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Native Children’s Trauma Center receives $2.4 million grant

MISSOULA — The National Native Children’s Trauma Center based at The University of Montana has received a $2.4 million grant to continue work with Native American youth who experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The grant is a competitive refunding of the center from the Substance Abuse and Mental Services Health Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Though the center is based in the UM College of Education’s Institute for Educational Research and Service, it provides trainings nationwide on mental health service services that are particularly effective in rural settings and schools. The new award will expand these trainings to include Indian Health Services clinicians, tribal health departments, child welfare agencies and reservation schools.

IERS Director Rick van den Pol said the grant will provide training for professionals who serve Native youth through the center’s outreach programs and through partnerships with tribes.

“We know that wherever there’s poverty, there are elevated levels of PTSD symptoms,” van den Pol said. “But unfortunately in Indian Country there’s a real disparity in availability of services. Health care is not well supported, and mental health care is very limited.”

Youth experience trauma through direct abuse but also through the effects of high rates of suicide, substance abuse, loss of loved ones and historical trauma experienced by tribal members. Childhood symptoms of PTSD include preoccupation (experiencing the trauma over and over), numbing (trying to avoid and ignore the stress) and hyperarousal (always being on edge and ready for fight-or-flight).

Van den Pol said IERS analyzes program evaluation data related to the participating children’s well being before and after therapy and most show reduced PTSD symptoms. Students with depression also exhibited reduced symptoms.

Marilyn Bruiguier Zimmerman is an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes and is the director of the trauma center. She believes the grant also provides a unique opportunity to directly support workers who serve children.

“Counselors, child welfare workers, teachers and health care staff can also experience PTSD-like symptoms from constantly hearing the trauma histories of children,” Zimmerman said. “We want to help workers themselves recognize and respond to compassion fatigue that often results from working in such high-stress environments.”

Van den Pol was informed of the grant approval by U.S. Senator Jon Tester, who had written a letter of support to SAMSHA for the Native trauma center’s refunding bid.

“Supporting Native American children by getting them the resources they need to treat mental health and end the cycle of abuse will strengthen Indian Country and the rest of Montana for generations to come,” Tester said. “I stand with The University of Montana and all Montanans in the fight against addiction, abuse and depression.”

The center received its first funding in 2003. Based on the success of that project, it received a $2.4 million SAMSHA grant in 2007 to establish the national center. Since that time it has provided services to 3,000 children and 12,500 providers at 46 locations around the country. Services primarily are provided on reservations but also are available in urban areas with large Native populations. The center is one of 15 Category II trauma centers in the U.S. and the only one focused on Indian Country.

For more information call Rick van den Pol, Director, Institute for Educational Research and Service at the UM School of Education, at 406-243-6756 or email

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