911 Alternative for Mental Health Crisis

Coming from a 25-year background in the world of technology and venture capital, I still keep my eye on what new technologies, companies, and people are being funded. I saw this today on TechCrunch… a fascinating trauma-informed approach! While this product is in its infancy and limited to a very small area of San Francisco for now, the implications are exciting! We’ll have to see what the results are over time, how it impacts the lives of those that have mental health issues in that area and haven’t found appropriate help, support or understanding, and — IF this company is successful in securing their next round of financing.

Go here to read the article about the company and its new app!

Confronting Adverse Childhood Experiences to Improve Rural Kids’ Lifelong Health

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Montana ranks 5th in the nation for the percentage of population living in a rural area (44.1%), eclipsed only by Mississippi, West Virginia, Vermont, and Maine. And as you may know, Montana is the 4th largest state in the nation! There are so many great things about being such a rural state — the charm of small towns, the beauty of farms and ranches, the wide-open spaces, our majestic mountains, rivers, streams, and creeks; and of course, let’s not forget the higher-than-average childhood adversity. What?

That’s right. In a recent study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, findings show that children living in rural areas have higher ACE scores (Adverse Childhood Experiences). You can read a first-hand take on this problem by Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Adrienne Coopey by clicking here.

Yes, Montana is a wonderful place to raise kiddos. But underneath the beauty and wonderment of this state, we must pay attention to the health and well-being of our children, youth, and families. ChildWise Institute presents and trains people all over Montana on the neuroscience of ACEs, toxic stress, and resilience; and our experience supports this report. We know this by collecting and aggregating ACE scores of the adults we train, and the comments we hear – especially in the rural areas of Montana.

Together, we truly can elevate the well-being and future of Montana’s children, youth, families, and communities. Get involved! Join the movement!

PBS Documentary on Native American Tribal Justice and Families Debuts Monday August 21

ChildWise Institute works with all of the Amercian Indian Tribes in Montana to some extent and hopes to develop these relationships into friendships that are full, rich, and deep. Justice is often something that has been deprived of our nation’s Native Americans for a very, very long time – and is still lacking.

A new PBS Documentary on POV titled Tribal Justice that spotlights tribal courts that incorporate indigenous customs and beliefs into their justice systems and the families that are affected. The documentary, directed by Anne Makepeace, follows Abby Abinanti and Claudette White, chief judges in two of the more than 300 tribal courts across the country, as they navigate cross-jurisdictional issues in their courts and communities.

Tribal Justice has its national broadcast premiere on the PBS documentary series POV (Point of View) on Monday, August 21, 2017. POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series, now in its 30th season.

You can read more about it here. I hope you will tune in for this documentary… I know we will!

Outside Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theater at the premiere of ‘Tribal Justice.’ Front row: Judge Claudette White, director Anne Makepeace, Judge Abby Abinanti. Back row: Claudette’s sister Dorena, Claudette’s son Zion, Claudette’s sister Mary.

Class of 2017 hopes to spark change with donation for suicide awareness

The team at ChildWise Institute is so proud of these amazing young men and women!

Every corner of the State of Montana has been affected by suicide. These high school seniors are making a difference in their own community and serve as an inspiring example for all of us. We wanted to shine a light on them, and hope you will do the same. Please click on the photo to read the entire article.

SP_N1Toole County Health Nurse Kristi Aklestad, left, graciously accepts a check from Class of 2017 members, Andrew Johnson, Grace Aklestad and Colt Pederson last week at the courthouse. The class chose to donate what was left in their class account to suicide awareness and prevention after losing two classmates prior to their graduation in May.

Photo by Jennifer Van Heel

Teaming Up to Help Traumatized Children

Intermountain and Bigfork school district collaborate on new day-treatment program for students on school campus!

For many years, Intermountain, the founding organization of ChildWise Institute, has been making tremendous strides in the Helena area schools with in-school services for kiddos that have experienced stress and trauma in their lives. But it’s not about Intermountain, it’s about how these kiddos are becoming more successful in school and realizing higher levels of hope for their futures!

And now, Intermountain is doing the same thing for Bigfork schools. Thanks to a visionary and caring school Superintendent, Matt Jensen, Intermountain will provide therapeutic support for the kids and their families! This is an unusual opportunity and approach, but one that Intermountain believes works. and they should know. Intermountain has done this successfully for many years in the greater Helena area.

“It’s hard for us to have a kid in our system that we’re working with blood, sweat, and tears, and just pouring everything we can into this kid, and then send them away to a program outside of town,” Jensen said. “It’s good for them — God bless them when they go — but we’re totally invested with the child and the family. This model where we can have them in our schools — the program is great.”



