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Akron Children’s Hospital receives $1.6 million grant to help kids deal with traumatic events

By Cheryl Powell
Beacon Journal medical writer

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Dr. Sarah Ostrowski, Research Program Director for NeuroDevelopment Science at Akron Children's Hospital, talks about a $1.6 million federal grant to to the hospital to help train children dealing with traumatic situations on Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 in Akron, Ohio. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)

Whether a child is touched by a personal tragedy or mass terror like the recent school shootings in Connecticut, Akron Children’s Hospital is making sure the community is ready to help.

The pediatric hospital recently received a $1.6 million federal grant to provide services and support to local children and families who experience trauma.

The four-year grant enables Children’s to train current and future doctors and nurses, school personnel, emergency responders and others to recognize the signs of children who need help coping with psychological trauma.

“We hope to raise the capability and understanding of our community,” said Dr. Norman Christopher, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s and the author of several studies on childhood trauma.

Children often respond differently than adults to trauma, making it challenging for parents, teachers, doctors or others to recognize trauma-related stress, he said. Instead of crying or talking about their feelings, for example, they might act out or regress.

“They might start doing baby talk or get clingy to their parents,” explained Melissa Peace, a social worker who is serving as project director.

Training has started with staff at Akron Public Schools, Peace said.

Outreach initially will focus on Summit County but will expand to more of the communities Children’s serves.

“I felt like we really needed to do more in our community,” said Peace, who spent 10 years leading the Summit County Children Who Witness Violence Program.

With the award, Children’s joins the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, which works nationwide to improve the quality, effectiveness and availability of services for children and families experiencing traumatic events.

Those traumas can include physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, community or school tragedies, suicide, accidents, natural disasters, serious personal injuries and diagnosis with a life-threatening illness.

“All of these things now become part of our responsibility,” Christopher said. “We obviously can’t do that ourselves.”

Studies have shown children who experience traumatic stress as a child — particularly repeated incidents — can have higher rates of smoking, heart disease, depression, suicide and other health problems as adults if the psychological impact isn’t addressed, said Sarah Ostrowski, research program director of the NeuroDevelopmental Science Center at Akron Children’s Hospital.

“But all is not lost if you have the proper support,” Christopher said.

Before joining Children’s, Ostrowski completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress at Duke University Medical Center, one of two coordinating sites for the program.

The national center provides support to participating sites nationwide and serves as a data clearinghouse to determine which programs work, she said.

The $1.6 million grant was awarded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

With the funding, Children’s will be able to hire four additional staff members for the program.

For more information about the childhood trauma project at Children’s, email Peace at mpeace@chmca.org.

To learn more about the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and to access tools to help children cope with traumatic events, visit www.nctsn.org.

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or cpowell@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.