Strengthening Connections 2012

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This conference brought together providers, researchers, and consumers from across the country in the live music capital of the world for three days of learning and sharing. To increase the knowledge-base of parent-child attachment in families affected by HIV, substance abuse, and trauma, this conference highlighted:

  • the latest evidence-based programs and promising practices working to promote attachment and reduce the effects of trauma in families;
  • new lessons learned on effective ways to mitigate or remove institutional barriers that discourage parent-child attachment; and
  • programs and policies designed to promote attachment in culturally diverse and immigrant families.




Recordings, PowerPoint slides and other handouts from many of the presentations are available below:


September 10, 2012

Opening Keynote: Good Beginnings: Buffering Risk in Pregnancy and the First Year of Life
Mary Claire Heffron

Pregnancy, infancy and early childhood are times of great possibility and possible peril. This talk will engage participants to think in theory to practice terms about how current findings in neuroscience, attachment theory and intervention studies can be used to promote well-being in infants, young children and families.

speakerListen to this presentation (50 minutes) [MP3 format]

Handout: Working Paper: Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships [PDF]

Panel: Voices of Families
Yolanda Miller, Tarah Dowling, Oscar Knolls, moderated by Linda Coon

speakerListen to this presentation (87 minutes) [MP3 format]

Workshop Session I

1A) Men with a History of Substance Abuse and Trauma and Its Effects on the Father-Child Relationship

This interactive workshop will focus on men with histories of substance abuse and trauma, and the crippling effects it can have on the father-child relationship. Participants will be offered tools, strategies and interventions to support the rebuilding and repairing of these relationships.


1B) Supporting School Readiness in Young Children of HIV-Positive Mothers: Early Support for Lifelong Success
The Family Center’s Early Support for Lifelong Success promotes positive attachments when family dynamics are compromised by the mother’s HIV-positive status, depression, undocumented status, or experience of domestic violence.

1C) Parenting through Separation and Reunification
This session will offer attendees supportive techniques for families affected by parent/child separation and/or reunification in families with substance abuse and trauma.

1D) Drug Endangered and/or Traumatized Children: Treatment Considerations in an Innovative Transdisciplinary Model of Care
Considerations and interventions from an innovative transdisciplinary program serving DEC and/or traumatized children presenting with medical, neurodevelopmental, psychological, sensorimotor, and/or speech/language delays/disorders will be presented.

Workshop Session II

2A) The Protective Influence of Maternal-Fetal Attachment on Health Behaviors among HIV-infected Women
Maternal-fetal attachment (MFA) defines the pregnant woman’s desire to protect the fetus from harm. MFA is the precursor to successful maternal caregiving and the beginning of the mother-infant relationship. Thus, high levels of MFA may protect HIV-infected mothers against poor prenatal maternal health behaviors and post-natal infant medical neglect.


2B) Come on In: Running Groups for Mothers and their Children
This workshop will share strategies for running parent-child groups that increase parent-child attachment, parental social support, and connection to the wider community. Topics will include recruitment, engagement, logistics, and incorporating noncustodial parents.


2C) Supporting the Parent-Child Relationship during Maternal Incarceration
Maintaining parent-child relationships during parental incarceration improves parent and child outcomes. History, outcome research, and policy implications of co-residence options for women involved in the criminal justice system and their children will be presented along with other relationship-building techniques for this population.

2D) Becoming Trauma Informed: Opportunities and Challenges for Staff and Clients
This workshop will focus on the implementation of trauma exposure and PTSD screenings as one component of the overall effort to provide trauma informed care into a home visitation program. Opportunities and challenges for staff, including secondary traumatic stress, and the impact of implementation on the overall program will be explored.

Handout: Becoming Trauma Informed [PDF]


September 11, 2012

Plenary Session: The Impact of Trauma and Neglect on the Developing Child
Bruce Perry

The development of a young child is profoundly influenced by experience.  Both trauma and neglect, the absence of essential developmental experiences required to express a fundamental potential of a child, are pervasive problems in our culture. This presentation will review clinical work and research that can help us better understand developmental trauma, neglect and the parent-child relational problems that arise from neglect and threat.  An overview will be provided that suggests new directions for clinical practice, program development and policy.


