Empowering Teens to Thrive at UPMC Children’s Hospital

The Empowering Teens to Thrive (ET3) program at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is helping to break the cycle of violence in young people.

ET3 is a program in partnership with the Violence Prevention Initiative at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. It’s one of many hospital-based violence intervention programs across the U.S. that combines the efforts of medical staff with community-based partners to provide safety planning, services, and trauma-informed care to violently injured people.

In a recent episode of “That’s Pediatrics” podcast, hosts Allison Williams, MD, and Sameer Agnihotri, PhD, talked with Alison Culyba, MD, PhD, director of UPMC Children’s ET3 program, and Sarah London, LSW, a social worker in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine and a lead violence prevention specialist at UPMC Children’s.

They shared their vision for the program and described how they help support victims of violence, reduce retaliation, and lower recidivism rates.

“Our program emerged several years ago within the context of many other similar programs across the country,” says Dr. Culyba. “[It was] a recognition that we really needed to create focused services to support young people who were cared for within Children’s Hospital and our outpatient practice network who had experienced violent injuries.”

‘They Are Left Picking Up A Lot Of The Pieces’

Patient referrals often come from UPMC Children’s Trauma Department, where some young people are recovering from gunshot wounds, stabbings, or similar violent injuries.

ET3 staff members work with individuals or families to assess needs and address concerns about housing, safety, medical care, or mental health. The program includes a network of mentors who help identify and connect these young people to community resources.

“We work together on doing a needs assessment, finding out what’s the immediate priority that needs to happen after this really horrific event,” says London. “Often, they are left picking up a lot of the pieces and not knowing where to turn next. So, what I like to do is frame myself as kind of the point person for them.”

What makes the UPMC Children’s program different is its ability to connect young people to mental health and sexual and reproductive health care, too, Dr. Culyba says.

The amount of time each person participates in the program depends on the services they need and can range from weeks to months.

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Funding Support

Programs like ET3 are often primarily funded by philanthropy or short-term sources with year-to-year unsustainability, says Dr. Culyba. More recently, though, state and federal lawmakers have indicated support for hospital and community-based violence prevention work.

“There’s been a really elevated national dialogue around this work recently, which has been tremendously exciting,” Dr. Culyba adds.

Locally, ET3 leaders have developed a strong partnership with the Allegheny County Office of Violence Prevention, the Heinz Endowments, and the Department of Health and Human Services to support growth and program outreach.

This allows London and Dr. Culyba to continue addressing the underlying racial and economic inequities that often drive violence.

Big Victories Can Be Small Wins

While the long-term goal of ET3 is to help change structural inequalities, short-term impact is just as important, London says, noting her buzzwords are “support, control, and confidence.”

“Chaos emits when situations like this happen, so anytime I can give a mom, for example, some control over her situation, or I can give a young person some confidence in sitting up a little bit straighter — that’s a win for me,” she says.

Recognizing young people’s strengths and victories in overcoming adversity is crucial to the healing process, Dr. Culyba says.

“[Sharing] that back with them and with their families — I think that piece is so often missing and gets lost in the shuffle of all of the challenges that people are trying to navigate,” Dr. Culyba says. “And yet, that’s truly the remarkable piece that the young people we have the privilege of working with are so incredible, and teaching us so much about what it means to be resilient and what it means to be able to move forward from a really challenging experience.”

You can make a referral to the ET3 program by contacting the Center for Adolescent and Young Adult Health at 412-692-6269. Ask for the ET3 program by name or to speak with the violence prevention social worker.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.