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Crittenton shifts its methods of services in response to study

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It's not enough to just provide children and families with a nurturing place to turn in times of trouble.

Crittenton Services, Inc. has participated in a study that surveys Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE, to change its policies and treatment.

"What we've done is say ‘look,' and now how can we change, how can the criminal justice system address girls and assess trauma early?" said Kathy Szafran, president and chief executive officer of Crittenton Services in Wheeling. "And all of that boils down to how you can reduce long-term health care costs."

The agency, formerly known as the Florence Crittenton Home, was founded in Wheeling in 1895. Since then, four programs have evolved to embrace children and families and to lead them toward self-sufficiency.

Szafran said she has seen the program make transitions from custodial care to behavioral health and toward treatment, but staff members always knew what motivates women to change is different than what moves men toward change.

"They need to feel safe and comfortable enough to heal," Szafran said of the gender gap.

The ACE study was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, along with Kaiser Permanente's Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego. The short survey evaluated psychological abuse, physical abuse and other problems in the home. It scored those traumas, and as the participants' scores went up, so too did risk behaviors, and the young women served by Crittenton had some of the highest numbers.

Szafran was among the National Crittenton Foundation representatives who spoke about the survey findings at a Capitol Hill briefing. She said the briefing became so full of interested observers that extra chairs were brought in, and she was asked a lot of good questions while she was there.

She said with early intervention, the impending economic disasters of individuals with high ACE scores can be prevented, so the risk for chronic diseases, violence and depression can be curbed. And in many cases, young women who end up arrested and referred to Crittenton are victims themselves, not true, hardened criminals.

"It just makes sense, and now we've connected it with this huge national study," Szafran said. "We're really in the beginning."

Szafran said the ACE pilot results and plans for future data collection will help to more clearly outline a continuum of services young families need.

"We're so much more capable in West Virginia to make changes," she said. "The political contacts are there, people listen and care, and we're small enough to make the changes."