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Helping Children Impacted by Domestic Violence: The Child Trauma Response Team

Helping Children Impacted by Domestic Violence The Child Trauma Response Team

October 6, 2017
By Maureen Curtis and Nancy Arnow

The Child Trauma Response Team (CTRT) is a program designed to reduce the negative impacts domestic violence may have on children by responding promptly after the initial moment of crisis. CTRT provides a swift, coordinated, and trauma-focused response to children under the age of eighteen and their impacted family members who are exposed to severe domestic violence. CTRT pioneers a model informed by the Child Development-Community Policing Program (CD-CP); a national model of law enforcement and mental health collaboration.

CTRT resulted from a partnership between The New York City Police Department (NYPD), the New York County District Attorney’s Office (DANY) and Safe Horizon. In 2016, Safe Horizon launched the CTRT pilot program in NYPD’s 23rd Precinct in East Harlem and most recently in the 34th Precinct in Washington Heights. In Fall 2017, CTRT will expand into additional precincts in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens.

What Does CTRT Hope to Accomplish?

CTRT aims to address immediate safety needs of children and families impacted by domestic violence and reduce the risk of children developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The program provides domestic violence victims with linkages to mental health and community support services and enhances police officers’ understanding of children in domestic violence situations.

How Does CTRT Help Domestic Violence Victims and Child Witnesses?

CTRT is designed to provide children and families with a swift, collaborative and effective response by both law enforcement and mental health professionals in the aftermath of a domestic violence incident. This is accomplished by placing a child trauma responder within a police precinct to follow-up with and offer services to a family when a child has witnessed an incident of severe domestic violence in the home. Within 72-hours of a domestic violence incident being responded to by an NYPD officer, the child trauma responder reaches out to the family to offer services, conduct a trauma screening and engage the family in seeking trauma treatment.

While meeting with a family or victim, the child trauma responder assesses current safety risks. They provide information on resources and services available and screens the child or children for trauma symptoms. The goal of this trauma screening and assessment is to further explore how the domestic violence has impacted the child and assess whether they are at risk for developing PTSD. If the child is at risk for developing PTSD, then the team member will explore the possibility of short-term mental health treatment.

How CTRT Helps Children and Families Heal

The CTRT pilot program has already made a difference, especially to Kyra and her son Simon. When Kyra’s partner William assaulted her, she filed a police report. After speaking with the Patrol Officer, The CTRT Child Trauma Responder reached out to her. During the initial conversation, Kyra shared that William had abused her throughout their relationship and that Kyra’s seven-year-old son, Simon, had witnessed the violence. The case manager conducted a trauma screening and assessment with Simon, who was having a difficult time in school and was aggressive with his classmates and siblings. Kyra was relieved to hear that help was available for both her and Simon. Through the CTRT program, Kyra and Simon participated together in a brief, evidence-based mental health intervention, The Child and Family Traumatic Stress Intervention. Through this intervention, Kyra became more aware of Simon’s traumatic reactions and they both learned skills in how to manage these reactions.  By the end of this treatment, Simon felt better and has shown improvement in his behavior, both in school and at home.

The collaborative CTRT model shows great promise as a core service for children and their caregivers who are exposed to severe domestic violence. Eighty-two percent of families completing a PTSD screen had at least one child who tested positive for PTSD. Based on the success of this pilot, we are expanding CTRT to precincts in three different boroughs. The expansion of CTRT means more victims of domestic violence and their children can move from crisis to confidence.

  • Maureen Curtis

    Maureen Curtis is the Vice President, Criminal Justice Programs at Safe Horizon. Maureen has worked more than 30 years in the field of victimization and batterer intervention programs and has extensive knowledge of victims' rights within the criminal justice and housing systems. Her work with senior level staff in the NYPD and New York City Housing Authority has led to changes in policies that impact victims citywide. She is a licensed social worker and holds a Master’s in Public Health.

  • Nancy Arnow

    Nancy Arnow is the Vice President of Child Advocacy and Mental Health Treatment Programs at Safe Horizon. She has over twenty-seven years of experience working in various programs and in a variety of leadership positions. Nancy currently oversees Safe Horizon’s five Child Advocacy Centers, our Counseling Center and the Child Trauma Response Team Program. She received an MSW from Columbia University and a BA in Counseling from Kent State University.