Trauma Informed Care
A recent national survey of the incidence and prevalence of children’s exposure to violence and trauma revealed that 60% of American children have been exposed to violence, crime or abuse. Forty percent were direct victims of two or more violent acts. Studies now show that nearly every school has children who have been exposed to overwhelming experiences. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study lists seven categories of adverse childhood experiences including witnessing violence between a child’s caretakers, being the direct targets of physical, sexual or psychological abuse, living with a parent with mental illness, substance abuse or involvement in criminal behavior. The ACE study found higher levels of traumatic experiences in the general population than previously imagined and further studies have expanded the understanding of the prevalence of adverse experiences in childhood.
For young children, prolonged exposure to violence and trauma can seriously undermine children’s ability to focus, behave appropriately, and learn. It often leads to school failure, truancy, suspension or expulsion, dropping out, or involvement in the juvenile justice system. To address these adverse effects, communities in the greater Brockton area have begun to implement programs that are based on the work of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI) out of Harvard Law School as well as the state of West Virginia’s Handle with Care program.
The goal of these programs are to prevent children’s exposure to trauma and violence, mitigate negative affects experienced by children’s exposure to trauma, and to increase knowledge and awareness of this issue. Once schools understand the educational impacts of trauma, they can become safe, supportive environments where students make the positive connections with adults and peers they might otherwise push away, calm their emotions so they can focus and behave appropriately, and feel confident enough to advance their learning.
Through these programs, police officers are also better able to take notice when a child is involved in, or witness to, any kind of conflict that could result in trauma. The police department will then notify school administrators, disclosing only the child’s name, and that he or she may be in need of a little extra support in the following days.
One example of a program in the area is entitled Kid In Need (KIN) which was launched in January of 2017 by the East Bridgewater Police Department in partnership with the East Bridgewater Public School system. The program incorporates principals of TLPI and is programmatically based on the Handle with Care model. The Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office has provided training to both the police and the school district in East Bridgewater and has the capacity to train additional communities throughout the county to integrate trauma informed care into a school system or community-based organization. For more information, please visit the Trauma & Learning Policy Initiative.