Victor Rivas Rivers
Victor Rivas Rivers

By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor

Given that there is an increased understanding by mental health practitioners about recognizing the impact of trauma, particularly childhood trauma, and how critical it is for them to provide effective mental health and social services will be among the topics addressed at an educational conference May 11.

Organized by Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton’s Children and Family Services, the daylong conference to be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at The College of New Jersey, Ewing, will feature leading trauma and mental health specialists who will share perspectives on ways assistance can be given to people in traumatic circumstances.

“Catholic Charities has a long history of working with individuals who have been exposed to trauma, whether it is family violence, natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy or terrorist attacks such as 9-11,” said Ron Gering, director of Children and Family Services, which provides a broad spectrum of mental health and social support services to children and families recovering from some form of trauma. Included in the scope of services are children and adolescents who are experiencing emotional and behavioral challenges as well as a number of specialty programs that help children and individuals who have experienced domestic violence, child and abuse and child sexual abuse.

“For the past three years, Children and Family Services has dedicated itself to becoming a ‘trauma-informed’ organization, meaning that all employees now understand the impact of trauma on those we serve,” said Gering.

“The goal of the conference is to increase the understanding of trauma in the greater community and particularly those who are currently working with individuals affected by trauma. The conference is open to the general public, Gering said, but is probably of most interest to mental health practitioners, those working in social services, medical services and school systems. He noted that at the conference, Catholic Charities is receiving assistance by TCNJ’s Bonner Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, which focuses on providing opportunities for the college students to become involved in the community. A good number of Bonner Students volunteer with Catholic Charities’ El Centro, which provides assistance and outreach to Latino families of Mercer County. The agency has also received sponsorship support from Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health.

Gering said the conference will feature keynote speaker Victor Rivas Rivers, a film star, author and renowned advocate for violence prevention. Rivers seeks to raise awareness and activism of related forms of abuse, along with ways that individuals and communities can do more to end violence.

“As a child, Mr. Rivers lived the life that mirrors many of the individuals we see in Children and Family Services – child abuse, domestic violence, a history of severe trauma that lasted into his adolescence,” Gering said. “He attributes his success later in life to the help and intervention that came from teachers, counselors, coaches and others that recognized what he was experiencing and were there to help him.

“His message will reaffirm both that children can recover from trauma with the help of others and the importance of the work that is done to help these children,” Gering said.

Following Rivers’ keynote, which runs from 9 to 10:15 a.m., participants  will have  chance to attend three additional workshops: Introduction to Trauma Informed Care;” “What Makes Us Resilient?” “The Anatomy of Survival: Brain-Body Responses to Neglect, Trauma and Violence in Children and Adults;” “Immigration and Trauma;” “Suicide Prevention for Schools;” “The Psychology of Terrorism;” “Art Therapy for Children Affected by Trauma; “Impact of Intimate Partner Trauma,” and “Children Teaching Caregivers: Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.”

Gering said the workshops will be offered 10:30 a.m. to noon; 1 to 2:30 p.m. and 2:45 to 4:15  p.m. Continuing Education Unit certificates will be distributed from 4:15 to 4:30. Presenters include Catholic Charities staff, a TCNJ professor and staff from the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Disaster and Terrorism Branch.

Cost to attend is $100 ($20 one-time fee for CEU-eligible workshops). For more information on the conference and workshop descriptions, visit For more information, call 609-394-7680, ext. 2305.