Child trauma project turns life around for foster kids

On any given day in the United States, as many as 438,000 kids and teens are in the foster care system.

According to published reports, 70 percent have a documented history of abuse or neglect. Eighty percent have witnessed violence. New research suggests an intensive form of therapy may go a long way toward helping kids.

Mary-Kate Myers is 22 and has finished three years of college. Ten years ago, life looked completely different.

Myers told Ivanhoe, “Me and my mom were homeless when I was ten or eleven. We were in-between all the families’ houses, but we didn’t have any more houses to go to.”

That started Myers’ cycle in the Massachusetts child welfare system. She was in and out of foster homes half a dozen times. Until, at 15, she was placed with foster mom, Diane Lanni.

“At Diane’s I was instantly welcomed as a family member, even though they knew nothing about me,” detailed Myers.

Diane also made one other change that Myers credits with transforming her life.
“I had regular therapy, but she introduced the idea of trauma therapy,” said Myers.

Jessica Dym Bartlett, PhD, the deputy program director of Early Childhood and Child Welfare at Child Trends, studies the impact of specialized trauma therapies on kids.

“So often we think of these children as having an abuse, you know, one abuse or neglect experience, when in fact they’ve had many more types of trauma,” explained Bartlett.

The scientists enrolled 842 children and teens in the study and found those who had evidence-based trauma therapy had a reduction in PTSD symptoms and fewer behavioral problems.

“Looking at trauma not as what’s wrong with you, but what happened to you,” said Bartlett.

By senior year, Myers had improved her grades and joined the field hockey team.
Myers detailed, “As long as you work really hard and continue to strive for what you want to do you can make something of yourself. Prove everybody wrong.”

Researchers say this study is early evidence that these therapies are helpful for children who have been severely mistreated by the people closest to them. If a child has been severely mistreated or abused, find a therapist who is certified in evidence-based trauma treatment.

Reporter:Lois Thome
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