He’s changing the way Michigan teachers help children with trauma

On a sunny Michigan morning, Jim Henry and his team sit or stand in front of a two-way mirror, watching the reunification of a mother and the child she tried to kill.

And it’s just Tuesday.

Henry and his team spend their work days assessing damage. Not to cars or homes, but to kids. Each of these social workers and clinicians has a big individual caseload. But sometimes, they work together. It is not just to back each other up on diagnoses and prognoses. It is to help share the emotional load.

The team charts how much children have been harmed physically or emotionally and tries to determine how that pain might affect a child’s ability to move on from it. Most of their work is done at the Children’s Trauma Assessment Center (CTAC) on the campus of Western Michigan University.

But much of it also is done in Wayne County, which is home to more children who have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) than any other single place in the state of Michigan, says Henry, co-founder and director of CTAC.

Nearly 70% of the children referred to CTAC by the Department of Human Services in 2015 had experienced at least three traumatic events that could affect how they think and learn.

Three years later, the percentage was the same, Henry said. But the children experienced an average of five adverse childhood experiences.

All of the children needed more than what is typically and currently offered by most public school districts, who serve traumatized children mostly with special education services.

A day with Jim Henry and his team at CTAC is a reminder of the rising tide of trauma, the prevalence of ACEs, which affect more than 50% of American children. Their work comes at a time when prevalent violence, breakdown of American families and severe economic hardship are affecting children more than they have in decades.

Entering a sacred space of healing

At CTAC one brisk morning, the counselors begin their day in a meeting designed to both be an update on cases and a chance to help console each other and gird each other for the next round of pain they share with the children they see.

The toll can be heartbreaking. But the work is necessary, Henry said.

“We’re fortunate that at our trauma center, we’re committed to helping each other manage the pain of secondary trauma,” he said. “When I first started in 1980, I asked myself: ‘How do I embrace a child’s pain and not be afraid of it?’ ”

This article was originally published by the Detroit Free Press. Read the full article here.