Focus on Trauma is a Growing Federal Priority

by Michele Rosenberg

All of us at CFSA appreciate the Federal grant funding that is making our journey to become trauma-informed—and this blog—possible. And now a word from our sponsor! I’m pleased to turn this post over to guest blogger JooYeun Chang, who explains the worthwhile return that Federal funders expect on their investment.

Guest blogger JooYeun Chang: In 2012, the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) awarded nine federalChang grants under the “Initiative to Improve Access to Needs-Driven, Evidence-Based/Evidence-Informed Mental and Behavioral Health Services in Child Welfare.” These five-year discretionary grants are a key component in our strategy to build child welfare’s capacity to address the effects of trauma and improve the well-being of children, youth, and families.

Ground-Breaking Work in DC
The District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency was one of these grantees and is working to develop innovative approaches to screen all children in child welfare for mental and behavioral health needs and to ensure that those needing services (especially those with trauma-related treatment needs) have access to services that work. Data from screening and ongoing assessment will be used to tailor the service array by scaling up effective interventions and de-scaling services that aren’t producing positive outcomes. Evaluations will measure key well-being and adoption outcomes, including costs. We hope that implementation evaluation results will reveal what it takes to effectively embed these interventions in child welfare services.

Trauma Hurts, Science Offers Hope
Across Federal agencies, preventing trauma and mitigating its impact on healthy development is a growing priority. The focus on preventing and treating early exposure to trauma, including child maltreatment, is grounded firmly in emerging science about its devastating impact on lifelong well-being. Abuse and/or neglect can derail a child’s normal development, disrupt critical attachments, and impair social and emotional functioning.

While the effects of childhood trauma can be profound, they can also be minimized, and children can recover. As we learn more about how trauma affects children’s well being, researchers and practitioners are developing increasingly effective methods of mitigating its harm. A rapidly growing array of evidence-based and evidence-informed interventions, when delivered with fidelity, can help restore developmentally appropriate functioning and improve outcomes for children and youth who have experienced maltreatment.

Building the Field of Knowledge
Historically, federal policies have primarily focused on ensuring safety and permanency for children in the child welfare system, with less emphasis on child well being. Increased recognition, at both the federal level and from the field, of the critical role of toxic stress, adverse life events, and trauma has driven the Administration to bring greater attention to all three pillars of child welfare. As we do this work, we are learning that successfully integrating safety, permanency, and well being in child welfare practice requires an enhanced level of partnership among individuals and organizations involved in the lives of children and families. The District is helping to build the field of knowledge around breaking down barriers, building bridges, and healing children.

JooYeun Chang is associate commissioner of the Children’s Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. In operation for more than a century, the Children’s Bureau is the oldest federal agency for children. It administers over $7 billion in federal programs that support child protection, foster care, guardianship, and adoption throughout the nation.