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L.A. Unified receives grant to help students exposed to trauma

The Los Angeles Unified School District’s mental health department, along with a group of partners, recently landed a $2.4-million grant to work with students exposed to traumatic events.

The grant is the latest in an ongoing partnership among the district, UCLA, USC, the Rand Corp. and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a group of trauma centers funded within the Department of Health and Human Services.
L.A. Unified and its partners used the first chunk of money from the network in 2003 to do exploratory work about students and trauma.

A study that year found that more than 60% of local sixth-graders had witnessed more than one event that exposed them to trauma, said Pia Escudero, who directs L.A. Unified's mental health and crisis counseling services.

The traumatic events all directly involved the students in the nation's second-largest school system, she said.

“We explain to them, 'This is something that happened to you, not something that’s been on TV,’” Escudero said. “Some questions are, ‘How many times over the past year did someone tell you they were going to hurt you?’ ‘How many times over the past year have you been slapped, punched or hit by someone?’”

Melissa Brymer, who directs the terrorism and disaster program at the UCLA-Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, which spearheads the network, said L.A. Unified is at the forefront of evidence-gathering on the topic.

A teacher could notice students with difficulty focusing, for example, or that they have a sudden shift in classroom behavior.

“Has there been any changes in their life?” Brymer said. “Has there been a death that might explain these changes? Reach out to these kids and check in.”

Over the years, the partnership’s focus has shifted.

“In the past it was more, ‘Let’s find out what works in the field and develop evidence-based intervention,’” Escudero said. “Now our task is really to nationally and locally train other sites.”




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--Marisa Gerber

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