When we hear about trauma, we often associate it with adults, specifically adults that have served in war. It’s often hard to believe that a child or teen could be experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other issues related to trauma.
The website FocusForHealth.org defines childhood trauma as “an event that a child finds overwhelmingly distressing or emotionally painful, often resulting in lasting mental and physical effects.”
As the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and its uncertainty, what could be just a “bump in the road” for adults, may be a major traumatic incident for children and teens. Children and teens who experience a trauma are two times more likely to develop depression and three times more likely to develop anxiety disorders, the website reports.
“What researchers have found is that prolonged exposure to stress and adverse experiences damage people, and the consequences continue long after the stress and aversive experiences stops,” according to FocusforHealth.com.
So while kids are pretty resilient, there are some things that they may not be able to bounce back from and get past.
“In our experience, we have come to realize that youth in our center experience trauma and are living through trauma currently,” said Megan Packard, Program director for Northern Colorado Youth for Christ. “This trauma causes shifts in their brain chemistry which makes normal day to day emotions difficult.”
Recognizing the impact COVID-19 pandemic’s quarantining, rising death tolls and constant threat of a mutating virus has had on youth, the Northern Colorado Youth for Christ organization is is organizing a program to help children and teens address traumas caused by the pandemic and other situations, and to learn how to live a healthy lives mentally and physically. Colorado reBalance is designed for kids ages 11 to 19 who have been impacted by severe or chronic trauma or stress.
“We are partners with the school district, with the Department of Human Services, the Department of Youth Services, and it’s growing from Greeley to Larimer County,” said Jeff Neel, CEO of Northern Colorado Youth for Christ. “So that program is growing really well. We are piloting our first program with kids from schools here in town.”
The 10-12 week program program will bring on trained coaches that will host roundtables that will include Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) methods.
TBRI is a “set of principles that strategies that give parents and professionals the tools to bring healing and well-being to children and adolescents who come from hard places through connecting, empowering and correcting,” according go the reBalance website.
Some of the activities will include skateboarding at the organization’s indoor Refuge Skate Park, located at 134 11th Ave. in Greeley, as well as an obstacle course class and music and art classes. The roundtables will foster communication and self-discovery for its participants, helping them to create a “personal transformation” and culture change.
Unlike some trauma programs, TBRI ideas will not be “taught” but rather facilitated through activities designed to activate the body’s threat response system.
The weekly roundtables consist of a dinner and discussion of a new character value such as emotions, listening, boundaries, influence and other topics. Each participant is given an opportunity to voice their opinions, thoughts, fears, concerns and other feelings during the discussion.
“We share a similar goal; our students do have a lot of trauma and all have a story,” Erica Koehler, a licensed counselor at Goal High School said. “Because of that shared goal, it’s such a logical partnership. They’re not just coming here to skate or to have fun, although that’s important too. They are getting the extracurricular experience, but then they are also getting this really deep therapeutic experience, whether they are aware of it or not.
“That’s why we are partners,” she added.
The idea to create a mental health program for the organization was conceived about four years ago, when Neel and his staff began to meet kids that “felt they had nowhere to belong” and were struggling with those feelings.
“In the midst of that, we recognized that we needed an evidence-based practice program that really prepared them,” Neel explained. “The situation our kids were in were much more serious than just some sort of approach that wasn’t very well-thought out.”
The organization is also working with the University of Northern Colorado’s Sociology Department research lab to measure the impact as far as what the Centers for Disease Control recommends to help kids achieve higher mental health, Neel said. Funding for the program comes from donations and grants.
“We got some small grants last year to really get it going and this year we got some larger grants to really kick it off,” Neel said. “Also, we are a core service of the Department of Human Services so that works based on contracts.”
While the program is currently being offered on a referral-only basis through caseworkers at the Department of Human Services or a social worker within the school districts, the organization is working to offer the program to the public, where parents can pay for a six-week program for their kids.
“We are so busy with kids in the Department of Youth Services and the school district, we haven’t added that yet,” Neel said. “But we just added some new people and are looking to add that here in the next quarter. I’m an optimist, so I am going to say by March we will be able to offer it to the public, but we will have to see.”
Neel and the reBalance staff are hoping to put 250 kids through the program in 2022 and “double that the year after that and double that the year after that” to eventually have 1,000 having gone through the program.
The cost for each student is around $1,000 and the organization welcomes donations and sponsorships.
For more information on the reBalance program, or to make a donation, go to www.coloradorebalance.com.