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University of Montana Gets Federal Grant to Treat Child Abuse in Indian Country


The National Native Children’s Trauma Center (NNCTC) at The University of Montana and its partners recently won a $3.2 million grant to apply cutting-edge research to the problems of child abuse and neglect in Indian Country. The award is one of five such grants in the nation from the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The work will benefit at least three reservations in Montana during the next three years, bring pilot programs to three more reservations elsewhere in the nation, ultimately serving as a model for similar work throughout Indian Country.

“This award will allow us to forge key partnerships that will fundamentally change how agencies and institutions serve the deserving children in these communities,” said James Caringi, co-principal investigator and professor at UM’s School of Social Work, in a press release. “Research nationwide has assembled vast knowledge about identifying and treating childhood trauma resulting from abuse and neglect. This grant allows us to effectively deploy this knowledge in communities that need it.”

The center at UM has been a pivotal player in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network for eight years, helping compile evidence directed at the effects of abuse and neglect on children. Until now, the center’s work has been concentrated in schools, delivering evidence-based interventions for problems rooted in trauma such as alcohol and drug abuse, delinquency and teen suicide. The new grant, however, will allow that focus to expand by moving beyond schools to involve child and protective service workers, parents, extended families and foster parents.

NNCTC will provide these key players with background training in the latest epidemiological and psychological findings that indicate child abuse and neglect lie at the root of the nation’s most important social problems. “One landmark study, for instance, demonstrated that the effects of child maltreatment often last well into adulthood and are a direct cause of major health problems like obesity, heart disease and lung disease,” says Rick van den Pol, the project’s other co-principal investigator and director of UM’s Institute for Educational Research and Service. “We must intervene because abused children, on average, die 20 years earlier than the rest of us, according to one study.”

National research, however, also has developed a proven list of low-cost and effective interventions that allow recovery and resilience. NNCTC will train in these methods and ensure systems of delivery are in place and functioning during the grant’s first three years.

Finally, the work will train child welfare workers in recognizing and treating secondary traumatic stress, the burnout and compassion fatigue that can plague caregivers who face these problems daily, states the UM press release.

All of this work will rest on a series of key partnerships and collaborations, including with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, state welfare and education agencies and tribal government on reservations that agree to participate. For this major project, NNCTC also has partnered with the Butler Institute for Children and Families at the University of Denver’s School of Social Work and has assembled an advisory council of national experts to support implementation and oversight of the project.