Manchester Program for Children In Trauma Expands to Laconia

Dec 24, 2018

Marty Ilg (L) and Erin Pettengill (R) are leading a team to start ACERT's in Laconia.
Credit Courtesy of Erin Pettengill

A program developed in Manchester that supports children in trauma is spreading to other New Hampshire towns.

The program - called “Adverse Childhood Experience Response Teams” (ACERT's) - helps police connect social workers to kids who have recently witnessed a traumatic event, such as domestic violence or an overdose.

It began in 2016, after Manchester Police tallied 400 children who had witnessed violence in the last year, none of whom had been referred to services. Since the program began, hundreds of children have received services, and the model has received national attention and a boost in federal funds.

Now, Lara Quiroga of the Manchester Community Health Center, which runs ACERT, says at least five New Hampshire towns are looking to start their own version of the program.

Erin Pettengill, Director of the Family Resource Center in Laconia, and Marti Ilg, the Executive Director of Lakes Region Childcare Services Lakes Region Childcare Services in Laconia, are in the process of starting ACERT in their town.

Pettengill says Laconia police often see kids during domestic violence calls, but they're not in a position to help.

"When the police come out to a call like that, their focus is on the parents and they're dealing with that, but there's children that aren't having the support they need when they're experiencing a traumatic event," she says.

Marti Ilg sees firsthand how unresolved trauma in childhood spells major health problems for people in adulthood, like alcoholism, drug use, diabetes, depression.

"We see the direct consequences of trauma and we understand how much can be done to mitigate negative impacts of the trauma, but we have to get there early."

After reviewing data with local law enforcement, Pettengill and Ilg say they hope ACERT can also target children after evictions, which Ilg says is a common and often overlooked source of trauma for children.

Pettengill estimates ACERT will cost about $30,000, which will be used to hire a coordinator. She hopes to secure funding and begin the program in the first half of 2019.