ChildWise Institute was recently highlighted on the website SHD Prevention for our work in the business sector as it relates to Adverse Childhood Experiences! Understanding ACEs, and changing & enhancing some business practices can have a  very positive effect on a business’s bottom line – called the Return On Investment (ROI). Using a company’s Employee Assitance Program, employees are able to address ACEs in their own lives and the lives of their children, which ultimately can result in healthier, happier employees – which can result in an increased ROI! But there’s more to it than that! Read the article here.

2017 ChildWise Institute Fall Summit “The Brain Behind the Behavior” TRAINING COMPLETED

There is no greater or more complicated system than the human brain!


Elevate Montana Fall Summit “The Brain Behind the Behavior”

September 28th & 29th 2017, Helena, MT

Radisson Hotel, Helena


Important Information:

The conference start time is 8:30am – 4:30pm on both days, and registration will start at 7:30am on day 1.

To download the schedule, click here.

If you are traveling from out of town, a block of rooms have been reserved at the Radisson Hotel for a discounted rate. Ask for the “ChildWise” rate when you make your reservation.

Be sure to register soon, as seating is limited!

Click here to register for the Fall Summit

*Cancellation Policy: Full refund (less $50 processing fee) if canceled 72 hours prior to the conference. No refund after this deadline.*



Adolescence is a window of opportunity for developing a better, healthy, smarter, faster brain. It is the time when the brain becomes more efficient and develops more advanced skills. But it can also be a time of missed opportunities and vulnerabilities if a teen does not challenge her/his brain, or exposes the brain to neurotoxins, such as alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Similar to what happens in early childhood, adolescent brain development is a period of ‘use it or lose it’. Brain connections that are stimulated and used repeatedly grow stronger while unused connections wither away. How teens spend their time – their activities and experiences – influences both the organization and also the capacity of the brain.

It doesn’t take a brain scientist to tell you that adolescents can be frustrating! A teen’s life is shaped by factors such as family, friends, school, and communities. But there are also powerful neurological issues at play. What can we do to reduce the danger? Neuroscience has made great strides in shedding light on the changes occurring in the teenager’s brain and why they behave the way they do. This Summit will feature leading experts in neuroscience and adolescent behaviors to guide us through an understanding of how the developing brain plays into the health and social issues our youth are facing every day.

Keynote Speakers:

Judy Cameron, Ph.D. For more than 25 years, Judy Cameron has been interested in educating the public about how life events affect the brain. A professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh, she has served on the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development, the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child and the Dana Foundation for Brain Initiatives. Her research focuses on the influences of everyday life stresses on long-term health, identification of factors that lead to stress sensitivity versus resilience, and how physical exercise increases brain plasticity In addition, Dr. Cameron is CEO of Working for Kids: Building Skills, a company which produces educational materials and a training program for professionals and parents teaching them how they can help children strengthen brain development.

In the first years of life, neurons in our brain form new connections at the astounding rate of 700– 1000 per second — a pace that is not repeated again. But when the quality of key factors — including in our health, nutrition, environment and sources of support — is poor, child development is seriously affected, sometimes irreversibly. Dr. Judy Cameron speaks about this critical period of early child development. She will explain the basic processes by which childhood experiences shape brain development, including the formation of brain circuits and gene expression within the brain.

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand how adverse childhood experiences change brain function leading to long- term consequences in terms of behavior regulation, cognitive function, mental health and physical health.
  2. Explain what neural circuits are continuing to be strengthened during the teenage years, and how they can be strengthened to improve complex reasoning skills, planning, problem solving, and inhibitory control.
  3. Understand the types of social support systems that help children and teens become more resilient to the adverse consequences of life stresses.


Delaney Ruston, M.D. is a filmmaker, Stanford trained physician and mother of two. Throughout her education at Cornell University, Stanford Medical School and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) for residency, Delaney studied many aspects of filmmaking, with a particular focus on film as a vehicle for social change. She made her first award-winning short film while doing her medical residency at UCSF. She completed a Fellowship in Ethics and Communication at UCSF and then went on to become faculty at the University of Washington in Seattle. She then completed a National Endowment for The Arts funded filmmaking program and later was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to make films in India. Along with filmmaking, Ruston has spent over a decade providing primary care to the underserved. Recently she became the Filmmaker-in-Residence at the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook Medicine, NY.

