- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - A new team aimed at helping children in Manchester was born out of a troubling realization: Unlike direct victims of crime, none of the more than 400 children who were exposed to violence or trauma in 2014 were referred to mental health or social service agencies.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Response Team will include a police officer, crisis services advocate and behavioral health professional who will quickly respond to incidents, assess the situation and determine how best help the child, whether it be support groups, counseling or early childhood education programs. The idea is to give children who witness violence the same kind of support victims routinely receive, and to prevent future problems, said Lara Quiroga, a program direct at one of the program’s partners, the Manchester Community Health Center.

“The challenge is, there’s a large body of research … that shows the more adverse childhood experiences children have, the more likely they are to suffer from a host of problems as adults,” she said. That includes health problems, alcoholism and substance abuse, she said.

“With what we know is happening in Manchester and around the state in terms of the opioid crisis, what we really don’t want is to be facing in a generation or less a problem that is exponentially higher than what we’re experiencing now,” she said. “This team is really an opportunity to connect with families as these things happen and get them connected to services.”

Manchester Police got the ball rolling in 2015 by hiring an AmeriCorps Vista worker to serve as an advocate for children who’ve been exposed to trauma and to develop a consent form that allows other agencies to reach out to families directly rather than waiting for parents to seek them out. Officials say that system has worked well, but the new teams will go further by providing support at the scene of trauma.

The partnership, which also includes the Manchester Police Department and YWCA New Hampshire, is being funded with a three-year, $150,000 grant from the HNH Foundation. Last month, 34 police officers, five YWCA workers and six staff members from the health center received specialized training on how to ensure that children have access to services in an inclusive, welcoming environment.

“The earlier you intervene and set up that foundation, the better potential you have for success,” Quiroga said.

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