B. Heidi Ellis, PhD, to be honored with 2017 David S. Weiner Award

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Every year, the David S. Weiner Award recognizes the exceptional work of a Boston Children’s Hospital employee, provider or faculty member. This year, B. Heidi Ellis, PhD, was selected from a competitive pool of applicants for her pioneering work with refugee children and teens as the director of Boston Children’s Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center (RTRC).

Refugee children and teens are an especially vulnerable population. Many of them experience trauma, either in war-torn home countries or during flight, Ellis explains. And when they arrive in the U.S., refugee families continue to face stressors that make adjustment difficult, including poverty and discrimination. These and other stressors can lead to mental health issues that cultural barriers, stigma and a lack of knowledge make harder to treat.

In partnership with refugee communities and agencies, RTRC develops prevention and intervention programs, conducts research and develops resources to assist refugee families as well as providers serving refugee populations. RTRC staff regularly provide training and consultation on refugee youth mental health across the country, reaching more than 850 providers in the past six months.

“Ellis has demonstrated a remarkable trajectory, building an innovative and highly successful program of research, services and training to support the health and wellbeing of refugee children and their families,” David DeMaso, MD, psychiatrist-in-chief, says.

Ellis co-developed the Trauma Systems Therapy treatment model and then adapted it for refugee patients. The adaptation, Trauma Systems Therapy for Refugees (TST-R), was first implemented at Boston Public Schools, where it successfully engaged refugee youth in mental health treatment and reduced both PTSD and depression. Today, TST-R is recognized as one of the only empirically supported mental health treatments for refugee youth and has been disseminated across the country and abroad.

Ellis also leads the largest longitudinal study of refugee youth in existence, following 465 Somali children and teens in the U.S. and Canada. The ongoing study examines a range of adjustment outcomes – delinquency, gang involvement and openness to violent extremism, to name a few – in order to provide critically needed empirical information on resettlement factors that promote or hinder the well-being of refugee youth.

“This work—innovative, empirical and high-impact in a novel field with a difficult-to-engage population—has fundamentally shaped policy discussions,” DeMaso continues.

DeMaso is far from alone in his thinking. Ellis is regularly invited to presenting her research finds to policymakers, including the Senior Counterterrorism Advisor to former President Obama and the Under Secretary of Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights at the State Department.

“I can say with confidence that the work of the RTRC has made substantial and important contributions to the health and wellbeing of refugee children in Massachusetts and throughout the United States,” says Jennifer Cochran, MPH, who directs the Division of Global Populations and Infectious Disease Prevention within the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Boston Children’s is so much more than a hospital—it’s a community of researchers, clinicians, administrators, support staff, innovators, teachers, patients and families, all working together to make the impossible possible. ”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

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