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Mary was removed from her biological family home just before her third birthday. After a history of neglect and substance abuse exposure, Mary now has a loving bond with her foster parents who are moving toward adopting her.

Thirteen-year-old Marco suffered severe bullying and community violence and is now looking forward to finishing high school and eventually studying to become a police officer.

Sixteen-year-old Stacy was sexually abused by an adult before falling in love for the first time with her same-aged boyfriend.

While these children’s histories sound bleak, in our community, these children are not alone. Just this month, a 7-year-old girl was among several child witnesses of the fatal shooting of a young man at a Corby Avenue apartment complex in Santa Rosa. A child who should have felt secure in her bed was awoken by gunshots that morning.

Luckily, there is hope through programs such as the Child Abuse and Trauma Treatment program. The Child-Parent Institute, located in south Santa Rosa, offers mental health services for children and parent support services for families. All services are available in English and Spanish.

A study was conducted in 1985 and collaboratively run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. The study examined how experiences such as those by the children described above can contribute to changes in brain structure and lead to shorter life expectancies. Adverse childhood experiences are traumatic events that, left untreated, can create obstacles to a person’s learning and growth.

Trauma such as physical, sexual and verbal abuse; physical or emotional neglect; or witnessing violence within the family can get in the way of healthy childhoods.

Growing up with caregivers who struggle with mental illness or substance abuse or loss of a caregiver due to separation, divorce or incarceration creates instability in the child’s support system and social network.

The study on adverse childhood experiences also shows us that we, as a community, can help build resiliency and improve recovery from these adverse experiences. Seeking professional support can assist a person to overcome the unwanted feelings and behaviors that take over when these events occur in our lives.

By coupling therapy, resource assistance or parent support with the natural supports and social connections a person has, individuals are able to improve their ability to function, make better decisions and contribute positively to their families.

Children between the ages of 0-18 years who have suffered trauma such as abuse, neglect, domestic violence or school and community violence are eligible to receive weekly counseling at one of our clinics, at school, or in the community. Victims of child abduction, child endangerment, acts of terrorism or hate crimes are also eligible to receive these services.

The Child Abuse and Trauma Treatment program is for children who don’t have other forms of insurance to cover mental health services or who are underserved due to long waiting lists, expensive co-pays or not meeting medical necessity criteria. The CHAT funding stream is the same as the Federal Victims of Crime Assistance program which began in 1984. (In addition to these funds, the Child Parent Institute’s CHAT program receives matching funds from local agencies such as First 5 Sonoma County and Kaiser Permanente. Donations and volunteers are also essential to the program.)

Success stories such as those of Mary, Marco, and Stacy are evidence that our CHAT program is working to improve the lives of children who have faced some of the most difficult circumstances.

Families who experienced the shooting on Corby Avenue are invited to reach out for counseling help for your children. For more information about CHAT, please contact CPI’s Intake Navigator at 707-284-1500.

If you are interested in learning more about the ACE study or calculating your ACE score, visit www.acestudy.org/

Dr. Audrey E. Boggs is a licensed psychologist and clinic director at the Child Parent Institute in Santa Rosa. Michele C. McEntee is director of Community Based Mental Health Services at the institute.