Dr. Julie Kaplow
Dr. Julie Kaplow

The Trauma and Grief (TAG) Center for Youth at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) will expand screening, assessment and intervention for traumatized and bereaved youth into the Houston Independent School District (HISD). The program is funded in part by The Brown Foundation, Inc.

“HISD students are exposed to significant levels of violence, trauma, and loss, leading to a wide range of school-related problems including drop-out, poor academic performance, suspension, and bullying,” said Julie Kaplow, Ph.D., associate professor in McGovern Medical School at UTHealth’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Our research is showing us that bereavement in particular can have a unique and detrimental impact on school behavior. This funding from The Brown Foundation will provide a greater opportunity to identify, screen and treat the many traumatized and grieving students who may otherwise go without the necessary assessment and appropriate intervention.”

Of the 14,000 students screened each year by HISD Psychological Services, an estimated 40 percent have experienced the death of a significant person. According to HISD’s most recent statistics, 76 percent of the district’s 215,000 students are economically disadvantaged and lack access to mental health services.

“So many of our children are grieving, yet teachers are either unaware or have no idea how to address the topic,” said Lauren Goonan, Ph.D., director of HISD Psychological Services. “We receive approximately 200 calls a month from principals across Houston specifically asking for help with students who recently experienced the death of a loved one. What has been so powerful about the collaboration with the UTHealth TAG Center is that we now gain access to the tools and resources we need to address this problem.”

The grant will allow the TAG center to provide further training and consultation in trauma- and bereavement-informed assessment, as well as implement two evidence-based interventions that have been designed for traumatized and/or bereaved students.

“We hope to address a major gap in services by identifying students who are exposed to trauma and/or loss and provide the specialized support they need to promote resilience and become healthy and productive adults,” Kaplow said.