In SCREENAGERS, as with her award-winning documentaries on mental health, physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston takes a deeply personal approach as she probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including her own, to explore struggles over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction. Through poignant, and unexpectedly funny stories, along with surprising insights from authors, psychologists, and brain scientists, SCREENAGERS reveals how tech time impacts kids’ development and offers solutions on how adults can empower kids to best navigate the digital world and find balance.

The Effects of Social Media on the Teenage Brain

After the film Dr. Ruston will explore the science around the developing brain and screen time— particularly concerning social media. She will share the lessons she learned in creating SCREENAGERS as well as insights she has gained from having it screened in 6,000 communities in over forty countries thus far. The participants of the talk will have a better understanding of the following three areas in particular. Learning Objectives 1. Understand the impact of excessive screen time on the development of the young brain. 2. Explain the impact of social media on youth’s development of self and development of empathy. 3. Explore effective, science based ways that educators and parents can help youth to promote

Learning Objectives 

  1. Understand the impact of excessive screen time on the development of the young brain. Explain the impact of social media on youth’s development of self and development of empathy.
  2. Explain the impact of social media on youth’s development of self and development of empathy.
  3. Explore effective, science based ways that educators and parents can help youth to promote healthy and balanced use of screen time, social media in particular.

SCREENAGERS a documentary by Delaney Ruston, M.D.

Are you watching kids scroll through life, with their rapid-fire thumbs and a six- second attention span?

Physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston saw that with her own kids and learned that the average kid spends 6.5 hours a day looking at screens. She wondered about the impact of all this time and about the friction occurring in homes and schools around negotiating screen time—friction she knew all too well.

In SCREENAGERS, as with her award-winning documentaries on mental health, Delaney takes a deeply personal approach as she probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including her own, to explore struggles over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction. Through poignant, and unexpectedly funny stories, along with surprising insights from authors, psychologists, and brain scientists, SCREENAGERS reveals how tech time impacts kids’ development and offers solutions on how adults can empower kids to best navigate the digital world and find balance.

Delaney decided to make Screenagers because she believes deeply in the importance of helping kids find balance in our tech filled world. She is passionate about having the film be a vehicle to bring parents, educators and kids together for post screening discussions so change can happen not just in our homes but in our schools and communities. She loves engaging audiences in solution centered discussions and is excited that her daughter, Tessa, who is in the film, enjoys being a part of these discussions as well.


On day 2, this Summit will provide 4 breakouts on top issues Montana’s children are facing today.


Substance use and the Teenage Brain:
Speaker: Malcolm Horn, LCSW, MAC
Director of Special Services, Rimrock Foundation

Substance Use and the Teenage Brain: Adolescence is a key period for the development of a healthy brain. Growth during this time period can often determine the course for the rest of life, but what happens when that growth is altered or stunned? This presentation will explore the functions and development goals of the brain for their time frame and how substance-use affects this development. Participants will come away with better understanding of the outward signs and behaviors of adolescent drug use and also provide ideas and strategies to prevent and reduce drug use.

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the key areas of the brain that develop during adolescence and the functions of those areas.
  2. Understand how substance-use affects those areas of the brain.
  3. Identify intervention and prevention strategies.


Suicide and the Teenage Brain:
Speaker: Matthew Byerly, M.D.
Director of Montana State University’s Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery

Dr. Byerly will describe available youth suicide prevention interventions, highlighting differences in program approaches and comparing and contrasting the effectiveness of individual programs Recent work of the MSU Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery on a promising new intervention, Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM), will be reviewed Recommendations regarding needs for future research in the field will be discussed, with an emphasis on relevance for Montana and similar rural settings. Following the presentation will be 30 minutes of question/answer and discussion.

Learning Objectives

  1. Explore the major types of suicide prevention interventions
  2. Understand the comparative effectiveness of the most rigorously tested suicide prevention interventions.


Mental Wellness and the Teenage Brain
Speaker: Dr. Julian Nolen, Licensed Psychologist

In “Mental Wellness and the Teenage Brain,” Dr. Nolen will discuss the unique neuropsychological, psychological, and emotional factors that define adolescence, with a focus on how teens and care providers, educators, parents, etc. can best understand and incorporate these traits into positive, strengths-based activity or intervention.

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the unique neuropsychological and emotional states of the teenage brain – as well as how this affects their general functioning and behavior.
  2. Incorporate the strengths and challenges of these unique traits (e.g., desire for acceptance) in order to provide supportive, effective guidance while also providing opportunities for healthy autonomy, exploration, and growth.


