Trauma in Children — School-Based Considerations
By Kimberly Caputo, Esq. of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.
Students of all ages and across all grades are bombarded with anxiety-producing input from a great many sources. This can include, but not limited to, the following: Academic demands; social activities; extracurricular activities; faith-based activities and family obligations. Added to this mix are various social media outlets and global internet access to information, and thus the list grows by leaps and bounds.
It is becoming apparent to the medical community, educators, and even legislatures, that in addition to all that makes up a 21st Century childhood, forms of emotional trauma are sadly ever-increasing for kids.
The good news is that state and national attention is being paid to this important issue and this is beginning to have an impact on services in schools.
WHAT IS TRAUMA?
There are a number of different definitions of trauma:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), offers the following definition (which has been adopted by the United States Senate—See What is being Done):
An event or series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as a physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on an individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional or spiritual well- being.
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) V as :
Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. And can include experiences of direct trauma exposure, witnessing trauma or learning about trauma that happened to a close friend or relative. For children, motor vehicle accidents, bullying, child maltreatment (physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; neglect) and exposure to domestic and community violence.
The “event, series of events, or set of circumstances” noted above are also widely varied and there is not a single, set in stone, list but the following have been recognized by professionals as potentially having a negative impact on kids:
- Psychological, physical or sexual abuse
- Exposure to domestic violence
- Living with family member(s) struggling with mental illness; addiction; and/or substance abuse
- Incarceration of a family member
- Parental separation and/or divorce
- Exposure to violence outside the home
- Home and/or income insecurity
WHO IS AFFECTED?
Research suggests that about half of the children in the United States experience at least one traumatic event before reaching age 17. In 2015, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), one nationally representative sample of young people ages 12 to 17 found that:
- 8% reported a lifetime prevalence of sexual assault
- 17% reported physical assault
- 39% reported witnessing violence
Studies show that trauma can have a wide-ranging negative impact on kids to include:
Attendance; verbal ability; attention; IQ scores; academic achievement and increased discipline at school.
WHAT IS BEING DONE
In Pennsylvania there are requirements for school staff to receive mandatory training on trauma-informed education. In addition, a State Task Force has released recommendations including supporting the need for social and emotional learning opportunities for all students and calling for an increase in access to mental health services in schools. Schools also have the benefit of resources provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education which can also be accessed by parents so they are aware of what is available to staff in their children’s schools. https://www.education.pa.gov/Schools/safeschools/resources/Pages/Trauma-Information.aspx
In other states, Districts are recognizing the need to address the effects of trauma experienced by students through classroom and curriculum changes. Check out this NBC story for an example of how a school is tackling this issue head on. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/aromatherapy-anger-management-how-schools-are-addressing-crisis-childhood-trauma-n1006076?fbclid=IwAR3BbD-_zD-krRi-YLvJbEZjUvJbg78WIJDzkD3RWEl49FOUIwbEngkCS-s
Support for students who have experienced trauma is a critical and growing need. The negative impacts of trauma can be seen in school and have lasting effects. Although work has begun to bring support to schools through increased training, parents need information to be part of the conversation and to work to ensure school is responsive to all students.