As violent crime in Chicago continues to soar, University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital announced it’s creating a new program to treat families and children affected by violence.
The program will provide screening and mental health care for hundreds of residents affected by violence in many of Chicago’s South and West Side neighborhoods. It's being called the University of Chicago Medicine Recovery and Empowerment After Community Trauma (UCM REACT).
“Chicago’s struggles with gun violence mean the day-to-day lives of so many of our children are shaped by community violence,” said Bradley Stolbach, a pediatric trauma psychologist at Comer Children’s Hospital, in a news release.
“That has major ripple effects, not just for those who’ve been injured, but kids who witness violence, who know people who’ve been killed or hurt, or who have to walk to school on streets where shootings take place. Youth who may be physically unscathed wind up coping with chronic stress from worrying about something as basic as their own safety.”
Stolbach will direct the program, which is supported by a $2 million, five-year federal grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Starting this fall, Comer Children’s Hospital will screen emergency department and intensive care unit patients for trauma exposure, even if they are not being treated for violent injuries. The screening process will allow UCM REACT to reach people that might not otherwise get help.
“African-American children and youth are among the most likely members of our society to be exposed to trauma, but are also among the least likely to receive the services that could help them cope with it,” Stolbach said. “But in the emergency room, we have an opportunity to acknowledge what is happening in the communities we serve and offer interventions that can support trauma recovery.”
About 30,000 kids visit Comer Children’s emergency department each year. In 2015, more than a quarter of pediatric trauma patients arriving at the hospital were treated for violent injuries such as shootings and stabbings. More than 93 percent of these patients survive, according to the news release.
“Media coverage about Chicago’s violence focuses on the number of shootings and the number of deaths,” Stolbach said. “But what people aren’t talking about is that the vast majority of people survive, go back home and live under the weight of what happened. That affects them and everyone else around them, because a single shooting can affect literally hundreds of people.”
The program will be part of The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a national group of providers, researchers and families focused on improving treatment of childhood trauma. A weekly “trauma-informed” clinic at Comer Children's is part of the plan, designed to “care for the psychological, psychiatric, social and behavioral effects of being exposed to community violence,” the news release states.
UCM REACT builds on Healing Hurt People-Chicago, a hospital-based violence intervention program that Comer Children's Hospital is involved with. The UCM REACT clinic is expected to open this fall and Comer Children’s Hospital expects to help nearly 1,300 patients through UCM REACT, according to the news release.
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