Understanding Self Harm
Speaker: Lisa. R. Ponfick, M.D.
Psychiatrist Shodair Children’s Hospital

By definition, self-harm refers to hurting oneself to relieve emotional pain or distress. The most common forms of this behavior are cutting and burning. From a developmental perspective, there is increased risk for self-injury in adolescents. Not only do adolescents have to navigate a growing number of personal relationships, their brains and bodies are undergoing changes as well. It is not uncommon for early adolescents to feel high levels of emotion but not have many skills to deal with this emotion. Dr. Ponfick will explain this often misunderstood behavior.

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the types of self harm that are common teenagers. 270p
  2. Explore the functions of self harm and potential treatment strategies.
  3. Understand how the concepts of pain offset release and endorphin release may lead to repetitive self harm.


Suicide Prevention Bill Includes ACEs!

“These types of demographics and statistics are unacceptable.”

That’s what Senator Windy Boy, sponsor of Montana Legislative House Bill 118, said in regards to suicide rates in Montana.

“We’re ranked among the highest in suicide nationwide,” said Windy Boy. “Indian Country is ranked the highest in Montana.” He continued, “This is the first step in reducing that,” adding that he wants to thank the governor and the Legislature for their support in “making sure this was a priority in this session.”

The major contribution to this Bill to include the science of toxic stress, the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study and resilience came from Representative Jessica Karjala. Karjala had worked tirelessly on a Bill specific to ACEs and resilience, which included a pilot project, but it was tabled in hearing. The staff at ChildWise Institute worked closely with Karjala and were also very disappointed that the Committee did not fully grasp the importance of advancing awareness and actions throughout Montana based on what we know about ACEs, toxic stress, and resilience. While having ACEs included in Bill 118 is a good thing, it is only the beginning of what needs to be addressed in Montana to elevate the well-being of its children, youth, families, and communities. Suicide is, of course, only one of many serious negative health or social outcomes of childhood adversity according to the data of the ACE Study. We have a lot of work to do, still.

Stay tuned for the next Montana Legislative session in 2019! We’ve already started the work!

How Dirty is Too Dirty?

How Dirty is Too Dirty?

By Daniel Champer, LCPC, Intermountain Clinical Manager of School Based Services

A quick internet search of the phrase “mushroom cloud” reveals that the technical definition of the phenomena is “a distinctive pyro-cumulus mushroom-shaped cloud of debris and usually condensed water vapor resulting from a large explosion.” The phrase will also conjure up frightening descriptions related to 1950’s nuclear trials and WWII documentaries. The aforementioned imagery is pretty universal. Yet, for anybody who has interacted with an adolescent using any of their five senses, I believe that my definition is much more appropriate. I believe that a mushroom cloud is actually the phenomena created when unwashed bodies, raging hormones, and bad attitudes interact with copious amounts of body spray or perfume.

Most teenagers smell. And for those that don’t, it’s probably a safe bet that their dens, I mean bedrooms, do. The perfume industry generates about 30 billion dollars yearly on a global scale.  Why?  Because most teenagers smell. So, the real question becomes:  How smelly is too smelly? How messy is too messy? How pimply is too pimply? And then, what in the name of Mr. Clean do I do about it?

The Merriam-Webster definition of hygiene is as follows: “The conditions or practices (as of cleanliness) conducive to health.” Hygiene is an integral part of health for all individuals. It is especially important for adolescents and young adults as it is directly related to physical health, mental health, and social health. We often think of poor hygiene as a condition in and of itself, yet the reality is that poor hygiene is often one of the earliest signs that something isn’t quite right in the life of a youth.

While it may be a slight over-exaggeration to state that all teenagers are gross, hygiene does tend to deteriorate during this development stage. Developmental factors such as limit testing and individuation mesh poorly with increased body hair, hyperactive sweat glands, and several gender-specific physical developments. Poor impulse control and underdeveloped judgment directly correlates to eight dirty glasses on a nightstand and a pile of dirty laundry a grizzly bear could hibernate under. So, if these teenage tendencies are somewhat normal, then how do we know when that young person in our life is just “too dirty?” Trust your senses.

Use your sense of sight. Observe your teenager in a variety of settings. Evaluate if your child’s hygiene is similar to that of other same-age peers. Make sure to notice if hygiene habits change for the worse. Note instances in which your teenager takes a personal inventory of his or her hygiene, (every kid gets caught smelling their armpits at some point, and that’s actually a good thing).

