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New Certificate Program Trains Professionals to Deal with Childhood Trauma

Submitted by on August 31, 2020 – 7:18 pm
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Amy Ackroyd, Merrimack Valley area director for Children’s Friend and Family Services, and a member of the college’s human services advisory committee.

Working with children and families who have experienced trauma is extremely sensitive and challenging, and there’s an incredibly high demand for professionals with those specialized skills.

That’s why Northern Essex Community College is launching its new Children’s Behavioral Health Specialist certificate, a 19-credit Human Services program. The certificate, will equip students with the skills needed to work with children and families who are experiencing family violence, divorce/separation, parental incarceration, mental health issues, substance use, poverty, bullying, or physical, mental, or sexual abuse. The first courses in the program will be offered this fall.

The program’s genesis began with a real community need, which was brought to the college’s attention by Amy Ackroyd, LICSW. She’s on the college’s human services advisory committee and is the Merrimack Valley Area Director for Children’s Friend and Family Services, a division of the nonprofit agency Justice Resource Institute.

Ackroyd approached the college about developing a certificate program that would help students move into one of two roles within the agency: therapeutic mentor and family partner.

“We’re really are filling a gap,” says Brian MacKenna-Rice, coordinator of the human services programs and associate professor at NECC.

This kind of community partnership fits exactly with NECC’s mission.

“We’re a community college,” says MacKenna-Rice. “That, by definition, means we should be serving the community as best we can, and community partnerships are really a living example of that.”

Because there’s a 150-hour internship built into the certificate program requirements—and many students will do their internships with Children’s Friend and Family Services or other agencies in need of people with this kind of training—the program will provide a pipeline of qualified employees who will likely get hired upon its completion.

In addition, the program offers an opportunity for local agencies to bolster their existing employees’ skills and credentials.

The certificate program also has to potential to be the catalyst for students to pursue a human services education. MacKenna-Rice says that it was intentionally built to be fully transferable into an associate’s degree program, and that the majority—upwards of 80%—of NECC students who earn their associate’s degree in human services go on to receive their bachelor’s or master’s degrees as well.

In addition, he says the certificate program gives students “access to school, a starting point. A solid, fixed foundation to begin an education,” which is especially helpful for students who are new to the United States. Since employees who are bilingual and bicultural are already such an asset for agencies in communities like Lawrence and Haverhill, such a program can open the door to even more opportunities.

Ackroyd agrees, saying that the program can start people on a rewarding career path.

“It’s just creating that momentum of hope for those who never thought they would go to school, who never thought there would ever be an opportunity,” she says.

Northern Essex offers an Associate Degree in Human Services as well as certificates in alcohol/drug abuse counseling, children’s behavioral health specialist, community support human services practitioner, and direct support.

To learn more, contact MacKenna-Rice at


Northern Essex Community College has campuses in both Haverhill and Lawrence. It offers approximately 60 associate degree and certificate programs as well as hundreds of noncredit courses designed for personal enrichment and career growth.  Each year, 6,000 students are enrolled in credit associate degree and certificate programs on the Haverhill and Lawrence campuses; and another 2,000 take noncredit workforce development and community education classes on campus, and at businesses and community sites across the Merrimack Valley.  For more information, visit the website at or call 978-556-3700.