When it comes to child trauma, the adage if we ignore it, it will go away, is just not true.
Trauma has irrefutible impact on our children
The research points out the results of trauma are devastating to children, families, schools and communities. This following article by Duan Kauffman correctly provides us with a compelling case for becoming active in the lives of our trauma-impacted children.
Powerful and surprisingly prevalent horrors are blocking access to education and ravaging children’s lives. Sadly, they remain “the elephant in the classroom” ~Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
ACEs include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse (including bullying), physical and emotional neglect, a missing parent (due to separation, divorce, incarceration, or death), witnessing household substance abuse, violence, or mental illness, witnessing environmental violence, and more.
Developmental (or Childhood) trauma after ACEs is unidentified or misunderstood and often worsened within school systems, including the School District of Philadelphia (SDP). Experts call it a “crisis”.
Trauma during development is especially heinous.
Some adults normalize the pain and fear of the injured child, thinking “they’ll get over it.” Actually, it’s the opposite. Young children have fewer coping mechanisms and their immature brains are still developing. The impacts of trauma are greater on the still-developing brain.
School children deciding to take their own lives are a ‘silent’, but persistent indictment.
Trauma impacts children, learning, and schools via its laser-like effects on the physical structure of the brain. It damages cognition. The specific changes to brain architecture damage children’s memory systems, their ability to think, to organize multiple priorities (executive function), and hence to learn, particularly literacy skills.
Because of the changes to the trauma-impacted children’s neurobiology, children are also predisposed to hypervigilance and suspicion which leads them to misread social cues. Their aggressive,“hair trigger”defenses are often set off by deep fear-memories outside of their explicit consciousness.
Adults’ view of students’ seemingly illogical, or oppositional behavior, is often one of shock, confusion, frustration, and maybe anger. If we act on our uninformed views, we risk re-triggering more of the child’s trauma, and even more aggression.
In the spirit of zero-tolerance, many times schoolswill blame and punish students for logical behaviors connected to their trauma-based injuries.
Punishment can seem appropriate in the moment, but it does not address the child’s injury. Instead, the data says, it feeds the school-to-prison pipeline.
If schools are to be guided by data, the data says more than 2 of 3 children experience at least one ACE: children of all incomes, all colors, all social levels, all educational levels. It is all of us.
CDC scientists found that even in beautiful, suburban San Diego about one-fourth of middle class, mostly white, college educated, working folks with medical insurance had THREE or more ACEs! The lifelong impacts are shocking and alarming.
Three or more ACEs is significant because this amount of ACEs correlates with a doubled risk of depression, severe obesity, drug abuse, lung disease, and liver disease. It triples the risk of alcoholism, STDs and teen pregnancy.
Three ACEs correlate with a 5X increase in attempted suicide
Nevertheless, most school districts do not train or fund or allocate staff to recognize and respond to the devastating impacts of developmental trauma. Three or four folks on-staff at the district, based downtown at headquarters is a shameful, inappropriate investment in addressing the massive scourge across the city of more than two-hundred thousand school children.
School-based staff, given insufficient training and resources, can fail to connect the curse of developmental trauma to social behaviors and academic learning. So, the crisis continues.
All children in the classroom are denied equal access to their education as a result of unidentified developmental trauma, and adult ignorance and inaction.
Denied access includes students who are trauma-impacted. Moreover, the rest of our students in the same classrooms are trying to learn in the midst of frequent chaos around their trauma-impacted peers.
Why then does confidence in public education fail?
Continuing damage to children’s cognitive functions is only the beginning. Over time, children’s self-confidence disintegrates, further dismantling their learning results and the district’s educational mission. Then, trauma-impacted children’s natural, aggressive defenses can skyrocket when uninformed adults miscalculate punitively. Next, frustrated learners and families lose trust in their school. All this carnage, in turn, dissolves public confidence in public education, which finally, in a ‘perfect storm’, destroys public willingness to invest in public education.
Ultimately all of us are damaged, including all students’ families and the citizens of Philadelphia.
Suggestions for change:
- Scarce funds in public education must be re-prioritized toward system-wide, trauma-informed practice, driven by a vision of equity and educational process leadership in Philadelphia.
- District leaders must be held accountable for their inaction in the interim. They have clear data and strategies that can help stop further damaging trauma-impacted children.
- It is time for adults to stand up and indict district leadership.
- Doing nothing is unethical and morally wrong.
- Children’s lives hang in the balance.
I can say it no clearer than has been said.
We have a raging problem in the city of Philadelphia and in so many other parts of our country. We cannot afford to live without acting. It is why Lakeside is providing systems training for trauma to those who are working with these children. It is the way to make positive change happen.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network