KKI Joins National Child Traumatic Stress Network Family Center to use $1.6 million grant to improve care of traumatized children

June 3, 2011

Each year, more than 900,000 American children experience some type of trauma—physical or sexual abuse, community violence, family crises. For nearly two decades, Kennedy Krieger’s Family Center has helped children in the Baltimore area recover from abuse, neglect, out-of-home placement and other traumatic events. In October, the Center became one of 54 members of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), a two-year-old federal initiative designed to improve the treatment of traumatized children throughout the United States.

Family Center leaders say that the most valuable part of the Center’s membership in NCTSN may be its ability to use the results of its three-part project to impact national policy on the treatment of children who have experienced trauma. “This is a federal program – the government will demand accountability,” says Dr. Elizabeth Thompson, who will serve as Project Director for the Family Center’s NCTSN program. “Once we’re able to show empirical evidence that our treatment protocols work, we really have the potential to influence policy decisions that will impact how traumatized children are treated.” 

As part of its membership in the Network, the Family Center received a four-year, $1.6 million grant funded by the Center for Mental Health Services, part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant supports a three-part project led by Principal Investigator Dr. Harolyn Belcher. The first component examines the effectiveness of specialized interventions for traumatized children with intrauterine drug exposure. “We’ve found that children who have intrauterine drug exposure may have a higher risk of developing behavior problems, attention difficulties and poor social skills,” says Dr. Belcher. “This can affect their later development, especially how well children do in school. We’re trying to develop more specialized interventions that address self-regulation and coping mechanisms.” 

The second component of the project is the launch of an outcomes management system, designed to gauge how well the Center’s treatment plans work. A new scale was developed before the Center applied for NCTSN membership as staff searched for a more precise way to evaluate their clients’ progress. The new system is a complete overhaul of the old one, says Dr. Thompson. “We’ve improved all of our data management systems, from when the kids come in, to how their information is collected and how we track and document that data,” she says. “We’ll use standardized psychological measures to determine whether progress is made. Looking at the impact of treatment in a very systematic way will not only help our kids in Baltimore but children nationwide, as well.” 

Another piece of the project calls for systems change through the establishment of a community advisory board led by Family Center director Helen Kimmel. This board, which will include leaders of child welfare, child advocacy and mental health programs as well as caregiver and youth representatives, will further the NCTSN’s mission of improving the treatment of traumatized children and families through identifying and developing plans to eliminate barriers to treatment. Training and community conferences are also planned for mental health professionals, child welfare staff and physicians to raise awareness of the impact of trauma and to disseminate treatment strategies. 

In addition to support for the goals established by the Center’s three-tiered project, involvement in the Network allows the Center to work with similar institutions to improve existing trauma treatments and explore new options. Regular conferences with other network members and product-sharing initiatives will help the Family Center’s grass roots level interventions achieve national recognition. “We’ll have 53 other centers nationwide to share information with and learn from,” says Dr. Thompson. “As a result, we’ll be able see how other providers’ programs might be used in Baltimore. In turn, those centers have the chance to learn which interventions have worked for us and how their own clients can benefit from them.”