles and practices of creating environments that provide trauma informed care.

"Children in public systems are especially vulnerable to the traumatic experiences of abuse, neglect, and domestic violence," said CFS Assistant Research Professor Dr. Norín Dollard. "To serve these children most effectively, we must work to increase awareness and provide tools to ensure systems and programs are trauma informed."

During the past year, Dr. Dollard, along with additional CFS faculty including Kimberly Crosland, PhD, Vicki Hummer, MSW and PhD candidate Stephen Roggenbaum have created a successful niche providing trainings in Trauma Informed Behavioral Support. They have trained direct care staff, supervisors, administrators and families at a number of child serving agencies throughout the state, including the Juvenile Justice Board at the Circuit 10 DCF office, Brevard County Schools, the Head Start/Early Head Start Program, Magellan Public Sector Solutions, which provides services through Florida's Child Welfare Prepaid Mental Health Plan, as well as presenting to the Governor's Children's Cabinet, and Florida's annual statewide Dependency Summit.

Faculty are currently working with staff at Manatee Palms Youth Services, a state-licensed intensive residential treatment facility that recently expanded services to include trauma-informed care for children and adolescents ages 6 to 17. Faculty will soon begin a year-long program to work with four more youth residential mental health programs in Florida.

"While every training is one step closer to increasing trauma-informed environments, there is still much to be accomplished for the children we strive to protect."

For information, contact Norín Dollard at 813-974-3761.

The Department of Child and Family Studies (CFS) at the USF College of Behavioral & Community Sciences is committed to improving the well-being of individuals, children, and families within communities across the country through promoting respect, inclusion, development, achievement, mental health, and an optimum quality of life.

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