top of page

NBC NEWS: CHILDHOOD TRAUMA: "America’s 'greatest unrecognized public health crisis'"

May 20, 2019, NBC News: From aromatherapy to anger management: How schools are addressing the 'crisis' of childhood trauma--Schools are experimenting with new ways to address behavior issues and support students who are struggling emotionally. YAKIMA, Wash. — …Thomas, 11, was spending his recess in this converted classroom, known as the Calm Room, by choice. At his previous school, he often got into fights on the playground. His first school suspension was in kindergarten, the year his parents divorced; both parents struggled with drug addiction, and his father was briefly incarcerated.MAY 16, 201907:59 The troubles at home led to challenges at school. In fourth grade, he was suspended five times…. Jeff Clark, a school counselor at Ridgeview, created the Calm Room in January 2018 as a space where students can get help managing heightened emotions, including by talking to an adult, if they want to…. The room is open to all students, but it is aimed especially at those who are coping with issues at home, such as abuse, neglect or divorce — stressors that are among those classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. Around the country, amid a greater understanding of how childhood trauma affects everything from a youngster’s ability to focus in class to their health as an adult, a growing number of schools are moving away from traditional forms of discipline, such as suspensions or expulsions, and experimenting with new ways of addressing behavior issues. These include encouraging educators to consider why students are acting out; creating spaces where students can do yoga or play with sensory toys, like stress balls or glitter-filled bottles, to calm down; and implementing positive reinforcement systems, such as offering rewards like ice cream for good behavior. In Yakima, in addition to the Calm Room at Ridgeview, the school district also holds anger management classes, and students who stay out of trouble can get prizes, like a special lunch. … Psychologists began to understand the far-reaching effects of childhood adversity two decades ago, when a landmark 1998 study by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente found that adverse childhood experiences were linked to a higher risk of health problems later in life, including hepatitis, lung cancer and suicide attempts. The study found that adverse childhood experiences are common — at least two-thirds of the adults surveyed had one or more ACEs, and nearly one in eight people had four or more. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician who was appointed California’s first surgeon general in January, sees childhood adversity as America’s “greatest unrecognized public health crisis.” Starting in 2020, California will screen all children and adults on Medicaid for ACEs, with the goal of helping those who are struggling…. Pediatricians can screen for ACEs, but schools can also play a profound role if they train their staff to be sensitive to students’ trauma. Burke Harris, a proponent of teaching children about mindfulness and relaxation techniques, says she believes schools should move away from exclusionary disciplinary policies, like expulsions. Jamie Howard, a clinical psychologist at the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute in New York City and the director of the center's Trauma and Resilience Service, said that educating teachers about signs of trauma can help them see students' behavior through a different lens. “Kids that may seem like they have ADHD because they’re really spacey may actually be distracted by the trauma that’s happened. And then kids who are avoidant of certain things or who have an exaggerated startle response might look oppositional,” she said. “We’ve had kids who refuse to go to the front of the room and write on the whiteboard because they’re afraid to have their back to something they think is dangerous.” “Something we always say to teachers is instead of saying, ‘What’s wrong with this kid? He’s so difficult,’ try to think what happened to him to make him like that,” she continued. Sporleder told faculty that they had to realize that when students acted out, the behavior wasn’t necessarily in response to the teachers; it could be in response to something else going on in their lives. … There is no data on how many U.S. schools have started using this philosophy, though experts say interest in it is growing. The Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools Conference, led by the nonprofit Attachment and Trauma Network, Inc., grew from 550 attendees in 2018 to 1,200 in 2019, with every state represented at this year’s gathering. …

bottom of page