Helping Children With Trauma

USF assistant professor is utilizing a new therapy technique for children suffering from PTSD.


Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (July 14, 2011) - University of South Florida (USF) School of Social Work Assistant Professor Alison Salloum is developing an innovative therapy for young children (aged 3 to 7) who have experienced trauma. 


The treatment, called Stepped Care Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), is provided at no cost to families by the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Inc. Over a three year period, 64 parents and children will receive treatment.


The purpose of the study is to develop an effective, efficient, and accessible treatment for young children. The study starts August 1, 2011.


It is estimated that approximately 25 percent of young children who experience a traumatic event will develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traumatic events may include witnessing or being a victim of violence, physical or sexual abuse, death of someone close, cancer and other medical conditions, or accidents.  Children may experience posttraumatic stress symptoms such as being irritable, angry and having temper tantrums, difficulty sleeping and/or nightmares, stomach aches and/or headaches, being more aggressive (fighting, hitting, biting, shoving), and getting very upset if something happens that reminds them of the trauma

Salloum received a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to develop and test Stepped Care TF-CBT.

“We know that trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy is effective in helping children after trauma,” Salloum said. “But, it is often difficult for children to get treatment they need due to barriers such as cost, time, parents’ work schedules, and transportation.”

Stepped Care TF-CBT addresses these concerns and makes it easier for children to receive trauma-focused evidenced based treatment.

Salloum said “many children with PTSD will not get better unless they are provided with specific trauma-focused intervention.” She hopes that by using a treatment that has already proven to be effective, such as TF-CBT, and providing it in a way that is more efficient, accessible and cost effective, more children who have experienced a traumatic event will get the help that they need, and parents can play a big part in making things better for their child.

The treatment is provided in two steps. In step one, the parent provides the therapy to the child at home which limits office visits, potentially saves time and may be more convenient. The therapist supports and coaches the parent who is helping the child based on what is known to work for children who have experienced a traumatic event. Some children will get better after step one and not require any additional therapy. Some children may need to “step up” to more traditional therapist-directed in-office treatment.

“We want to empower parents to help their children by giving them the best available knowledge, tools and support,” Salloum said.

The treatment is designed to reduce psychological trauma, and Salloum believes that by the parent working with the child, the parent-child relationship may also be strengthened.

For more information or to participate in the study, call The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Inc at 813-264-9955.