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Pennsylvania: State senators call for trauma-informed school staff members

Sept 4, 2018, WHYY, Philadelphia, PA: With new proposal, trauma-informed care could become standard in Pa. schools If a pair of powerful Pennsylvania state senators get their way, a burgeoning approach to managing student behavior could become a mandate. State Sens. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, and Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, announced a proposal last week to create a “trauma-informed system of education.” The central plank of their proposal is a requirement that all teachers, school board members, and school employees “with direct contact with students” receive trauma-informed training. ... …A 2017 review by the National Conference of State Legislators found a spike nationwide in legislation related to trauma-informed care. This latest proposal represents another evolution in Pennsylvania’s approach to school safety, an issue pushed into the spotlight following a pair of deadly school shootings earlier this year. Although much of the debate since then has revolved around whether districts should allow some teachers to carry guns in school, there’s also been bipartisan momentum around the need to focus more on behavioral health. Trauma-informed care sits squarely in the middle of that conversation. In broad strokes, the model asks teachers and staff to change the way they approach student misbehavior. Instead of reflexively punishing or scolding students, teachers in a trauma-informed school would try to find the root of the misbehavior and use that knowledge to deescalate the situation. “We can give him a bottle of water and put our hand on his back and ask him not, what’s wrong with you, but what happened,” said Temple University researcher Kathy Reeves, an expert on trauma-informed care, in testimony last Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee in Philadelphia. Researchers who back the method say students often act out because of what the field calls “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” known commonly as ACEs. Those experiences include abuse, neglect, discrimination, violence, the death of a family member, and more. The accumulation of these adverse experiences, researchers say, can hinder the function of a growing brain and ultimately lead to the kind of irritability or impulse control that causes kids to act out. It’s important for teachers to understand the relationship between trauma and behavior, these experts say, and then to respond in ways that reflect this understanding. Over time, experts and state leaders hope, this approach can heal students who might otherwise commit violence…. …We are never going to have safe schools until we have trauma-informed schools,” Reeves told the committee…. Some of the $60 million Pennsylvania designated earlier this year for school safety could go toward trauma-informed approaches to education, which was one of 22 categories listed among potential uses for the money.

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