New program focuses on intervention for children exposed to violence

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Developers of the ACERT Project, from left to right: Project LAUNCH Local Program Director Lara Quiroga from Manchester Community Health Center; Jessica Sugrue, President of YWCA NH; Lt. Nicole Ledoux from Manchester Police Department; and Lt. Paul Thompson from Manchester Police Department.
Developers of the ACERT Project, from left to right: Project LAUNCH Local Program Director Lara Quiroga from Manchester Community Health Center; Jessica Sugrue, President of YWCA NH; Lt. Nicole Ledoux from Manchester Police Department; and Lt. Paul Thompson from Manchester Police Department.

MANCHESTER, NH – A unique partnership aimed at the health and welfare of children exposed to trauma due to violence will officially launch July 7.

Adverse Childhood Experiences Response Team (ACERT), a response team that can be deployed to serve children who have been exposed to violence is the first initiative of its kind in the United States.

The initiative was made possible by a three-year $150,000 grant from the HNH Foundation to Project LAUNCH (Linking Action for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health) at Manchester Community Health Center, in collaboration with the Manchester Police Department and YWCA New Hampshire.

“We are pleased to partner with the Manchester Community Health Center with project LAUNCH ACER. We value the work that will be done to establish a systemic approach to assist and support children exposed to trauma and that will build capacity in the community for a continuum of prevention and intervention strategies to address adverse childhood experiences,” said Gail M. Garceau, President of the HNH Foundation.

The HNH Foundation was formed as the result of the merger between Blue Cross/Blue Shield of New Hampshire and Matthew Thornton Health Plan. The Foundation, incorporated in October of 1997, is organized and operates exclusively for charitable purposes. Two articles that provide a history of the HNH Foundation appeared in the New Hampshire Bar Journal.

The idea for the project arose a year ago when the Manchester Police Department reviewed its data and found that more than 400 children had been exposed to violence in 2014. Although direct victims of violence and perpetrators are commonly provided with advocacy services and interventions, none of the more than 400 children had received advocacy or referral services. Children who are exposed to trauma are more likely to suffer from attachment problems, regressive behavior, anxiety, and depression, and to have aggression and conduct problems. Childhood traumas can have huge impacts later in life as well such as alcoholism, substance abuse, suicide attempts, domestic violence, and health problems. However, evidence shows that poor outcomes can be prevented if families are connected with the right services to mitigate the impacts.

As a first step, the MPD hired an AmeriCorps Vista Volunteer to serve as an advocate for children who have been exposed to trauma and developed a consent form so the advocate can request partnering agencies to reach out to the families directly, rather than expecting parents who are dealing with their own issues to seek out services. Although that strategy successful since its inception in September 2015, the ACERT project was developed to create small teams of professionals that could provide support at the scene where children have been exposed to violence.

ACERT will be made up of a police officer, a crisis services advocate, and a behavioral health professional. The team will be able to respond to incidents in which children have been exposed to trauma as soon as the scenes have been secured by the police. Police officers at the scene will continue to offer the parents a consent form for the program. The team will assess the situation and determine next steps that could be taken for the child such as support groups, mental health counseling, early childhood education, or child-parent psychotherapy.

ACERT members have received trained in trauma-informed services – an approach which attends to survivors’ emotional as well as physical needs and ensures that they have access to advocacy services in an environment that is inclusive, welcoming, destigmatizing, and non-retraumatizing. In June, 34 officers of the Manchester Police Department as well as five staff members from YWCA New Hampshire and six staff members from Manchester Community Health Center received trauma-informed services training.

Project LAUNCH (Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health) is funded by a federal grant by the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration through the NH DHHS, Div. of Public Health Services, Maternal Child Health Section. Manchester was identified as the local community of focus and Manchester Community Health Center was chosen as the lead agency to coordinate local services and improve the systems that promote the wellness of children and families.

About Carol Robidoux 5559 Articles
Journalist and editor of ManchesterInkLink.com, a hyperlocal news and information site for Manchester, NH.