Sunday January 6, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- According to various reports published in the past two years, nearly 90 children are confirmed as abused or neglected each month in Berkshire County. One in five children in Western Massachusetts live in households where there is not enough food. Horizons for Homeless Children serves an average of 5,309 homeless children each year, and this doesn’t include the number of children who don’t find services.

"As a society, we’re all asking the question of why things are worse, why do things seem more difficult now for children. There’s also the question of what it is that makes some people better able to come through difficult life experiences and maintain their health," said Dr. Brenda Butler, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who has been in practice for more than 25 years.

The latter is the matter of resilience. Helping to build resilience and protective factors for youth in Berkshire County is also the focus of a Feb. 1 community forum to be presented at Berkshire Hills Country Club by Butler and her field colleagues, Dr. John Miner (Williams College) and Dr. Christopher Overtree (University of Massachusetts).

"There has always been research and studies that demonstrate the outcomes children subjected to adverse childhood experiences face," said Butler.

In her field, doctors know that youths who face such struggles and obstacles are a higher risk for developing mental illness and/or become prone to substance abuse, having trouble in school, lashing out at others or harming themselves.


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Currently, Butler serves as the director of child and adolescent education and outreach for the Department of Psychiatry at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield.

The daylong conference is designed for medical, social, education, clergy and other types of workers who work with young people between the ages of 5 and 22 years. The program is sponsored and organized by Berkshire Medical Center, the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention, and the Western Massachusetts chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It’s also supported in part by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Suicide Prevention Program and the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention.

Subjects like recognizing symptoms of mental illness and trauma; intervention strategies for behavioral challenges (rage, temper tantrums, meltdowns), and understanding the roles that schools can play in building resilience in youth will be among the many topics of the day.

"In light of recent tragic events, we hope that our community will see great value in an educational conference that empowers us all rather than feeling frightened and helpless," said Peggy Morse, a survivor advocate through the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention.

Though the conference has been planned for a while, both Morse and Butler said 2012 incidents like the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and Clackamas Town Center near Happy Valley, Ore., and last summer’s shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., make the conference topics all the more timely and relevant.

All three incidents involved assailants who were young men in their 20s; two of the young men took their own lives. The one living, Aurora shooter James Holmes, will stand preliminary trial on Monday.

Butler said factors like connection, communication and positive expectations are all factors that can give young people the confidence and competence to be resilient and to cope and persevere through tough times.

"I do think we are at a point as a community where we do have to have these conversations. There have been way too many incidents, too many tragedies, and thoughts like ‘what were the warnings’ and ‘should somebody have reached out to this kid.’ I think we will have more conversations like this," Butler said.

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink

If you go Š

What: Building Resilience & Protective Factors for the Youth in our Community: Evidence-based Strategies for Mental Health. Speakers include Dr. Branda Butler, Dr. John Miner and Dr. Christopher Overtree.

When: Friday, Feb. 1, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration and breakfast begins at 7 a.m. Advance registration and payment is required. Registration deadline is Friday, Jan. 18.

Where: Berkshire Hills Country Club, 500 Benedict Road, Pittsfield.

Cost: $30 (checks payable to Berkshire Medical Center). Cost includes meals and 6.50 credit hours. Registration forms can be found online here: www.berkshirecoalition.org/events.html. Registration can be sent to: BMC Dept. of Psychiatry, attn: Sarah Perrone, 725 North St.-Warriner Building, Pittsfield, MA 01201.

Info: Contact Sarah Perrone at (413) 447-2987 or email sperrone@bhs1.org.