Thursday, November 03, 2011

Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy

I had a wonderful time attending the Carter Symposium. For me, the experience was composed of many parts. These included the inspiration of Mrs. Carter herself; the many interesting and intelligent people I met; some inspiring people I already knew and heard again; and the facility itself and the professional and efficient way the conference was run. My most overwhelming impression was that so many people in so many widely differing areas of the helping professions are transforming how they provide services based on our increasing knowledge about trauma. It may turn out that research about trauma, its effects and how healing takes place will be the revolution of our century!

The first keynote conversations were about the National Child Traumatic Stress Network ( In addition to all the wonderful treatment and service provision projects NCSTN has facilitated, they are collecting significant data about all the clients served and all the outcomes of various forms of treatment. This rich national data set gives us all sorts of opportunities to learn about the experiences and symptoms of the children seeking help, and most importantly, what helps them and their families.

Following the speakers was a Poster Session. I had the Traumatic Stress Institute poster on display and enjoyed many conversations with my fellow participants. Next to me was a friend from Connecticut, Jason Lang from the Center for Effective Practice, whose poster describes the Connecticut implementation of TF CBT.

After the delicious dinner, Christine James-Brown, the CEO of the CWLA spoke.

On the second day, the first speaker and panel addressed the increasing awareness of trauma in the child welfare system. The plenary speaker was Brian Samuels, M.P.P. Commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services. He emphasized that the goal of his department was well being, not just permanency. He presented interesting statistics that showed that children who achieve permanency or are adopted do not in fact get better afterwards. Their symptoms continue to get worse. This speaks to the need for specialized treatment services for older adoptive children, and those adopted out of foster care. Speakers then presented several specific interventions for the child welfare population.

Particularly interesting was Dr. Sandra Bloom who presented her theories of how organizations themselves are living organisms, and as such experience trauma and exhibit all the trauma symptoms. She described the Sanctuary Model as a way to heal from this trauma.

The next set of speakers addressed the increasing awareness of the role of trauma in the Juvenile Justice System. The plenary speaker was another Connecticut representative, Julian Ford, PhD. He described his intervention, TARGET. The moderator and the following speakers acknowledged that the Juvenile Justice system is just beginning to implement any trauma informed practices, and that there is resistance. Judge Steven Teske, JD was especially articulate on the importance of educating judges and involving them in the solutions.

This was followed by concurrent sessions. I attended the session about Care Giving and Parenting. I heard two excellent presentations. Patricia Barron, M.A. spoke about helping military families who have a parent deployed away from home, and included excellent resources for agencies wanting to help. Jeanne Miranda, M.P.A. described a specialized intervention she and her team were developing at UCLA to treat children who have been adopted from the foster care system. Both speakers combined personal experience with professional knowledge: Ms. Barron herself is in a military family, and Ms. Miranda is an adopted mother of children from the foster care system.

I have to report that on the way back from these sessions I personally met and spoke to Mrs. Carter, and followed up by giving her my TSI materials. That was so moving! She is a true heroine. She is 84 and had just returned from observing an election in Tunisia (I think that was where it was).

The summation focused on what we can personally do with the material we learned, how we can bring it back to our own practice. It was very inspiring, especially the concluding remarks by Mrs. Carter.

This was all held in a beautiful location, which is also the home of the Carter museum. The staff and volunteers were so helpful, the food was delicious and the conference was very well organized. All in all, an excellent experience.

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