Abuse victims no longer have to wait for mental health services


Thanks to federal stimulus money, patients and families impacted by child abuse may now receive same-day, mental health counseling from the Children at Risk Evaluation (CARE) Center at Akron Children’s Hospital.

Previously, patient families were referred to other community agencies for counseling and often had to wait weeks for an initial appointment.

“This closes the gap in our services,” said Daryl Steiner, DO, medical director of the CARE Center. “I have long wanted to add that therapeutic arm to our center and now we have it.”

The $882,550 Edward Byrne Memorial Competitive Grant enables the CARE Center to add four therapists, two support staff, and a part-time research associate. Three therapists will be based in Akron and one will be at the Child Advocacy Center in Youngstown, which is part of Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley.

The CARE Center has been nationally recognized as a leader in the diagnosis and medical treatment of child abuse and neglect. It was established in 1987 by Dr. Steiner, who assembled a team of specially-trained ER nurses and social workers to create a safe haven for patients undergoing examination for suspected abuse. The center also works closely with law enforcement and child protection agencies.

Beyond the diagnostic evaluation of children suspected of abuse, the CARE Center lacked the resources to consistently intervene and help families deal with the psychological effects of abuse.

“The psychological and emotional trauma related to the abuse, the evaluation of the abuse, the separation from family, and the family turmoil were not consistently dealt with and treated,” Dr. Steiner said. “We have collaborated with other agencies in the community, but in some cases, access was difficult and families had to wait three to six weeks to get into therapy.”

In many cases, in the aftermath of the crisis and with the child appearing content and adjusted, the parent often does not see the need to follow through with the therapy.

In the new protocol, a therapist will be present during the child’s medical evaluation and will conduct an initial session immediately following the evaluation. Follow-up sessions will be scheduled with the same therapist at the same site in Akron or Youngstown.

“It is my thought, and it is backed up by literature, that the sooner the mental health intervention, the better the outcome and the better compliance we will have with follow-up therapy sessions,” said Dr. Steiner. “That really is the overall goal - to establish the relationship and improve compliance by reducing the initial appointment from three to six weeks to three to six minutes.”

The new hires are professional clinical counselors and licensed independent social workers trained in evidence-based cognitive behavior therapy, said Pat Seifert, PhD, clinical director for trauma-informed mental health therapy services at Akron Children’s.

“A key component of the therapy is to engage the parent, and educate them about the symptoms and behaviors they may see in their child, and also how this has affected them. They are secondary trauma survivors,” Seifert said.

The CARE Center and Akron Children’s division of Pediatric Psychology and Psychiatry plan a research component to track the children over time.

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