The New York Life Foundation has awarded a three-year, $1.55 million grant to The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Trauma and Grief (TAG) Center for Youth to establish the GIFT (Grief-Informed Foundations of Treatment) network, a multi-site practice-research network that will refine, evaluate, and validate assessment tools for grieving children to identify the appropriate support or intervention needed.
The development of the GIFT network will be led by Julie Kaplow, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the TAG Center for Youth in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
“We are so appreciative of this investment from the New York Life Foundation. It could not have come at a better time, as we are well positioned to begin to implement, evaluate, and disseminate our new bereavement-informed assessment tools and training curriculum,” Kaplow said. “Now, with the New York Life Foundation’s support, we have the ability to do this on a much larger scale through the GIFT network. The bereavement field is in need of establishing guidelines for ‘best practices’ for bereaved youth, and the foundation is helping to make this a reality.”
The loss of a loved one growing up is more common than many may realize. According to grief experts, 1 in 20 Americans will lose a parent before age 16, and the majority of children will experience the loss of a family member or friend by the time they complete high school. Yet the field of youth bereavement has been relatively unexplored, Kaplow said. For more than a decade, she has been researching childhood grief with co-investigators Christopher M. Layne, Ph.D., and Robert S. Pynoos, M.D., M.P.H., of the UCLA/Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress and UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. The project will include convening a scientific advisory board of internationally recognized experts to recommend cutting-edge methods for validating, field-testing, and refining new bereavement-related assessment tools created by Kaplow, Layne, and Pynoos.
“Typically, bereaved children adapt to their ‘new normal’ and experience positive adjustment over time,” Kaplow said. “But there is an important minority of kids who become stuck in their grief. We don’t know what that exact number is because very few longitudinal studies of bereaved youth have been conducted and rigorously validated assessment tools for childhood grief have not yet been established.”
“As a longtime funder of childhood grief, we are excited to partner with the UTHealth/TAG Center on this important initiative to improve the way that grieving children are assessed and supported,” said New York Life Foundation Vice President Maria Collins. “This project signals our new commitment to focus on research/evaluation in the childhood bereavement field – a critically needed step to advance understanding and support of grieving children.”
“This funding is recognition of the important work of Dr. Julie Kaplow in the area of childhood bereavement and grief, and a testament to the New York Life Foundation’s dedication to the issue,” said Barbara J. Stoll, M.D., dean and the H. Wayne Hightower Distinguished Professor in the Medical Sciences at McGovern Medical School. “We are so very grateful to the foundation for this critical support.”
The GIFT network will recruit and train community agencies, grief support facilities, schools, and academic institutions to work in partnership using best-practice theory, assessment tools, interventions, and training curricula. By sharing their assessment data, the partnering sites will help build one of the largest data repositories of bereaved children to date, including data that will help researchers determine best practices for screening, evaluating, and, for those who need it, treating bereaved youth.
UTHealth will serve as the “hub” of the GIFT network, responsible for oversight of the entire project, while closely collaborating with UCLA, responsible for curriculum development and scientific advisory board oversight. Current collaborating sites in Houston include Bo’s Place and Houston Independent School District Psychological Services (covering 288 schools throughout Houston). Kaplow anticipates recruitment of several other sites in Texas, including the Children’s Bereavement Center in San Antonio and Mending Hearts Grief Center in College Station, as well as a number of sites in Michigan, including the Detroit School-Based Health Collaborative (nine school-based mental health clinics) and the University of Michigan Trauma and Grief Clinic in Ann Arbor, a satellite clinic of the UTHealth TAG Center.
The New York Life Foundation is the leading corporate funder of childhood bereavement and has invested more than $25 million to date in support of grieving children and their families.
“Over the past several years, we’ve worked with our partners to help develop and build the emerging field of bereavement support,” Collins said. “But much remains to be done for all grieving children to receive the care they need. The work of this grant will arm care providers with better tools to identify and deliver support or service to children who are acutely suffering the burden of grief.”