By Vince Devlin
A $2.4 million grant will allow the National Native Children's Trauma Center at the University of Montana to continue its work with Native American children who experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for the next four years.
"We know that wherever there's poverty, there are elevated levels of PTSD symptoms," said Rick van den Pol, director of UM's College of Education's Institute for Educational Research and Service, who announced the grant. "Most American Indian reservations have high levels of poverty and low employment."
The trauma center is based at the institute.
It provides training across the nation for mental health services that are "particularly effective in rural settings and schools."
According to van den Pol, the training provided helps professionals attain results similar to 10 to 15 hours of one-to-one psychotherapy - except it can be done in group settings that help more children, sometimes in half the time.
In school-based settings, van den Pol said, two-thirds of children showed improvement in their PTSD symptoms and 55 percent showed depression reductions.
In addition to impoverished settings that may feature community or domestic violence, and alcohol or drug abuse, van den Pol said the center has found lots of PTSD symptoms in children on reservations associated with the death of loved ones.
"Reservation families tend to be close-knit, and in cases where children have lost a number of loved ones they may experience trouble sleeping, or anticipate that something awful is going to happen to them again, or a numbness" associated with avoiding or ignoring the stress, he said.
The other part of the problem: "On many reservations people are getting substandard health care," van den Pol said, "and a lot of times there is little or no mental health care."
Started with a grant in 2003 that put it to work on Montana reservations, the trauma center went national with its first $2.4 million grant in 2007.
It only operates in communities where it is invited.
The grant comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Since '07, it has provided training to 12,500 providers at 46 sites in Indian Country, most on reservations but some in metropolitan areas with large Native populations.
Van den Pol said the center estimates each provider serves 10 to 20 Indian children.
The new grant will help the center expand its trainings to include Indian Health Services clinicians, tribal health departments, child welfare agencies and reservation schools. Van den Pol said he also hopes to be able to expand into the Southwest U.S.
Currently, the center's work is focused on Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Alaska.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who wrote a letter in support of the center's refunding bid, informed van den Pol of the grant.
"Supporting Native American children by getting them the resources they need to treat mental health and end the cycle of abuse will strengthen Indian Country and the rest of Montana for generations to come," Tester said.
The National Native Children's Trauma Center is one of 15 category 2 trauma centers in the United States, and the only one that focuses on Indian Country.