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UAlbany Social Welfare Professor Partners with Homeless Center to Study Effect of Childhood Trauma

Contact(s):  Catherine Herman (518) 956-8150

ALBANY, N.Y. (October 24, 2007) -- The effect of childhood neglect and abuse on homeless people in the Capital Region is the focus of a University at Albany research study that follows pioneering work by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Heather Larkin, assistant professor of social work at the UAlbany School of Social Welfare, is partnering with the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless (IPH) of Albany, as well as the Petaluma, California Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), to explore the prevalence of  "adverse childhood experiences" (ACE). The research study, expected to be conducted over the next year, will be among the first studies to apply the ACE research to the homeless population.

After an initial study, Kaiser and CDC screened 440,000 additional middle class individuals for adverse childhood experiences. They found that traumatic childhood experiences, or ACEs -- such as violence, family dysfunction and sexual abuse -- result in poor physical and emotional health in adulthood. Researchers concluded that they are at the root of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States.

Victims of severe childhood neglect and abuse are more susceptible to disease, addiction, and depression; are less likely to seek preventive or early treatment for their problems; and are more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking and unprotected sex.

Albany's Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless provides housing and comprehensive services, as well as a daytime drop-in center for homeless and low-income individuals and families.  In addition to shelter, a daily meal, shower, laundry facilities, and mailboxes, IPH offers case management services and on-site services, such as mental health and substance abuse counseling, legal assistance, and medical services.

Brigitte Emanuel, IPH program director, said the case management interventions are geared toward helping people to address and move on from ACEs in order to be stabilized in housing. 

"It's important to understand that there are real reasons why people are homeless -- our aim is to acknowledge these ACEs and provide appropriate interventions to address them so that people can get housing and be able to maintain their housing," Emanuel said.

According to Larkin, homeless services are frequently offered in a piecemeal way, and more comprehensive approaches, such as those offered at Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless, are needed. She noted that once people understand how early neglect and abuse has shaped their mental and emotional processes, they can more effectively adopt new behaviors to improve their lives.

"It's not enough to provide the basics like food and shelter without helping clients recover from trauma. Without that recovery, people have trouble moving forward," said Larkin.

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