Exposure to violence, crime, and other forms of victimization is widespread among children.

More than 25 percent of youth in America experience a serious traumatic event by the age of 16 with many suffering multiple and repeated traumas, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), an organization established by Congress in 2000. Sources of trauma can include abuse and neglect; disasters; experiencing or witnessing violence; serious accidental injury; and more. Traumatic stress can lead to serious behavioral, mental, social and developmental problems in children.

Caregiver support is one of the most important factors in lessening a child's symptoms after experiencing a traumatic event.

However, too many times, caregivers have endured their own traumatic event earlier in life, if not simultaneously with their child. Most often such incidents go unattended making it difficult for the parent to provide proper guidance for their child; such unresolved issues for the parent can cause them to overreact to or completely avoid their child's traumatic experience and resulting symptoms.

In one instance, a young schoolboy started acting very aggressive toward his teacher and classmates; he also stopped playing with his friends at recess. When he showed up one morning with a hand-shaped bruise on his arm, his teacher, who had been trained to keep an eye out for symptoms of child trauma, was able to identify the potential problem and ask the appropriate questions in the proper manner. The boy explained that his father had pulled him to the ground and yelled "something about guns" at him.

It turned out the boy's father had recently returned home from war where he experienced a great deal of trauma himself. Without the father getting help first, the child might not have been able to avoid a variety of problems that traumatic stress can create.

Providing treatment and training to both the child and the caregiver is critical. The teacher was trained through a new program called FLARES that does just that.

FLARES: Families Learning About Recovery Strategies

Under the leadership of Jerry Dunn, director of the Children's Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis, FLARES was developed to help not only children who have experienced trauma but also their caregivers. Treatment and training through FLARES helps the parent communicate with their child after a traumatic incident and demonstrate that it's OK to think about and discuss what has happened even if it's challenging and scary to do so. According to Dunn, "If therapists, teachers and clinicians are all trained through FLARES, treatment would be more effective and efficient."  

The FLARES model provides simultaneous treatment for the parent and child. First, the parent receives cognitive behavioral therapy after which the child is ready for intense narrative work using trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy.  The learning collaborative will be run out of the Child Advocacy Center's training division called The Missouri Academy of Child Trauma Studies (MoACTS). 

With funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Dunn and her colleagues will finalize the FLARES training curricula and then embark on recruiting and training missions across Missouri for both adult and child therapists. The goal is to provide proper training for clinicians so that children can recover quicker and with better outcomes, including a better life at home. ♦

Featured Grant:
The FLARES Project (Families Learning About Recovery Strategies)
Co-PIs: Jerry Dunn, Child Advocacy Center/Psychology
Tara Galovski, Center for Trauma Recovery/Psychology
Elizabeth Sale, Missouri Institute of Mental Health
Award: $396,100
Funding Source:   Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Jerry H. Dunn, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of Children’s Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis, an accredited Child Advocacy Center, and oversees the clinical, forensic, research and training activities of the agency’s two sites. Dr. Dunn is a licensed psychologist and is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychology at University of Missouri-St. Louis. Her clinical and research interests involve assessment and treatment of high-risk children and their family members in community and school based settings. Dr. Dunn received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, interned with the St. Louis Psychology Internship Consortium and completed her post-doctoral fellowship at the Community Psychological Service.

Dr. Dunn maintains active membership in child centered organizations at the local, state and federal levels. She chairs the Advisory Council for the St. Louis Family and Community Partnership, works with the Missouri Network of Child Advocacy Centers, reports to the Board of Directors for Missouri Kids First and acts as the agency liaison to the National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network.