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St. Louis Hosts Event to Raise Awareness of Childhood Trauma

The event is timely given the Good Friday tornado that hit the area, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said Monday during a news conference in Clayton.

A news conference in Clayton aimed at raising awareness of childhood trauma brought one recent event to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley's mind: The .

"In some respects, that could impact a child's life," Dooley said Monday. The sponsored the event. Dooley read a proclamation marking Tuesday as National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day and said the Children's Service Fund has been doing "outstanding" work.

The Children's Service Fund, a department of the county, is funded by a 1/4-cent sales tax. It invests money in nonprofits that provide help to people ages 19 and younger in the areas of substance abuse and mental health.

The theme of this year's awareness day is early childhood trauma.

"Trauma occurs when a child experiences something so intense that it threatens or causes harm to that child's physical or emotional well-being, or the safety or well-being of someone or something that they love or care about very deeply," said Dr. Jerry Dunn, executive director of Children's Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis, during remarks at the event. The organization is based at the University of Missouri, St. Louis (UMSL).

She said her office routinely conducts 5,000 sessions yearly that involve interviews and counseling with young people and families who have experienced trauma. Dunn also referenced data from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network,  which she said has found that one out of four children will have experienced a traumatic event by the time he or she is 16 years old.

The office's work is possible in large part because of the Children's Service Fund, she said.

The Nine Network of Public Media will partner with the Children's Service Fund throughout several years to tell the stories of families who have undergone trauma, said Dan Shasserre, vice president of development. He commended the fund's executive director, Kate Tansey, for her work.

"This is a commitment that she wears on her sleeve," Shasserre said.

Leslie Tucker is director of development for Brentwood-based Children's Home Society of Missouri. Its services include providing mental health counseling to foster families and newly adopted children. The organization receives funding through the Children's Service Fund. She attended Tuesday's event.

"It's an opportunity for us to promote awareness in the community," Tucker said.

Richard Stevenson is director of special projects for the St. Louis chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health. He said families of children who have ADHD or oppositional defiant disorder often fragment. The mother may be in denial while the father may get angry.

One of the goals of Stevenson's organization is to make sure family members understand children who experience severe and persistent mental illness.

He said it's his opinion that "these things need to be publicly funded" because families often don't have sufficient resources to help in the area of mental health. He said county citizens chose to tax themselves, a decision that will allow many people in the county to receive important services.

Vicki Swyers attended Monday's event. She is a children's case manager with Alive, a St. Louis County-based organization that helps people who have experienced domestic violence. Funding from the Clayton-based Children's Service Fund has enabled her group to offer more services to parents and to see more children.

"We're really grateful," Swyers said.

In recognition of the day, Cold Stone Creamery locations in , Kirkwood, St. Louis City and will give children a free scoop of ice cream from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday.

More information about the Children's Service Fund is available by going to KeepingKidsFirst.org or by calling the 24/7 Youth Connection Helpline at 314-628-2929.

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