SHIFT Program: Helping Children Heal from Traumatic Events

SHIFT Program: Helping Children Heal from Traumatic Events

Anyone who experiences trauma has a challenging road ahead. But, children can be especially susceptible to long-term effects from a traumatic experience that go beyond physical injury. The SHIFT program at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital was designed to help children and their families work through the aftermath of trauma—particularly surrounding events such as gunshots, stabbings or assaults.

Lydia Walker, SHIFT program manager at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, shares more about the program and why it has become an integral part of the standard of care for the hospital.

Supporting and Healing Individuals from Trauma

SHIFT stands for “Supporting and Healing Individuals from Trauma.” This name was established by Trauma Program Director Anissa Cooper. “We were searching for something that would describe the program, and we found that this name gave us a good feeling of what this work is all about,” says Walker.

The SHIFT team includes three violence interventionists, Cooper Walker, and Dr. Regan Williams, who is the Trauma Medical Director, as well as collaborations with different partners in the community.

More than Medical: Recognizing a Need for Emotional and Social Support

Violence intervention programs have been around since about the 1990s, although the SHIFT program did not come into existence at Le Bonheur until 2022. Dr. Williams witnessed the impact of community violence, gunshot wounds in particular, starting to rise in 2017.

“Dr. Williams recognized that while the hospital could do all of the ‘medical’ treatments, the surgeries, the bandaging, et cetera, once a child left here, there was an entirely different dynamic for that healing process to occur. That's where we came into the picture,” notes Walker.

Community Collaboration Heightens Efforts and Results

In addition to the trauma team and onsite mental health counselors, the SHIFT team collaborates with the City of Memphis and its Violence Intervention Program, UT’s Center for Youth Advocacy and Well-Being and the Youth Villages and its SWITCH program. Walker describes such a partnership as working with “credible messengers,” meaning professionals established in the community who are also focused on this effort.

“The Youth Villages' SWITCH Program is very similar to what we do, but they have three persons that do in-home care with the youth. They have an interventionist, a coach and a mental health provider. They will do intensive case management within the home with the youth and the entire family,” explains Walker. “We're all constantly communicating both with the families and amongst ourselves to make sure we're helping to stabilize the household and to move the child in a forward trajectory.”

Identifying and Fulfilling the Needs of the Patient and Family Members

The SHIFT team becomes informed about any individual who comes to the hospital as a result of gunshot wounds, stabbings or assaults. They then introduce themselves to the family, assess what’s going on, and finally enroll the family into the program. Among patients who only come into the emergency department and return home without being admitted, the team reaches out to the family to ensure they are coming back for a follow-up appointment.

“Once they are discharged, we'll meet them at those follow-up appointments. We make sure we are offering them the full extent of our services,” assures Walker.

Family-Centered Care

Every family is going to react differently when their child has gone through a traumatic event. Some are still in great shock and just need time to process what has happened before they choose to enroll in SHIFT. If a family isn’t ready, Walker assures the team respects that and gives them room.

“We totally step back, give them the time they need. It takes a moment to wrap your head around what has happened to the child, as well as the aftermath of that particular injury. When we come back, we're really not even talking about the program. We're talking about the child's health because that's the key concern. What has happened since the child left the hospital? Then, we can get into if there are things we can do to help support any of the concerns the family has.”

SHIFT is for all who are interested. The program is grant funded, an initiative progressed by former Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and other organizations within the community. SHIFT is also receiving additional funding from the Formanek Foundation, which will allow the team to hire another interventionalist. The program is always seeking out other funding sources so they can continue to include SHIFT as part of the hospital’s standard of care.

“This work is necessary. Because we have taken this unique approach, I think people will see the vision to enhance what we're already doing,” shares Walker. “Patients and their families are entitled to the program. We frame our work as, ‘This terrible thing has happened to you, but as an answer to some of the needs that may have been pre-existing or exist because of the injury, we will come alongside you.’”

Want to learn more about Child and Family Support at Le Bonheur?

Child and Family Support

Want to find an appointment for your child?
Call 1-866-870-5570.

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