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Duke Endowment and Z. Smith Reynolds Grants Target Child Victims of Domestic Violence

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- An innovative yearlong project that focuses on helping children who are the victims of domestic violence and living in shelters will be funded with grants from The Duke Endowment and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

The program is designed to screen and treat the children for post-traumatic stress and implement best practices for shelter-based care. The Center for Child and Family Health – North Carolina (CCFH), a collaboration among three Triangle universities and a United Way agency, will oversee the project, which received $200,000 from The Duke Endowment and $100,000 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

"This project targets children who are most at risk for long-term behavioral and psychological problems," said Ruth Dzau, who recently joined the center's board of directors. "Domestic violence shelters focus on the immediate needs of adult victims, but most lack personnel who are trained to deal with the unique and often hidden needs of children."

Dzau is the former president of The Second Step, a Boston, Mass., nonprofit charitable organization that provides transitional programs and housing for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. She served on the North Carolina Institute of Medicine Task Force on Child Abuse Prevention, which grew out of the state's 2003 Child Well-Being and Domestic Violence Task Force.

Mary T. Champagne, Ph.D., RN, chair of the center's university board of directors, said the project will enable the center to generate a model for use in shelters statewide and nationally. "We are very grateful to The Duke Endowment and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation for their support," she added.

The effort will start with pilot projects at six domestic violence shelters -- one each in Caldwell, Guilford, Halifax, Robeson, Vance and Wilson counties. The project will support the coordination of training, evaluation and policy advocacy to develop a "toolbox" that can be replicated at the more than 90 North Carolina domestic violence shelters that receive state support and provide care for more than 8,000 child shelter residents each year.

The primary investigator for these grants is Robert A. Murphy, Ph.D., executive director of CCFH and an associate clinical professor at the Duke University Medical Center's department of psychiatry & behavioral sciences. Murphy is collaborating with two other experts in addressing issues of early childhood adversity, education policy reform, youth violence and problem behaviors: Leslie Starsoneck, a private policy consultant and former director of the state's Domestic Violence Commission, and Yvonne Wasilewski, Ph.D., research scientist, with the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke's Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy.

"We are pleased to partner with the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in helping improve how domestic violence shelters serve children who accompany their parent and have often been abused themselves," said Rhett Mabry, director of The Duke Endowment's Child Care Division.

Added Tom Ross, executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, "By uniting domestic violence advocates and child mental health experts to create best practices for identifying and caring for the children of domestic violence victims, we can improve the lives of families throughout North Carolina."

Although a select minority of North Carolina domestic violence shelters provide a degree of child-focused service, state funds do not require programs to design services for children, and existing programs vary widely in terms of capacity and quality, Murphy said. "The project seeks to prepare battered parents and shelter care providers to identify and respond effectively to the needs of resident children," he added.

Founded in 1996, the Center for Child and Family Health - North Carolina (CCFH) is a collaboration among three universities (Duke, North Carolina Central University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and a prevention-focused United Way agency (i.e., Child & Parent Support Services). CCFH is also a member of the 45-site National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and the only agency in North Carolina focused exclusively on the needs of traumatized children. Each year, the center serves more than 3,300 children and family members from 45-50 different urban and rural North Carolina counties as well as from other states.

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