Use your sense of smell. This one isn’t too hard. All teenagers will have an off day, but make sure to notice if a young person consistently presents as malodorous. Also, check in with other trusted adults to see if they share a similar experience. Use your sense of hearing. Pay attention to what the young people in your life say. Do they talk negatively about themselves? Do they express a desire to be closer to same age peers in both socially and romantic ways but just can’t seem to do so? Does the shower turn on regularly? Adolescents tend to experience shame and embarrassment in relation to hygiene. Listen to see if the teen in your life expresses an interest in keeping themselves clean and presenting themselves as attractive.Use your sense of touch. Check for consistently unwashed and oily skin. On second thought, it’s probably better to use your sense of sight for this one. Evaluate an adolescent’s need and desire for physical closeness. Poor hygiene can often be a sign that something else may not be right in the life of an adolescent. This shift is also often accompanied by an attempt to isolate and withdraw from relationships and individuals with whom they were previously close.

Use your sense of taste. Actually, never mind. Don’t do that.  That’s just gross.

What do you do if your teen’s dirty is too dirty? Check in with them. Have a conversation around hygiene and health in general. Discuss the need and the process for achieving good hygiene. Normalize the difficulties that teens face in keeping their bodies clean. Make sure to ask the hard questions about suicide and drug use. Check in about their mental health. Ask questions about their social health. Also, be sure to talk with other trusted adults, such as teachers and coaches who regularly interact with your child. If you think there may be something else going on, make sure to seek professional medical or mental health treatment.

If we as adults use personal hygiene to help determine the mental and physical health of the young people of our community, then someday we can transition from using adjectives such as messy, smelly, and dirty to healthy, happy, and wise.

Daniel Champer is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who currently serves as the clinical manager of School Based Services for Intermountain in Helena.  Daniel provides clinical leadership and oversight to teams of mental health professionals who provide therapeutic services in public school settings in the Helena area.

Montana making a little headway to address ACEs in adults!

Recently, ChildWise Institute had worked hard with bi-partisan legislative leaders on a Bill to promote a pilot project based on the science of ACEs, toxic stress, and resilience. Unfortunately, it was tabled (read: failed).

ChildWise has been working with legislators for 6 years now (3 legislative sessions) that have wanted to use ACEs as a public policy issue and a legislative Bill. Those efforts have been unsuccessful so far. It’s something every state needs to accomplish — but I think there’s a problem. From my experience, I have yet to see anything ACEs that could be effective, appropriate legislation. Back in 2013, I was invited to meet with a legislator and another person with whom I work occasionally (Erin Butts). Representative Dunwell had attended a 40-minute ACEs presentation I did at the Capitol for legislators while the 2013 Session was in. I had about 25 people in the room, Rep. Dunwell was one of them, and so was Representative Karjala. ACEs hit both of them square in the face, as it does most folks. Rep. Dunwell was hot to create a Bill based on ACEs. Erin and I were asking her what she wanted to do/accomplish with this Bill, and Erin said something that I repeat often and agree with completely – “ACEs is about compassion, how do you legislate compassion?” Nevertheless, a Bill was crafted and presented at the 2013 Committee Hearing. I even worked with Dr. Rob Anda, who was kind enough to write and sign a personal letter asking the legislators to give serious consideration to passing that Bill. The, I had a copy of that letter delivered to the desk of every legislator while they were on the floor during the session.

This is the struggle I see in many states that are trying to make legislation out of ACEs. To me, ACEs can and should change policy in agencies and organizations, such as the Dept. of Human Services and Office of Public Instruction. But I don’t think it can be public policy necessarily. In this 2017 legislative session, Representative Karjala worked with ChildWise and others to get another ACEs-based Bill passed, and as I mentioned at the top of this article, it failed. Not because Rep. Karjala lacked passion or determination, but (in my opinion) you can’t legislate compassion. There certainly other reasons the Hearing Committee did not pass the Bill, such as no specific measurable outcomes, but it doesn’t mean the last six years of pressing the science of ACEs forward with legislators isn’t getting any traction.

Here’s a really great step forward, as seen in today’s local newspaper!

Governor signs bills addressing criminal justice costs

Gov. Steve Bullock has signed a package of bills that seek to reduce costs for the state public defender’s office and help reduce recidivism. One bill calls for the Office of Public Defender to establish a pilot project in up to four regions that would put clients in touch with social workers and other services that might help address the reasons they got in trouble with the law.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are already trying the “holistic defense” pilot project and say it has cut recidivism in half among chronic offenders who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse. Social workers help offenders obtain driver’s licenses, jobs, housing and medical care.

Reducing recidivism would reduce caseloads for the public defender’s office, which has seen a 30 percent increase in caseloads since 2012. Public defenders have said they didn’t always feel like they are providing adequate representation to their clients.

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