WHITE PLAINS, NY — A $50,000 grant from The Westchester Community Foundation (WCF) will help support Family Services of Westchester (FSW)’s Trauma Systems Therapy counseling program for children. The funding will be used to enhance FSW’s work in its three largest clinics in Port Chester, Mt. Vernon, and Yonkers.
Trauma Systems Therapy (TST) is a comprehensive, evidenced-based treatment program for children and adolescents who have experienced traumatic events and who live in environments with ongoing stress. By addressing both the child’s emotional needs as well as the social environment in which he or she lives, TST aims to understand a child’s symptoms in the context of his or her world and strengthen the child’s coping mechanisms by involving the family, school, and community. The approach is especially useful for children suffering from traumatic events in everyday life, such as domestic violence, community violence, poverty, and other highly stressful chronic situations.
“The grant will allow us to act as advocates for the parents and the child, make referrals to community resources for the child and the family, and develop ongoing relationships with the child’s schools so we can monitor the child’s behavior and performance,” explained Polly Kerrigan, FSW’s Senior Vice President of Program Operations. “By stabilizing the child’s environment—including the home and school—our social workers will help these children succeed academically, socially, and emotionally.”
FSW began using TST two years ago, after observing the negative impact of trauma on the children and families with whom we work. Examples of traumatic events include sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, and witnessing domestic violence. Other sources of trauma are placement in foster care, separation from a caregiver, living amid community violence, or living in poverty.
In an effort to better identify children who have been affected by trauma, FSW began administering a trauma history screening assessment tool to every child admitted to our clinics. After performing more
than 500 screenings, clinicians determined that the average number of types of trauma that a child has endured is five.
Children react to trauma in a variety of ways, including avoidance (detatchment, numbness); re-experiencing (intrusive thoughts, recurring distress dreams); and arousal (sleep difficulties, irritabililty; hypervigilance). In many cases, a traumatized child will have trouble regulating emotions or behavior.
Trauma often leads to depression, risk-taking behavior, substance abuse, sexualized behavior, enuresis, problems affecting conduct, sleep, eating, and attachment; and more.
Beyond the consequences for the child and family, these problems carry high costs for society. For example, a child who cannot learn may grow up to be an adult who cannot hold a job. A child with chronic physical problems may grow up to be a chronically ill adult. A child who grows up learning to hate herself may become an adult with an eating disorder or substance addiction.
TST provides effective, evidence-based services and interventions to help children and families who have experienced traumatic events, whether the event is a single exposure or chronic exposure. TST aims to enhance a child’s ability to regulate emotions while diminishing the ongoing stresses and threats in the child’s social environment. By adopting this dual approach, 1) assessing a youth’s capacity to regulate emotions; and 2) assessing the safety of the social environment in which the youth lives, TST aims to help children gain control over strong emotions and behaviors, ultimately helping them succeed in school and life.