Nearly half of all children in the United States have experienced trauma, according to recent research. Children in underserved communities face trauma at a higher rate and are more likely to experience repeated trauma or more than one type.

Gun violence persistently affects students and families in many neighborhoods in cities like Washington, DC, with an uptick in incidents and related stress this summer, for example. Families in St. Louis, MO, were gassed last night as part of police response to protests, and students around the country have experienced similar stresses. In some areas, children experience trauma relating to natural disasters or fires. Episodic or chronic financial trouble, homelessness, domestic violence, and other factors also traumatize many children.

Results include attendance, behavioral, and academic problems. But research indicates that trauma-sensitive school environments can help students recover and thrive. Collaborations across the fields of education, psychology, law, and neurobiology have helped create policy and practice addressing this serious and common problem.

National Response and Resources

Several jurisdictions have taken steps to mandate and support trauma-sensitive or trauma-informed schools. In addition, a suit arguing that schools must address trauma like any other special need is moving through the federal courts

TraumaPictureLast August, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts enacted a “Safe and Supportive Schools” boosting the trauma-informed schools movement. Trauma-sensitive practices are also at work in Washington state and in San Francisco. In addition, the District of Columbia’s City Council held a roundtable on the topic in June.

At the time of the hearing, DC Children’s Law Center released a report Addressing Childhood Trauma in DC Schools. (CLC — Addressing Childhood Trauma in DC Schools–June 2015.) National organizations, including the Trauma and Learning Policy Institute and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, offer extensive research and resources for educators and policymakers. (See Washington Post “Trauma is hidden cause of academic struggles for many in DC, report finds.”)

Today, in Los Angeles, a federal judge is scheduled to consider several motions in the landmark case known as “Peter P., et al. v. Compton Unified School District, et al.” The suit was filed earlier this year by five student-plaintiffs who have experienced severe trauma and argue that Compton Unified School District (CUSD) failed to address their needs. Three teachers joined the suit, saying that CUSD has not given them the tools and support they need to appropriately assist children experiencing severe trauma. Here is the case timeline, with links to more details.

Here is NCTSN’s Child Trauma Tool Kit for Educators and more at “Readiness, Response, and Recovery” resources. The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative offers many free resources (although they do request a donation from those who can): Visit their site for free downloads of Helping Traumatize Children Learn and Creating and Advocating for Trauma-Sensitive Schools and much more.

Need for Street Response Units

Stuart Anderson, founder and director of Family and Friends of Incarcerated Persons, joined the Education Town Hall on August 20 to discuss the need for on-site trauma response units to help children cope with violent incidents. He argues for such units on the streets of DC and other cities. Listen to Track 3 below —