Workshop Session III

3A) Reducing Risk for Fussy Babies
Crying, sleep problems and feeding are common concerns in early infancy that are addressed in the Fussy Baby Model of intervention. For many families these problems are compounded by depression, exposure to trauma, and lack of resources. This workshop will provide an overview of the Fussy Baby model including specific adaptations made for families at higher risk.


3B) Parent-Child Relationships in HIV-affected Families: Research Update and Parent Panel
Stigma, structural variables, and parent-child attachment all impact well-being in HIV-affected families. Workshop will present recent research and panel of parents living with HIV discussing parent-child relationships.

3C) Strengthening Bridges to Improve Outcomes for Families Affected by Substance Use Disorder
The need for a comprehensive continuum of services that meets the unique needs of families involved or at risk of involvement in the child welfare system has resulted in initiatives at both the federal and local levels, including innovative residential substance abuse treatment for pregnant and postpartum women that focuses on the parent-child bond.

3D) Vicarious Traumatization
This workshop is designed to increase participants’ awareness about the syndrome, as well as identify intervention strategies to help reduce vicarious traumatization symptoms.

Handout: Vicarious Traumatization: Signs, Symptoms, and Intervention [PDF]

Plenary Session: When Our Bridges Don’t Connect: Core Concepts Enhancing Diversity-Informed Practice
Chandra Ghosh Ippen

As the U. S. becomes increasingly culturally diverse, there is an urgent need for practitioners to learn effective ways to work with individuals and families from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Across numerous service sectors, we see disparities in access to care, service utilization, and attrition that are linked to aspects of diversity including ethnicity and socio-economic status. This talk introduces core concepts for enhancing diversity-informed practice and introduces case material to show how these concepts can help us understand interactional processes that may be central to engagement.

speakerListen to this presentation (55 minutes) [MP3 format]

Workshop Session IV

4B) Treatment Approaches for Children of Parents with Co-Occurring Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders and Histories of Violence/Trauma
Project BRIGHT (Building Resilience through Intervention Growing Healthier Together) is designed to address traumatic stress in children and their parents in recovery from substance use disorders (SUDs) and co-occurring disorders (CODs) at eight Family Residential Treatment (FRT) programs across Massachusetts.


4C) Safe Start: Assessing and Treating the Parent-Young Child Relationship
This workshop focuses on the clinical assessment of a caregiver’s relationship to a young child, birth to five years and interventions for repairing the relationship.


4D) Supporting Healthy Attachments: The Supervisor’s Role
Relationships influence relationships, and supervisors play a key role in building responsive connections among staff that support healthy infant-parent attachment.


4E) Somatic Experiencing®: A Cost-Effective Intervention for Reconnecting Families
This workshop will describe employing Somatic Experiencing® at Children’s Protective Services as a focused, brief, cost-effective intervention offering potentially significant improvements in family outcomes.

Handout: Somatic Experiencing®: A Cost-Effective Intervention for Reconnecting Families [PDF]


September 12, 2012

Plenary Session: Trauma Matters: The Connection between Addiction, Mental Health and Trauma
Stephanie Covington

There is a growing evidence-base documenting the impact of child neglect and abuse (as well as other forms of trauma) on health, mental health and behavior. The initial focus of the presentation is on the history of trauma, the process of trauma, and its connection to addiction, parenting, and mental health.

speakerListen to this presentation (72 minutes) [MP3 format]

Handout: Trauma Matters: The Connection between Addiction, Mental Health and Trauma [PPT]

Workshop Session V

5A) Restoring Parental Rights and Permanency Planning with HIV Positive Families
This presentation will cover Illinois’ two recently enacted (2009) statutes pertaining to restoration of parental rights under the Juvenile Court and Adoption Act in certain child welfare cases, as well as review permanency planning with HIV positive families, stand-by guardianship procedures, and the skills needed to enact a state law.


5B) The Importance of Early Intervention in Perinatal Mood Disorders
Women with a history of substance abuse or past trauma are more susceptible to being affected by perinatal mood disorders which may be evidenced by depression, anxiety, OCD or other symptoms. Screening and early intervention can be critical for the parent-child bond and has long term consequences for child development.


5C) Cherish the Family
The proposed workshop presentation will provide participants with a discussion of the theoretical framework of a program which addresses the needs of families with infants (0-3) in the child welfare system. Participants will learn how effective the Cherish the Family project is in alleviating parenting stress and promoting maternal-infant attachment, family reunification, and child well-being.

