Change in Children’s Mental Health

Being a catalyst for change is never easy, but the team at The Children’s Center isn’t interested in doing what’s easy.

By Kathleen Pitcher Tobey
The Center, located in Salt Lake City, provides comprehensive mental health care to enhance the emotional and mental well-being of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families. How necessary are their services? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, just over 20 percent children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder.
May 4 is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day which presents an opportunity to shine a light on the great work being done by The Children’s Center. To support this special day, The Children’s Center is hosting the “Walk for Children’s Mental Health” on Saturday, May 6 from 11:00am-1:00pm.
In order to enhance the delivery of children’s mental health services in Utah, The Children’s Center worked with 13 mental health agencies throughout the state bringing 23 clinicians together to improve the delivery of trauma services to children in their own communities. The training included how to conduct trauma-informed screening and assessment, provide family-focused treatment planning and interventions, provide evidence-based trauma treatments, create partnerships with community agencies, and provide peer training and supervision. In turn, these 23 clinicians trained an additional 45 colleagues at their local facilities. As a direct result of the Cambia Health Foundation’s grant, the learning collaborative lead by The Children’s Center impacted 68 clinicians who were trained in trauma-informed screening and over 300 children received services based on the new training. Trauma-informed screening is of vital importance since, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, more than 25 percent of American youth experience a serious traumatic event by the age of 16, and many children suffer multiple and repeated traumas.
The Children’s Center takes a unique approach to addressing children’s mental health. Specifically, trauma-informed care offers a way for physicians and therapists to assess and understand the profound impact of early childhood trauma on a child’s emotional well-being. For instance, a refugee child in the U.S. may be struggling at home or getting into serious fights at their new school. The child’s behavioral symptoms could become the sole focus of treatment. However, a trauma-informed assessment would take into consideration the impact of the multiple traumatic experiences that impacted the child such as if the child witnessed killings prior to moving to the U.S. By understanding and treating the root cause and taking into account the child’s trauma history, we can now provide evidence based tools that will effectively get the child back on track and minimize the chance of long-term effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences which can cause a lifetime of emotional and physical health issues.
Dr. Douglas F. Goldsmith, the executive director of The Children’s Center, shared insights gained from the program with Utah’s Lieutenant Governor, Spencer J. Cox. As a result, Dr. Goldsmith was recently appointed by the lieutenant governor to chair a subcommittee of the Intergenerational Poverty Commission on how to create a trauma-informed state and thus enhance the emotional well-being of children across the state of Utah. 
At Cambia Health Foundation, we work with organizations like The Children’s Center that are having a direct impact on individuals and families in their community. Not only is this program helping improve children’s lives right now, but this approach helps reduce health care costs and mitigate the long-term financial impact on consumers and the state.