Women Making an Impact on CEV: Abigail Gewirtz

This month the Safe Start Center is honoring National Women’s History Month by profiling women who have made an impact on the issue of children’s exposure to violence.

Abigail Gewirtz, Ph.D., L.P. is an Associate Professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota.  Her primary interests are in trauma, resilience, and promoting children’s healthy development with two distinct but interrelated research foci: the impact of exposure to traumatic stressors on parenting and child functioning, and the development, testing, and widespread implementation of family-based interventions.

She is Principal Investigator on a National Institute of Drug Abuse-funded randomized controlled trial to develop and test a web-enhanced parenting program for National Guard families with parents returning from deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Dr. Gewirtz also directs Ambit Network, a SAMHSA/National Child Traumatic Stress Network Community Services and Treatment center focusing on the implementation of evidence-based interventions for traumatized school-aged children and their parents.

Why do you feel children’s exposure to violence and traumatic stress is an important issue and how did you get involved?

We now have a really good body of knowledge to show how damaging exposure to violence can be – to all aspects of children’s development, including emotional and behavioral adjustment, and relationships with others. But much less was known 20 years ago, when I was in graduate school. It’s thanks to not just burgeoning research, but also a spike in public awareness about children’s exposure to violence that we know and can do far more to prevent and ameliorate the impact of violence on kids, and their families.

What would you say are a few of the most valuable things you have learned through your work with ADAPT and the Ambit Network?

I keep being reminded how resilient kids are, and how much parents want to help their children through difficult transitions like the military deployment of a parent. I have learned how remarkably committed and hard-working military parents are, and how parents are so motivated to get parenting tools that can be used effectively to help promote kids’ healthy adjustment. Our early findings from our ADAPT military families study indicate that families benefit from simple parenting tools, and that these tools not only help parenting, but also improve parents’ own capacities to regulate emotions.

I also have learned that practitioners are thirsty to learn and implement empirically-supported therapy practices and tools for kids exposed to violence. It is amazing to hear testimonials from therapists, and from families, about how evidence-based trauma therapies have helped them – sometimes after several wrong turns in therapy. The work is pretty humbling, too. It takes a lot of time and resources to train people to deliver research-based practices with fidelity (i.e. to a quality standard). We were proud of our accomplishments in training over 200 Minnesota therapists to deliver evidence-based trauma treatment over the past few years. But, we realized that this number represents not even 2% of licensed mental health professionals in the state! We won’t be out of work any time soon!

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The Tule River Reservation Shooting

The tragic and devastating shootings this week have stunned communities and the nation, such as with the Tule River Indian Reservation shooting. In the wake of this devastation it’s important for the families and communities affected to be able to find a way to cope in the aftermath of the event. The Safe Start Center has a variety of resources that can help communities manage and find a way to handle this kind of exposure to violence and trauma.

Healing the Invisible Wounds: Children’s Exposure to Violence – A Guide for Families

http://www.safestartcenter.org/pdf/Healing%20Inv%20Wounds_English_aug09.pdf

Survivors of these types of events may have been physically and/or emotionally hurt by witnessing the violent event. Children are resilient, but if the child has been affected it may be difficult to identify when something is wrong especially if there are no clear physical signs of harm. The above guide can help in understanding how to help children cope with the “invisible wounds” affecting them emotionally and psychologically.

Trauma Informed Care Tip Sheets

http://www.safestartcenter.org/resources/tip-sheets.php

These are resources for anyone working with children, including parents and teachers, on different ways to recognize trauma and the ways you can help.

Tools and Resources

http://www.safestartcenter.org/resources/index.php

This is an overall list of tools and resources that you can explore for further information about violence exposure and prevention.

For further information please visit our main website http://www.safestartcenter.org, or email us at info@safestartcenter.org.

Mental Health in Young Children: Why Early Experiences Matter

We’re kicking off Mental Health Month with a discussion about how difficult situations experienced as a child can set people off on a negative path in life. Charles Zeanah, M.D. , Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Tulane University School of Medicine, and other researchers, argue that negative experiences in childhood can change the architecture of a person’s brain, setting them up for mental health problems or other issues in the future.

Below are clips of his talk for the Academic Distinction Fund’s Distinguished Speakers Series last month.

While Dr. Zeanah doesn’t specifically discuss exposure to violence, he does explain that “Adverse early experiences may have long term consequences, affecting not only mental health, but physical health… Genetics supplies the basic blue print for brain development. But experiences that the individual child has adjusts the genetic brain plan of the brain and shapes the architecture of its neuro-circuits.”

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Trayvon Martin and Community Violence

Much has been said about the Trayvon Martin case in central Florida this past month. Much more could be said and even more will probably never be known for sure. What we do know is that Trayvon was walking home from a nearby store when he was approached by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Accounts vary as to what happened next, but the outcome left Martin dead from a gunshot wound.

However, what isn’t being talked about so much is the environment where this tragic incident played out.

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Exposure to Violence and the Developing Brain

We grow up not really knowing the specifics of how our brain works. We try to do the simple things to protect it, like eat correctly, drink enough water to keep it and our body hydrated and wear a helmet when on a bicycle.

But there are other influences we have to protect our brain from too. Influences we may not believe can impact the physical makeup of our brains…like exposure to violence.

With physical violence, the first concern to arise with any parent or caregiver may be the physical wounds of a child, not that the violence – or prolonged exposure to any type of violence – might alter their brain, hindering development.

So this week academics and researchers try to spread the word about what our brains need, what harms them, etc. during Brain Awareness Week. In 1996, Brain Awareness Week was founded by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and European Dana Alliance for the Brain to promote the importance, progress and benefits of brain research.

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The Ohio School shooting, how we can help

The Chardon High School shooting has rocked the school, families, and the community. The Safe Start Center has a variety of resources that can help parents, teachers, teens, children, and communities cope and find a way to handle this kind of exposure to violence and trauma.

Trauma Informed Care Tip Sheets

http://www.safestartcenter.org/resources/tip-sheets.php

These are resources for anyone working with children, including parents and teachers, on different ways to recognize trauma and the ways you can help.

Safe Start Center free publications for practitioners working with children and families

http://www.safestartcenter.org/about/publications_issue-briefs.php

Please see our issue briefs 1 and 4 that can help you understand children’s exposure to violence and how school officials can identify and talk to students and parents who have been exposed to violence including school shootings.

Tools and Resources

http://www.safestartcenter.org/resources/index.php

This is an overall list of tools and resources that you can explore for further information about violence exposure and prevention.

For further information please visit our main website http://www.safestartcenter.org, or email us at info@safestartcenter.org.

 

Hunting the Predator

Justice For Life

 

Why the ‘Johns’ aren’t getting prosecuted – Fox…, posted with vodpod

Human trafficking is a global problem. But it’s quickly gaining local media attention as people learn how prevalent the problem is in cities such as Atlanta, Phoenix and New York, among others. Local law enforcement agencies say it is more challenging than ever to crack down on the ‘johns.’ “The issue with prosecuting buyers — or ‘johns’ as some people call them — typically they’re not known to the victim,” said Cobb County Police Detective Carol Largent. “They may not know a first name, a last name; know what they drive, where they live. They may not be able to give us any information about them.”

Read more at Elizabeth Prann’s Fox News article: Human Trafficking: Hunting the Predator.

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