Children who have been through a traumatizing experience can have lifelong difficulties if they’re unable to get the help they need when they need it.
“Research shows that when a kid is traumatized, when something happens to them, we have a window of time where if we can get them services, they are much less likely to develop PTSD,” said Paula Condol, director of the Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center. “It becomes a preventative approach, so they can learn some quick coping skills so it doesn’t have lifelong effects.”
That’s part of what the Children’s Advocacy Center is all about. Making sure that children who have been traumatized by either sexual assault or domestic violence learn healthier coping skills and get the services they need, when they need them.
Services through the center are free of charge, but have been in short supply in most North Dakota counties, including counties in the Oil Patch.
In Condol’s experience, trying to refer parents or guardians of a traumatized child in the Oil Patch to a service provider, there either wasn’t an appropriate service provider at all, or, if there was, the wait time was at least three months.
“Imagine that kind of waiting period for a child who has been sexually assaulted or abused and is scared to go to sleep,” Condol said. “We have had cases like that, and it is heartbreaking. You don’t know what to do. The family cannot drive three and one-half hours to Bismarck to get services. It’s unrealistic and not sustainable.”
Fortunately, the agency has a new approach that will improve access for children across the state who are in shortage areas. A nine-month grant from the North Dakota Department of Corrections Victim of Crime Act Funding is funding both training and additional staff to create a Telehealth Outreach Program.
It will include trauma screening, assessment and cognitive behavior therapy.
Three additional therapists were hired thanks to the grant, among them one for the Williston/Minot region who speaks Spanish. The three, newly hired therapists were among 12 trained in April in a brand new approach that is being developed by the Medical University of South Carolina. North Dakota is the first state in the nation to receive training in the newly developed protocol.
Condol said they discovered the program after seeing an article about it, and began visiting with the researchers to learn more about it and decide whether it would be beneficial in North Dakota, a state which has long distances between each community.
“Luckily enough, the researchers were willing to come to North Dakota and provide training to 13 of our (employees) across the state,” she said. “It is going to have a high impact across the state, particularly where they cannot get to someone who is trained in evidence-based practices in their community.”
In addition to training and hiring additional staff, the grant is also helping fund equipment such as an iPad and laptops, which can be loaned to families as needed.
“We also have laptops that we can send to schools so it’s right there at the school for them,” Condol said. “The counselor can bring them to the office, so that they are only missing one class period.”
“When you look at (statistics for societal problems in youths) a huge percentage of those kids have had a trauma in their history,” Condol said. “Eighty to 90 percent of them. So there’s a lot of talk about alcohol and drug use is really kind of a symptom of a kid who has not dealt with some trauma.”
Ensuring that more North Dakota children get timely assistance with a traumatic experience could help lower such numbers in the future, Condol said.