Your Number Story

Trauma-Informed Care

Your number story is important to understand. Taking care of yourself allows you to take care of your students and colleagues. There is nothing self-ish about self-care.

Additionally, understanding the science of positive and adverse childhood experiences can help you to create caring, safe environments that are fundamental to learning. Understanding and awareness of the impact of positive and adverse childhood experiences can also help you lessen the effects of compassion fatigue, burnout, and vicarious trauma associated with the education profession.

What is trauma and trauma-informed care?

First, let’s define trauma. It has three components according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

Events and circumstances may include the actual or extreme threat of physical or psychological harm (i.e. natural disasters, violence, etc.) or severe, life-threatening neglect for a child that imperils healthy development. These events and circumstances may occur as a single occurrence or repeatedly over time.
Experience of these events and the circumstances for a person during the event, helps to determine whether it is traumatic or not. A particular event may be experienced as traumatic for one individual and not for another. How the individual labels, assigns meaning to, and is disrupted physically and psychologically by an event will contribute to whether or not it is experienced as traumatic.
Effects of the event are a critical component of trauma. These adverse effects may occur immediately or may have a delayed onset. The duration of the effects can be short to long term. In some situations, the individual may not recognize the connection between the traumatic events and the effects. Examples of adverse effects include an individual’s inability to cope with the normal stresses and strains of daily living; to trust and benefit from relationships; to manage cognitive processes, such as memory, attention, thinking; to regulate behavior; or to control the expression of emotions. In addition to these more visible effects, there may be an altering of one’s neurobiological make-up and ongoing health and well-being.

Trauma-Informed Care

Educators and all adults in school communities play an essential role in the lives of students. Though we cannot control the life events of the students, we can be the caring, supportive adults they need as they go through life’s experiences. Educators are critical partners in lessening the impacts of toxic stress in the lives of children and families and the potentially lasting effects of trauma.

Four essential concepts of trauma-informed care at a school/district level:

All people at all levels of the school/district have a basic realization about what trauma is and understand how trauma can affect families, groups, organizations, and communities as well as individuals.
People in the school/district are also able to recognize the signs of trauma. These signs may be gender, age, or setting-specific and may manifest in many ways. Trauma screening and assessment assist in the recognition of trauma, as does professional development dedicated to signs and symptoms of complex trauma.
The educators and adults respond by applying the principles of a trauma-informed approach to all areas of functioning. They integrate an understanding that the experience of traumatic events impacts all people involved, whether directly or indirectly. All staff, from the person who greets students at the door to the administrators and governance boards, have changed their language, behaviors and policies to take into consideration the experiences of trauma among children and adults of the school/district.

A trauma-informed approach seeks to resist re-traumatization of students, family, and staff. Organizations often inadvertently create stressful or toxic environments that interfere with an optimal learning environment, the well-being of staff, or continuity of the community. Staff who work within a trauma-informed environment are taught to recognize how organizational practices may trigger painful memories and re-traumatize clients with trauma histories.

Six principles of trauma-informed care for educators and students at an individual level

Throughout the school, children and adults need to feel physically and psychologically safe; the physical setting is safe and interpersonal interactions promote a sense of safety. Understanding safety as defined by those served is a high priority.
Trustworthiness and Transparency
Whenever possible, school/district operations and decisions are conducted with transparency with the goal of building and maintaining trust with students, staff, and families.
Peer Support
Peer support and mutual self-help are key vehicles for establishing safety and hope, building trust, and enhancing collaboration. Utilizing stories of lived experience of those from the community to promote recovery and healing is key. The term “Peers” refers to individuals with lived experiences of trauma, or, in the case of children, this may be family members of children who have experienced traumatic events and are key caregivers in their recovery.
Collaboration and Mutuality
Importance is placed on partnering and the leveling of “power” differences between staff and students. This includes classified staff, from clerical and custodial services, to administrators, and by demonstrating that healing happens in relationships and in the meaningful sharing of power and decision-making. The school/district recognizes that everyone has a role to play in a trauma-informed approach. “One does not have to be a therapist to be therapeutic.”
Empowerment, Voice and Choice
Throughout the school/district and among the students served, individuals’ strengths and experiences are recognized and built upon. The school/district fosters a belief in the primacy of the people served, in resilience, and in the ability of individuals, organizations, and communities to heal and promote recovery from trauma. Organizations understand the importance of power differentials and ways in which students/families, historically, have been diminished in voice and choice and are often recipients of coercive treatment.
Students and staff are supported in shared decision-making, choice, and goal setting to determine the plan of action they need to heal and move forward. They are supported in cultivating self-advocacy skills. Staff are facilitators of recovery rather than controllers of recovery. This is a parallel process as staff need to feel safe, as much as students.
Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues:
The organization actively moves past cultural stereotypes and biases (e.g. based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, religion, gender-identity, geography, etc.); offers, access to gender responsive services; leverages the healing value of traditional cultural connections; incorporates policies, protocols, and processes that are responsive to the racial, ethnic and cultural needs of individuals served; and recognizes and addresses historical trauma.