By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
ROCKY BOY AGENCY - An estimated one in four U.S. children experience a significant traumatic event before age 16, but only 8 percent of those children receive mental health treatment - startling statistics that have a research team from the University of Montana teaming with educators on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation to administer trauma services for students in Box Elder and Rocky Boy.
The Montana Center for the Investigation and Treatment of Childhood Trauma, located in the Division of Education Research and Service at UM, is working with members of the Chippewa Cree Tribe to implement the Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools program, known as CBITS. The university held a three-day training workshop with educators from Rocky Boy and Box Elder Schools at Stone Child College last week. Trauma experts from the RAND Corp., the University of California at Los Angeles, and Duke University also attended the conference.
"There are far more children that witness or directly experience violence than we know," Marleen Wong, director of school crisis and intervention at the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress at UCLA and Duke University, said Thursday. "Experiencing violence has longer lasting effects than we realize. This program helps children cope with traumatic experiences, so they don't suffer the negative consequences years later."
Children often experience a number of traumatic events, from a death in the family, to a car crash, or witnessing a fight.
Wong, who helped lead the training in Rocky Boy, has developed school crisis teams and mental health recovery programs for school districts in the United States, Canada and Asia. She believes implementing CBITS on the Rocky Boy reservation will have lasting effects.
"This is one of the few violence recovery programs focused in a rural setting in Indian country," she said. "The training here is not the answer to dealing with childhood trauma, but it can serve as a foundation. This program can be tailored to fit the needs of the youth and families on the reservation."
Wong said children who experience a traumatic event often develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which can lead to significant academic and social setbacks, including depression and an inability to concentrate in school or get along with peers.
CBITS is a 10-week program that teaches children about the effects of trauma, then gives them the tools to cope with traumatic experiences and memories. Program activities include training children in relaxation, dealing with negative thoughts, problem solving, and coping with a violent event through talking, writing or drawing pictures. Children who suffer from traumatic stress will also be offered an individual counseling session.
Students are selected for the program after being tested and interviewed for trauma symptoms by their teacher and a counselor. Wong said the program has been shown to nearly eliminate the symptoms of traumatic stress, helping children improve their grades and behavior.
CBITS was successful when tested in schools located in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods that had a large number of Latino students, which researchers said helped demonstrate the program's ability to reach poor and minority children.
The Rocky Boy reservation will be one of the first Native American communities to implement the violence recovery program in its schools.
"Because the program hasn't really been tested in a rural Native American community, the results of this will be clinically and statistically significant," Matt Taylor, outreach coordinator for UM's Division of Education Research and Service, said at last week's training workshop. "What we're doing is taking a nationally validated trauma program for children and making it culturally appropriate for a rural Native American setting."
The school-based trauma services and research on the reservation are being funded by a $1.6 million grant UM received from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration.
Dr. Rick van den Pol, director of Division of Education Research and Service and the project's primary researcher, said the CBITS program will initially be implemented in sixth-grade classes at Box Elder and Rocky Boy, but will gradually be expanded to include more students. He said he's excited about the program's possibilities.
"It's been proven to be an effective violence recovery technique," he said. "It helps teach kids different ways to think about a traumatic experience so they can make responsible, safe decisions."
Stacy Herries, a high school teacher in Box Elder who participated in the violence recovery training, said the CBITS program will help teachers better meet the needs of their students.
"The program gives us the opportunity to know our students better so we can help them both from a personal standpoint, as well as an educational one," she said.
The intervention program will be implemented in schools this fall.
"It's another tool and resource for us to help our kids deal with violence," said Debra Klemann, a counselor for Rocky Boy Public Schools. "The program gives us an innovative way to deal with a problem that kids have always had."