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Do you know about the crucial work of Evanston's Rice Center to address childhood trauma?

Officially named the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Child & Family Center (REC), Rice provides residential therapeutic treatment for 60 children and youth each year who suffer from severe emotional, behavioral, and mental health issues resulting from trauma they’ve experienced.

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 houses a school at the Rice Childrens Center that educates children receiving treatment at Rice and children from Evanston schools who need a therapeutic approach to learning.

At Rice, highly-trained staff members provide children with expressive therapy, counseling, and mentoring programs to restore their health, hope, and faith in the people around them.

The organization, which is located at 1101 Washington Street, is working to raise $175,000 to launch a trauma-informed occupational therapy program for its children. It has also been named as next year's recipient of the Northwestern University Dance Marathon.

Just yesterday, the Chicago Tribune highlighted a report released this week by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimating the impact of harmful childhood experiences on health in adulthood.

While CDC health officials acknowledged the study does not prove that these harmful experiences directly cause certain illnesses, the link is strong and is bolstered by many other studies, according to Jim Mercy, who oversees CDC's violence prevention programs. Mercy told the Tribune that it's become clear that the more harmful incidents a child suffers, the more likely their health suffers later.

The CDC has also done significant research on ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences), which have a tremendous impact on future violence: adults who were traumatized as children are far more likely to become victims or perpetrators of violence, in addition to suffering from trauma's lifelong effects on their health and opportunities.

Recently, I talked to Evanston resident Julie Gluck Cutter who was instrumental in launching the Rice Center's occupational-therapy fundraiser.

DE: How did you get involved with the Rice Center?

JC: From 2016 till 2018, I was involved in raising funds to renovate the playground at Park School. During that time, the PEP - PTA Equity Project was taking a close look at what equity means for Evanston/Skokie School District 65's PTAs.

Rice was a particular focus of the PTA equity committee because, since there's no parent community at the school, there is no PTA, so it was getting no extra funding as compared to other schools with PTAs.

While I already knew a lot about Rice--my dad taught there in the 1970s--it was the fact that the PTA equity committee was focusing on it that made me think more about doing a project there.

I couldn’t help but think that launching the project to raise funds for trauma-informed occupational therapy would not only achieve a specific goal, but also raise necessary awareness about Rice. So, I contacted the Rice Center and asked if we could talk. I've been involved since January.

DE: Why is its work important to you?

JC: The Rice Center supports kids who have experienced extreme trauma—so much so that they cannot live with their families -- at least for a time. They need intensive mental health services in a residential setting to heal.

While some of these kids may not be from Evanston originally, they are part of our community during their time at Rice. They're at the McGaw YMCA - Evanston, at Robert Crown, they're seeing movies in downtown Evanston—doing all of the things that kids in Evanston do. Some of them attend neighborhood schools. The school at the Rice Center educates not only “Rice kids” but, at any given time, “Evanston kids” who are not able to be successful in their home school. So the Rice Center is doing a lot to help vulnerable kids succeed.

DE: In what ways to you think that trauma-informed therapy can help reduce violence in our community?

JC: Trauma-informed therapy helps people, and in this case kids, heal from unspeakable harm such as neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Helping kids deal with their trauma at a younger age will most certainly allow them to grow and mature in a more developmentally appropriate way. As a result, they'll be less prone to a more troubled or destructive path which could likely include violence.

DE: How does Rice deal with children’s trauma currently?

JC: The 24/7 treatment program at Rice is based on trauma-informed practices, so staff at the Rice Center are treating trauma with every interaction they have with the children, from the moment they wake up until they moment they fall asleep. Through the relationships the children develop with staff and peers, they learn to trust and begin the slow process of healing.

Staff understand that many of our children’s reactions are based on their previous traumas, and so they work to help the children slow down, understand what is happening that triggers their trauma response, typically fleeing or fighting, and help them make different choices. Children at Rice also have therapy individually and in groups, expressive arts therapy, yoga therapy, and medical support with the on-staff psychiatrist on staff and nurse.

DE: I read that 85 percent of children go to foster families or back to their families after about 16 months at Rice. What happens to the other 15 percent?

JC: The alternative to homes is other residential treatment facilities or hospitalization. I am pleased to say that the most recent data collected shows that 100 percent of the children discharged from the Rice Center returned to a family.

Stats from the Rice Center:

-- In the United States, five children die every day from abuse at the hands of their caregivers. In Illinois alone, there are currently 16,000 children in foster care, leaving way too few foster parents.

-- The average child at Rice has six failed foster placements, with 20 percent of the children having had 10 or more failed foster placements.

-- The Rice Center is split almost evenly between boys and girls.

-- The average age of children at Rice is 11.

-- The current racial profile of the children at Rice (to be accurate, it's important to note that the stats change as kids come and go from Rice) is 33 children who identify as African American, 11 who identify as white, five who identify as Hispanic, three who identify as multiracial, and one other.

--Ninety-five percent of the children at Rice have needed psychiatric hospitalization in the past.


Support Rice's fundraiser here.

Watch Northwestern University Dance Marathon's video here.


Photo: Julie Cutter at a back-to-school Rice event with Rice Director Keith Polan. Rice's D65 school principal is John Mitchell.

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