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    $300,000 to help treat child trauma

    Directions for Mental Health of Clearwater is one of 25 groups selected nationwide to receive a federal grant.

    By AARON SHAROCKMAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 19, 2002


    CLEARWATER -- A local mental health group is getting a $300,000 grant aimed at improving the treatment of child trauma.

    Directions for Mental Health, 1437 S Belcher Road, was one of 25 groups selected nationwide to develop specific practices to treat children who have suffered traumatic events.

    Often, children are treated like adults, said Dr. Ann Kelley, the special project director for the new initiative. The three-year grant will allow a better focus on children, she said.

    "We tend to take adult approaches and kind of pass them on to kids," Kelley said. "That's not always appropriate."

    Kelley said children react differently to traumatic events than adults. Car crashes, sexual abuse and domestic violence all have different meanings depending on the age of those involved. Kelley said treatment should vary based on those ages.

    The grant is part of a three-year study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The study will better develop those specific treatments, Kelley said.

    When the study is finished, Kelley said, practitioners across the country will be better equipped to deal with trauma to children.

    "A lot has already been done, but the information has been scattered. There's never been an effort to pool it all together," Kelley said. "I'm confident that we'll have a complete body of knowledge. There's always something to look deeper into. That's the nature of what to do."

    Tom Riggs, the health group's CEO, said it will team with Family Service Centers and Hospice of Florida Suncoast to explore specific incidents of child trauma. The service centers deal with sexual abuse and hospice provides care for children with ill or dead loved ones.

    He said the research will also focus on kids who have witnessed violence. He said the findings may prevent the children from engaging in more violence.

    "Kids learn what they live," Riggs said. "When they grow up, they tend to more likely be involved in more violent acts themselves. We can pretty effectively impact them if we intervene quickly."

    That's why Riggs said any child potentially affected by some sort of trauma should receive professional assistance.

    Witnessing traumatic events can have long-term effects including post traumatic stress disorder, adult depression, substance abuse and an onset of violent behavior, Riggs said.

    The grant, the only one issued in the state, aims to bring more information and education to parents, Riggs said.

    "An ounce of prevention is like a pound of cure," Riggs said. "We're very excited to get out there and provide that little bit of prevention. We think it will go a long way."

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