Trauma, including but not limited to abuse, neglect, exploitation, and forced separation from caregivers, can have a lasting impact on youth in all domains of their life (internal, developmental, social, and academic). Some families spend countless hours and dollars on mental health treatment for their children post-trauma. Others have no idea where to start. And still others experience trauma as a daily part of life, something that is expected, managed, and lived with.
Trauma is unique in how its ripple effects differ from person to person. For some, resilience and/or a strong support system buffers their psyche from the unimaginable. While for others, seemingly insignificant experiences can end in intense trauma reactions. Trauma symptoms can be fleeting and tied to specific triggers, or they can be debilitating and appear to arise from nowhere.
Because of the intricacies of trauma and the unique manner in which it presents in individuals, especially in youth, effective therapeutic responses to trauma should be individualized and based on an understanding of the ‘whole’ individual, not just the trauma situation and the overarching symptoms. This may be particularly true for those under 18, as they are often greatly influenced by the systems surrounding them: school, family, community, etc.
Trauma is also related to a number of risk factors for sexual exploitation and/or trafficking in children and teens. As such, any interventions related to trauma treatment or trauma prevention also coincide closely with attempts to address sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Purpose of Pilot Program
This leads to the purpose of the Resilience and Empowerment Pilot Program spearheaded by Omphalos this summer in Prescott, Arizona: to deepen parent/guardian understanding of the impact of trauma on their child and to supply individualized recommendations arising from thorough psychological assessments to youth who have experienced trauma. Such assessments allow for a better understanding of the impact of trauma on youth, beyond the obvious, and help to identify places where protective factors can be strengthened, and risk factors mitigated, to lessen the likelihood of further trauma or exploitation.
Overview of Participants
Five families, and a total of six children, participated in the Resilience and Empowerment Pilot Program. They ranged in age from 5 years old to 16 years old. Most participants were female, one was male and one identified as transgender female to male. One half of the youth lived with adoptive parents and one half were referred to the program by their case manager. All participants experienced some form of neglect or abuse, one half had experienced sexual exploitation of some type, and all were experiencing some type of difficulty in learning and in connecting with others. At the time of the program, only two participants were actively engaging in therapeutic interventions.
Overview of the Process
Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Hojat Askari, with Thumb Butte Medical Center, families were able to be seen within the privacy of a medical center. Each family met with our clinical director, Dr. Ashley E. Poklar, for an initial intake session. This session lasted between 45 and 90 minutes and provided an opportunity for parents/guardians to share their concerns and for the child or adolescent to meet Dr. Poklar and to ask any questions about the subsequent appointments. The information shared during this session allowed Dr. Poklar to then build individualized testing batteries, based on the child’s experiences, age, and the areas of concern highlighted by the parents and/or the child.
Participants would then join Dr. Poklar for 2 to 3 additional testing sessions, lasting between 2 and 5 hours to complete assessment measures. Assessments included, but were not limited to, measures of IQ, academic achievement, personality, trauma screeners, and self-report measures of interpersonal experiences, emotional reactivity, and behavior. Input was gathered from not only the youth, but parents, grandparents, case managers, and counselors where appropriate.
Dr. Poklar then spent between 17 and 28 hours scoring assessments, interpreting and analyzing results, and completing a formal write up to communicate the results and to share recommendations for home, school, and therapeutic interventions. Families were then asked to join Dr. Poklar for one additional hour to discuss results and to engage in conversation about what these results mean in the moment to the family. In five weeks, Dr. Poklar donated over 130 hours of time and provided families with over 280 recommendations, more than 100 pages of reports, and a dozen new diagnoses to better understand their child.
What the numbers above can’t truly explain or highlight is the power such a program can have for not only the youth in the moment, but their future and the family system in general. Instead of trying to explain it from the clinician’s perspective, we have included notes from the families of participants:
“Ashley Poklar’s professionalism and rapport with our family, along with the extensive testing, have provided us with a guide for seeking help. The testing helped identify the types of counseling/therapy that likely would most benefit each of the girls along with what our family can do at home and the types of therapy best suited for Mom and Dad…The results for each child were informative and will be invaluable in seeking school services that address each of the girl’s special needs… Again, we thank you for helping us with tools to better understand how best to help “our girls” become well adjusted, productive and happy citizens of the Prescott area.”
“…my daughter was able to get the testing we needed to really be able to SEE her for not just who she is, but how she is. I can understand her abilities and inabilities, strengths and areas of need. My daughter is beautiful, special, and struggling. But now, i better know how to help her in her struggles.”
Our goal is to continue to provide this valuable, and tested, service; however, the 5-week volunteer model is not adequate to meet the genuine level of need in the Prescott area (or many other areas in a post-covid world). Mental health needs of youth are high, they are at greater risk of falling prey to online predators, and providers of these services are stretched thin or leaving the work force. This service is invaluable to families who are unable to find appropriate support in their area, as well as for those who are unable to afford this level of testing. Many insurance companies do not cover psychological assessment, or if they cover testing, they often do not cover all the recommended tests or cover only a limited number of testing hours. We need your help to continue to provide this service free of cost to families most in need:
Let us know if you have any questions: AshleyP@omphalos.pro