Trauma program helps teachers address behavioral challenges in Appalachian classrooms

Aug 11, 2016

(ATHENS, Ohio) A joint study between Hopewell Health Centers and the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine shows that embedding mental health consultants in schools can improve the ability of preschool teachers to cope with and change challenging behaviors in the classroom.

The study was conducted at five elementary schools in rural Southeast Ohio, a poverty-stricken area with mental illness rates that greatly exceed the national average. On-site consultants provided support for teachers and delivered trauma-informed workforce development practices and mental health interventions for children.

“We know that physiological changes occur in the brains of kids who live under constant stress or trauma. As a result, they typically struggle in school and can end up with long-term physical and mental health issues,” said Dawn Graham, Ph.D., assistant professor of social medicine at the Heritage College and one of the study’s investigators. “So, this program was developed as a way to help teachers build the skills and confidence they need to work with students, especially those who have experienced trauma, and to help the kids become more resilient.”

The study combined two programs – Partnerships for Early Childhood Mental Health, an intervention that connects professional mental health consultants with caregivers, and Project LAUNCH, a health initiative focused on workforce development – to build an integrated, trauma-informed school program called the Partnerships Program. The research team, which includes Graham, Hopewell Health Centers Chief Operating Officer Sherry Shamblin, Ph.D., and Heritage College Assistant Professor of Social Medicine Joseph Bianco, Ph.D., tracked the program’s effectiveness and earlier this year published the results in School Mental Health.

The study found a high level of satisfaction among teachers and increased resiliency related to initiative, attachment and self-control among the children. There was also a change in how teachers responded to challenging behaviors with a shift away from punitive methods to those that are more supportive, such as providing “calm down” corners, identifying and dealing with behavioral triggers, offering consistency through daily schedules and more. Since the initial study was conducted, the program, operated by Hopewell Health Centers, has expanded to 18 school districts in five counties in Southeast Ohio.

“Prior to the development of this program, mental health services for young children were typically housed within a siloed system that pathologized young children and made services available to only a few who qualified for a mental health diagnosis.  Through this program, we have been able to strengthen the social emotional health of all young children in our area so that they can enter kindergarten ready to learn and ready to succeed,” said Shamblin, who led the study that grew out of her dissertation.  “It has been one of the greatest joys of my life to be part of the growth of early childhood mental health services in Ohio.”

“Sherry’s efforts, combined with the initiatives of Project LAUNCH, led to the development of a collaborative school/community system of care that made the most of the region’s limited resources to support and empower preschool teachers and benefit the health and resiliency of children who live in our Appalachian region,” said Bianco.

About Hopewell Health Centers, Inc.

Hopewell Health Centers, Inc. (HHC) is an integrated health care organization founded in 2013 through the merger of Family Healthcare, Inc. and Tri-County Mental Health and Counseling Services, Inc.  Hopewell is a CARF accredited community health center and a Joint Commission accredited Federally Qualified Health Center serving Southeast Ohio with 16 locations across 8 counties and serving over 30,000 persons each year.   Our mission is to provide access to affordable, high quality, integrated health care for all. Our organization offers a wide range of services, which includes comprehensive behavioral health care, early childhood development, WIC, dental health care, and primary health care. At HHC, a variety of public and private insurances are accepted in addition to a sliding fee scale for dental health care, primary health care, and some behavioral health care services.

About the Heritage College

The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is a leader in training dedicated primary care physicians who are prepared to address the most pervasive medical needs in the state and the nation. Approximately 50 percent of Heritage College alumni practice in primary care and nearly 60 percent practice in Ohio. CARE LEADS HERE.