In our current school system, almost 50% of all children have experienced at least one ACE or Adverse Childhood Experience. These include things like having a parent that is dependent on drugs or alcohol, abuse, neglect, and a dangerous environment. Although these may sound like things only experienced in an urban, or high poverty area, the statistics are alarmingly clear.
Dr. Christina Bethell, Director of the National Maternal and Child Health Data Resource Center states, “If more prevention, trauma-healing and resiliency training programs aren’t provided for children who have experienced trauma, and if our educational, juvenile justice, mental health and medical systems are not changed to stop traumatizing already traumatized children, many of the nation’s children are likely to suffer chronic disease and mental illness. Not only will their lives be difficult, but the nation’s already high health care costs will soar even higher.”
With the increase in school violence, many schools adopted a “zero tolerance” approach, which created an environment that actually increases the likelihood of issues, and creates further damage to already traumatized youth. This is not a “feel good” approach, as science can now quantify that children exposed to the constant stress of an adverse environment. Meg Walkley, MSW and Tory L,. Cox, LCSW / PPS, discuss the effects of trauma on the development of children and adolescents, stating “Trauma exposed youth are often hyper-vigilant, making it easy for them to become overwhelmed and undermining their capacity for self-regulation and anger management.” Often times, this leads to children being misdiagnosed with things like ADD, ADHD and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. This leads to medications that simply address symptoms, and not the root cause.
Our Trauma Informed Approach
Creating a trauma informed approach starts with changing the dialogue around behavioral issues. Instead of asking the question, “What’s wrong with him/her?” the real question is “what happened to him/her?” This is where Writing for the Soul Workshop™ emerges as a viable component for organizations and schools to help better work with trauma impacted youth. As a writing as therapy program, our workshop goes a step further than simply understanding what is driving behavior, we are able to promote a safe environment needed for healing, plus give at risk youth something no other program can… empowerment. This is a key in truly changing outcomes for trauma impacted youth. Instead of the constant stress of a “fight or flight” environment, our participants have the potential for financial independence not present in other programs. This means better emotional outcomes, and better overall outcomes as well. Teachers can better understand how traditional disciplinary approaches are seen as combative to trauma impacted youth, creating a vicious cycle that ultimately leads to youth dropping out of school, or getting into legal trouble, or both.
In schools that have already adopted a trauma informed approach, the results have been amazing. Arnone Elementary, for example, which has 826 students from kindergarten through 5th grade, 86 percent of which are minorities, has seen a 40 percent drop in suspensions after implementing a trauma informed approach. When Lincoln High School implemented a trauma-informed approach, suspensions dropped by 83 percent and expulsions dropped by 40 percent in the year following implementation.
An estimated two in three children are exposed to traumatic experiences that have the potential to impact brain development, social functioning, and ability to learn and engage in school. Recognizing and addressing this issue must become a focus for our educational system. Trauma-informed approaches, which have been supported by research evidence in fields such as mental health and child welfare, recognize and address the implications of traumatic experiences for students. Trauma has the potential to affect all students, and implementing a trauma-informed approach is imperative to change this cycle. Test drive our Writing for the Soul Workshop™ program to see if it would be a viable component to what your school or organization already has in place. Call us at: (888) 682.TGIM (8446) Ext. 700 to schedule a free consultation today.