Matthew Billings
Project Manager, Children & Youth Cabinet
(401) 863-5440 or (401) 464-1511 (cell)


PTSD Linked to Chronic Absence, Delinquency & Suspensions

PROVIDENCE – The Providence Children and Youth Cabinet (CYC) was awarded a five-year, $1.8 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) aimed at identifying, addressing and decreasing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among adolescents in targeted Providence middle schools with escalated violence, announced Rebecca Boxx, CYC director. 

SAMHSA is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the nation’s behavioral health, and whose mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness in America's communities.  The CYC’s grant is one of 56 such awards in the U.S. 1367

The program, entitled “Building Trauma Sensitive Schools” (BTSS), focuses on the behavioral link between elevated levels of trauma among students ages 11 to 14, and their chronic absences, delinquency and suspensions. Furthermore, the initiative, which launches in October, will strive to increase the capacity of the school district and community organizations to implement trauma-sensitive, evidence-based programs and prevention services. Local programmatic partners include The Providence Center, Everett Company Stage and School, and the Rhode Island Student Assistance Services.

Additionally, a $25,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the City of Providence was recently awarded to the CYC to support its efforts to reduce traumatic stress among local middle school students.   

“We will concentrate on the neighborhoods with the most elevated adolescent trauma, and provide a tiered approach of therapeutic, evidence-based programs, evidence-informed youth trauma programs, and universal trauma–sensitive training for schools,” said Boxx.  “It will be enhanced by involvement and guidance from neighborhood leaders and residents who will seek additional opportunities to address root causes of trauma within their communities.” 

The program, a continuation and expansion of work begun under the CYC’s Evidence2Success initiative, a partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, will focus on students living in the South Side, West End and Olneyville, and the three middle schools they attend: Roger Williams, Gilbert Stuart and Christopher DelSesto.  These neighborhoods record the highest rates of engagement with the child welfare system, childhood poverty, parental incarceration and incidences of school suspensions and absenteeism in the city. It’s anticipated that over 3,000 youth will be engaged in the program. 

“We need all children to be ready to learn in our schools and this grant will help us towards achieving that goal,” said Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza. “I’m proud that we'll be able to provide these therapeutic supports so that students and families have access to the wrap-around services they need.”

Christopher N. Maher, superintendent of the Providence Schools, said: “At Providence Public Schools, our job is to help students focus on learning and to address barriers that stand between children and their academic success. It is an unfortunate truth that many of our students have witnessed or experienced violence in their lives outside of school. The SAMHSA grant will help us address the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder directly with our students, re-engage them in education and help guide them toward a future beyond the trauma they’ve endured.“ 

The National Center for PTSD cites a number of circumstances that contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder, including witnessing violence, experiencing abuse, surviving a disaster, experiencing serious injury and a loved one committing suicide. The center also identified the symptoms of PTSD, including aggressive behavior, substance abuse, anger, inappropriate sexual behavior and others.  Based on local juvenile justice and child welfare data, it was estimated that 20 percent of Providence middle school students were living with diagnosed or undiagnosed symptoms of PTSD. 

“The need for these services for such a large portion of the student population exceeds present capacity, and has led to predictable outcomes such as incidences of violence in middle schools, and a corresponding response of suspension and adjudication for youth who have experienced trauma,” said CYC Project Manager Matt Billings, who will serve as BTSS project director. “BTSS will collaborate with existing providers within the Providence Public Schools to establish a service continuum that moves some of the most challenged schools in the most challenged Providence neighborhoods from a state of resource limitation to more trauma aware, and ultimately, to trauma-sensitive schools.”

The CYC, founded in 2010, is a cross-sector coalition of 150 members and 60 children- and youth-serving organizations, designed to ensure that all children and youth in the City of Providence will have access to a coordinated, collaborative, integrated system of educational, social, physical, and behavioral health services from cradle to career. The CYC is housed at Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform. 


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