Handout: Cherish the Family [PPT]

5D) Transforming Practice and Building Healthy Connections
This workshop will report effects of integrating relationship-centered approaches, such as “Touch Communication” and infant/child massage, into Evidence Based Practice to cultivate nurturing, safe, secure relationships for changing generational neglect and abuse.

Lunch & Closing Keynote: Trauma and Recovery
Tonier Cain

Growing up in a community and home where neglect and sexual abuse went unrecognized, Tonier Cain found herself living on the streets addicted to drugs. Her presentation will focus on the curative factors that led her to be the dynamic and accomplished person she is today, as well as the complications of maintaining and reestablishing relationships with her children throughout her journey.

speakerListen to this presentation (85 minutes) [MP3 format]


Plenary Speakers

Mary Claire Heffron, PhD
Mary Claire Heffron, PhD, is the Clinical Director of the Early Childhood Mental Health Program (ECMH) of Children’s Hospital, Oakland (CHO), where she has clinical oversight of the ECMH, the community-based Harris Early Childhood Mental Health Training Program, and the CHO Consultation and Training Team. She graduated from the Wright Institute (1996).




Bruce Perry, MDBruce D. Perry, MD, PhD
Dr. Bruce D. Perry is the Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, a not-for-profit organization based in Houston ( and adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago. Dr. Perry is the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Over the last thirty years, Dr. Perry has been an active teacher, clinician and researcher in children’s mental health and the neurosciences holding a variety of academic positions.

Dr. Perry was on the faculty of the Departments of Pharmacology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago School Of Medicine from 1988 to 1991. From 1992 to 2001, Dr. Perry served as the Trammell Research Professor of Child Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. During this time, Dr. Perry also was Chief of Psychiatry for Texas Children’s Hospital and Vice-Chairman for Research within the Department of Psychiatry. From 2001 to 2003, Dr. Perry served as the Medical Director for Provincial Programs in Children’s Mental Health for the Alberta Mental Health Board. He continues to serve as a Senior Consultant to the Ministry of Children’s Services in Alberta, Canada.

Dr. Perry has conducted both basic neuroscience and clinical research. His neuroscience research has examined the effects of prenatal drug exposure on brain development, the neurobiology of human neuropsychiatric disorders, the neurophysiology of traumatic life events and basic mechanisms related to the development of neurotransmitter receptors inthe brain. His clinical research and practice has focused on high-risk children examining long-term cognitive, behavioral, emotional, social, and physiological effects of neglect and trauma in children, adolescents and adults. This work has been instrumental in describing how childhood experiences, including neglect and traumatic stress, change the biology of the brain – and, thereby, the health of the child.

His clinical research over the last ten years has been focused on integrating concepts of developmental neuroscience and child development into clinical practices. This work has resulted in the development of innovative clinical practices and programs working with maltreated and traumatized children, most prominently the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT). The ChildTrauma Academy has multiple partners in various sectors of the community and has created many programs in context of public-private partnerships with the goal of promoting positive change within the primary institutions that work with high risk children such as child protective services, mental health, public education and juvenile justice.

His experience as a clinician and a researcher with traumatized children has led many community and governmental agencies to consult Dr. Perry following high-profile incidents involving traumatized children such as the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine school shootings, the September 11th terrorist attacks, Katrina hurricane, the FLDS polygamist sect and most recently, the earthquake in Haiti. Dr. Perry is the author of over 300 journal articles, book chapters and scientific proceedings and is the recipient of numerous professional awards and honors, including the
T. Berry Brazelton Infant Mental Health Advocacy Award, the Award for Leadership in Public Child Welfare and the Alberta Centennial Medal.

He has presented about child maltreatment, children’s mental health, neurodevelopment and youth violence in a variety of venues including policy-making bodies such as the White House Summit on Violence, the California Assembly and U.S. House Committee on Education. Dr. Perry has been featured in a wide range of media including National Public Radio, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Nightline, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC and CBS News and the Oprah Winfrey Show. His work has been featured in documentaries produced by Dateline NBC, 20/20, the BBC, Nightline, CBC, PBS, as well as a dozen international documentaries. Many print media have highlighted the clinical and research activities of Dr. Perry including a Pulitzer-prize winning series in the Chicago Tribune, US News and World Report, Time, Newsweek, Forbes ASAP, Washington Post, the New York Times and Rolling Stone.

