Grantee Spotlight:

Rockwell Fund Professorship in Child and Family at Texas Tech University, College of Human Sciences, Human Development and Family Studies, Institute for Child and Family Studies

The statistics are gloomy: Prevalence rates from studies suggest that 1 in 4 (25%) women and 1 in 6 (16.6%) men experience some form of sexual abuse by age 18. The rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for victims of child sexual abuse range from 40-60%. For physical abuse, PTSD occurs in approximately 30% of cases. Studies have found that, without supportive treatment, children who face traumatic childhood experiences like abuse are more likely to become smokers, obese, alcoholics, IV drug abusers, depressed, suicidal, diabetic, have unintended pregnancies, experience sexual assault as an adult, contract STDs/AIDS and experience job difficulties. Additionally, unidentified and misdiagnosed children are placed in the juvenile justice system or receive expensive medical treatments.

Frequent news stories of child abuse and about breakdowns within the systems designed to protect children - from the family level to schools to community and state entities - seem to relegate child abuse to the sphere of an "intractable problem" in our society. Yet, new research is underway to develop evidence-based practices that better serve children who have been abused, and their families, and may offer policy implications for improving systems of care.

Rockwell Fund awarded the Texas Tech University Foundation $262,500 over seven years to establish theRockwell Fund Professorship in Child and Family. Since its funding, the professorship has enhanced the department's capacity for instruction, research and professional application of programs and policies related to human development, family and other social contexts, particularly child abuse. The Rockwell grant has enabled Dr. Jeffrey Wherry, Rockwell Chair of Child and Family Programs and Policies, and his team to advance the field of child abuse treatment on multiple levels: research, training, clinical services and advocacy.

 Research

A crowning achievement of the department and the funded professorship is the Institute for Child and Family Studies, a multidisciplinary program with the purpose of serving children and families impacted by interpersonal trauma. Training, research, and services are provided in collaboration with partners from the University, in the community, in Texas, and across the nation. The Institute:

  • Provides training and outreach to community, state, and national partners using a variety of modalities and technologies
  • Evaluates, publishes, and disseminates research
  • Develops primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention programs to address interpersonal trauma in children and families from diverse backgrounds
  • Develops socially responsible students who will:
    • Translate problems in children and families into testable research ideas
    • Answer both theoretical and practical research questions
    • Apply answers to program development, implementation, and evaluation
    • Influence scientifically sound and developmentally sensitive policies
    • Forms collaborative partnerships at the University, in the community, in Texas, and across the Nation

Training

Says Dr. Wherry, "While evidence-based interventions exist, they are rarely used since few are trained in these methods." Graduate training and professional training programs do not systematically expose students, interns and residents to content or skill building classes related to child abuse or trauma. Dr. Wherry teaches courses in child abuse at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and works with students on research projects which have been presented at professional meetings as well as projects completed independently and presented at national and regional meetings.

Clinical Services

In addition, Dr. Wherry began the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Clinic, serving children and adolescents who have been traumatized. The Clinic is staffed by four clinicians and provides evidence-based treatments in collaboration with the Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry. The goal of the ACE Clinic is to provide early, compassionate care to youngsters and their families while respecting the impact of adverse/traumatic experiences, such as abuse, violence and natural disasters.

Advocacy

Finally, the professorship has enabled policy-level work. "In Texas, the policies which affect abused children and their families are seldom informed by research," notes Dr. Wherry. To that end, he has pursued policy projects while serving as Co-Director of the Policy Institute for Family Impact Seminars - Texas which he co-directs along with the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Policy at the University of Texas to sponsor Family Impact Seminars with the Texas Legislature. Over the years, Dr. Wherry's work at the Institute has been able to influence practice patterns in the community, the region, and the State of Texas, including serving as a consultant for Children's Protective Services at the State level.

To learn more, visit http://www.depts.ttu.edu/hs/icfs/#.

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Jeff Wherry
Jeffrey N. Wherry, Ph.D., ABPP, Rockwell Chair of Child and Family Programs and Policies