Trauma Informed Schools

In a 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), data showed that one in five children in the United States have had two or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).  This would mean that in a classroom of 20 students at least 4 will be dealing with impactful trauma in their life.  These numbers increase in low-income areas.  Because of this prevalence, this means most if not all, educators will deal with the effects of trauma on student in their careers.  It than becomes vitally important to make sure educators are aware of the impact of trauma and are given the tools to help student.  The question becomes how can schools not only be trauma informed but move to a place of healing.

In an atrticle by Dr. Shawn Ginwright entitled The Future of Healing: Shifting From Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement, we need to shift to an understanding that “individuals who experience trauma are agents in restoring their own well-being.”  Dr Ginwright says that healing centered engagement (HCE) shifts the focus from what happened to you to what’s right with you and is a strength-based approach that better empowers people to make changes in their well-being.  This approach also moves from an individual approach to a collective interdependence.  Dr Ginwright also says in his article, “Shifting from trauma informed care or treatment to healing centered engagement requires youth development stakeholders to expand from a treatment-based model, which views trauma and harm as an isolated experience, to an engagement model which supports collective well-being.”

Three areas that schools can focus on to move to a healing centered engagement approach are to start with empathy, encourage young people to dream and imagine, and build critical reflection and take loving action.  To start with empathy, Dr. Ginwright encourages adults to be vulnerable and start with their own story.  This will allow for youth to feel safe sharing.  Often the survival skills necessary to deal with trauma do not allow a student to think beyond their present situation.  By fostering an environment that encourages dreaming and imagination, youth can start to create a vision of what they can become.  Finally, we need to examine our policies and practices to make sure decisions are not harmful to youth.  We also must allow youth to build a sense of control and power in their own expression of negatively viewed policies and practices by allowing a collective action.

Being trauma informed is important but as Dr Ginwright shows we must find ways from being informed to moving to a place of healing.  This is the work.  Acknowledging the impact of ACE’s and trauma on our youth is vital but more important is finding ways to empower youth to move forward and grow.  Being informed is the starting point.  Creating healing centers is the action necessary to move beyond simply being knowledgeable to being impactful.

Tim Geels – Director of Implementation and Governance

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