Dr. Perry, a native of Bismarck, North Dakota, was an undergraduate at Stanford University and Amherst College. He attended medical and graduate school at Northwestern University, receiving both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees. Dr. Perry completed a residency in general psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine and a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at The University of Chicago.


Chandra Ghosh Ippen, PhDChandra Ghosh Ippen, PhD
Dr. Ghosh Ippen is Associate Research Director of the Child Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco and the Early Trauma Treatment Network, a member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). She has worked on seven longitudinal studies and has conducted treatment outcome research on the effectiveness of psychosocial intervention programs with Spanish-speaking children and parents. She is co-author of Losing a Parent to Death: Guidelines for the Treatment of Traumatic Bereavement in Infancy and Early Childhood (2003), director of the NCTSN Measure Review Database, and producer and director of Vale la Pena Recordar, a Spanish language video on childhood traumatic grief. As a first-generation East Indian/Japanese American, she is committed to examining how culture and context affect perception and mental health systems. She authored the chapter “The sociocultural context of infant mental health: Towards contextually congruent intervention,” which is part of the 3rd edition of the Handbook of Infant Mental Health, and co-authored the chapter “Rainbow of tears, souls full of hope: Cultural issues related to young children and trauma,” which discusses the importance of incorporating a cultural focus when working with young children who have experienced trauma. She serves as the co-chair of the Cultural Competence Consortium of the NCTSN. In her spare time she bakes pies with her 7-year old son. She is on a mission to bake 1000 pies in her lifetime and a pie in each of the 50 states.


Stephanie Covington, PhD, LCSWStephanie Covington, PhD, LCSW
Dr. Stephanie S. Covington is a nationally recognized clinician, author, organizational consultant, and lecturer. She is a pioneer in the field of women’s issues, addiction, and recovery. She has developed an innovative, gender-responsive, and trauma-informed approach to the treatment needs of women and girls that results in effective services in public, private, and institutional settings.

Her presentations, staff-development seminars, and technical assistance focus on systems change and the development of caring, compassionate, and empowering therapeutic environments. They provide professionals an opportunity to learn new skills for dealing with personal, institutional, and societal changes and are always in demand, both nationally and internationally.

Dr. Covington’s clients include the Betty Ford Treatment Center, the Hanley Center, Pine Grove Women’s Center, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment in Washington, D.C., the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and numerous other treatment and correctional settings. Dr. Covington was a workshop chair for the women’s treatment improvement protocol (TIP) and the trauma TIP (published by CSAT) and is the co-author of a three-year research project, Gender-Responsive Strategies: Research, Practice, and Guiding Principles for Women Offenders, for the National Institute of Corrections. This publication received the University of Cincinnati Award for its outstanding contribution to the field of corrections in the U.S. and Canada.

Educated at Columbia University and the Union Institute, Dr. Covington has served on the faculties of the University of Southern California, San Diego State University, and the California School of Professional Psychology, and she is a former chair of the Women’s Committee of the International Council on Alcoholism and Addiction. She is a board-certified Diplomat of the National Association of Social Workers, the American Board of Sexology, and the American Board of Medical Psychotherapists, and is a member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. She also serves on the Advisory Council for Women’s Services for the federal agency SAMHSA. She is the featured consultant and therapist on the Oprah Winfrey Network docu-reality show entitled Breaking Down the Bars.

Dr. Covington is based in La Jolla, California, where she is co-director of the Institute for Relational Development and the Center for Gender and Justice, which seeks to expand gender-responsive policies and practices for females who are under criminal justice supervision.


Tonier CainTonier Cain
Tonier Cain is a consumer advocate who has spoken nationally on trauma, incarceration, and recovery. She has served as a member of the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with a Mental Illness (PAIMI) Council, a federally-required advisory body that reviews and guides work funded under the PAIMI grant and, in conjunction with the Board, sets and approves annual program priorities. She has also worked as a case manager and Director of Advocacy Services for a private non-profit in Annapolis, MD. Ms. Cain is featured in the documentary “Behind Closed Doors: Trauma Survivors and the Psychiatric System”. Ms. Cain is the team leader for the National Center for Trauma Informed Care which provides consultation, technical assistance, and training to revolutionize the way mental health and human services are organized, delivered and managed, while furthering the understanding of trauma-informed practices through education and outreach. Ms Cain is the subject in “Healing Neen”, a documentary based on her life as she moved through multiple systems of care.