Dr. Julie Kaplow
Dr. Julie Kaplow

Childhood bereavement and grief expert Julie Kaplow, Ph.D., has received a $3 million federal grant to establish the Childhood Bereavement Resource Center at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

The five-year grant (1 U79 SM080021-01) was awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The new center will provide training to providers and large-scale dissemination of best practices for assessing and supporting bereaved youth.

“We are grateful to receive this grant and honored to be selected as a designated center focused on addressing the unique needs and strengths of bereaved children, adolescents and their families,” said Kaplow, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

The resource center is part of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), whose mission is to help children who are exposed to traumatic events and may experience a wide variety of consequences, such as ongoing emotional and psychological distress, maladaptive grief reactions, posttraumatic stress, challenging behavioral changes, and functional impairment.

The new center will serve as the training and dissemination arm of the UTHealth Trauma and Grief (TAG) Center, which Kaplow founded in 2012 with funding from SAMHSA. The TAG Center provides evidence-based assessment and interventions for traumatized and/or grieving children and adolescents and conducts research on adaptive and maladaptive responses to trauma and loss.

Kaplow and her team have identified specific symptoms and associated risk factors that may signal the need for treatment in bereaved children. They have incorporated this information into their standard assessment battery used within the TAG Center. Many of these assessment tools are also being used throughout their practice-research network, titled the Grief-Informed Foundations of Treatment (GIFT) Network, funded by the New York Life Foundation. The GIFT Network represents the research arm of the TAG Center and is comprised of 10 sites across the country dedicated to supporting bereaved youth through the careful development and validation of best practice assessment tools for this population.

Childhood grief is still a relatively new area of research, particularly with regard to distinguishing adaptive from maladaptive grief reactions among bereaved youth. However, recognition of the significance of childhood grief is growing, as evidenced by the upcoming Children’s Grief Awareness Day on Nov. 17.