UMMS launching Resilience Through Relationships Center to improve child trauma treatment

UMass Medical School will create a national resource and training center to address child trauma caused by impaired caregiving, funded with a five-year, $3 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The Resilience Through Relationships Center will reside within the UMMS Child Trauma Training Center under the direction of Jessica L. Griffin, PsyD, principal investigator for the grant and founder and executive director of the centers.

Parental and caregiver substance use disorder, mental illness, child maltreatment and neglect are the leading causes of trauma for youth. Professionals aiding traumatized children have lacked training on attachment and caregiver support to promote safe, stable and nurturing relationships, according to Dr. Griffin, associate professor of psychiatry.

“While trauma-informed care has expanded, caregivers have not been the focus of our efforts,” Griffin said. “Trying to prevent trauma from occurring in the first place by focusing on impaired caregiving instead of treating kids’ symptoms after the fact will turn the trauma-informed care world upside down.”

The Resilience Through Relationships Center will close gaps in child trauma treatment for pediatric and other medical providers, mental health clinicians, substance use disorder counselors, and caregivers, including foster parents and parents in recovery. Expanding upon the established infrastructure and partnerships established by the Child Trauma Training Center, Griffin and collaborators will develop and disseminate a range of evidence-based training materials for caregivers and professionals.

The Child Trauma Training Center has provided evidence-based, trauma-informed care training to more than 38,000 health care and other professionals who work with at-risk kids and families across Massachusetts since 2012. Its LINK-KID centralized referral system increases access to specialists to help youth receive treatment for trauma and provides a referral and follow-up structure. The Child Trauma Training Center gives pediatricians, teachers, guidance counselors, school nurses, probation officers, police officers, attorneys and judges knowledge and skills to identify and address trauma-related symptoms.

“The Resilience Through Relationships Center could not have been established without years of work in Massachusetts by our team at the Child Trauma Training Center and the support of our partners statewide,” said Griffin. “We are so thankful to Baystate Medical Center, Boston Medical Center’s Project LAUNCH Neonatal Abstinence Program, Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Program, Lifeline for Moms, Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Spectrum Health Care, the American Academy of Pediatrics Pediatric Approach to Trauma, Treatment, & Resilience project and the Allegheny Singer Research Institute.”

A clinical and forensic psychologist specializing in childhood trauma, abuse and relationships, Griffin is an expert in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Co-principal investigators are Heather Forkey, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center Child Protection Program and Foster Children Evaluation Service; and Jessica Wozniak, PsyD, assistant professor of psychiatry and a clinical psychologist specializing in childhood trauma at UMMS–Baystate in Springfield.

Toni Irsfeld, MA, instructor in psychiatry, and Genevieve Kane-Howse, LMHC, CTTC project director, will oversee day-to-day operations. Jessica Dym Bartlett, PhD, director of the Massachusetts office and early childhood research scholar for national research center Child Trends, will lead program evaluation.

“We are expecting a surge in referrals during and after the COVID-19 pandemic,” Griffin said. “We hope our unique approach to cultivating caregiver resiliency as a centerpiece of trauma informed care will help stressed families and children dealing with this crisis.”

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