Child Trauma

RISC leaders voted overwhelmingly to focus on children's mental health at our Community Problems Assembly in October, 2016. Since then, we have focused on addressing child trauma because trauma is linked to many mental health and behavior problems.

The Problem:

  • Last year, Chesterfield schools suspended students 4,300 times (pause). And getting suspended because of a behavior problem can differ by student group, since African-American students with disabilities are suspended 4 times more often than others. 
  • Chesterfield administrators also estimate that 5-8 children per classroom have a mental health condition.
  • Our community was also devastated when 3 students in Chesterfield middle and high schools committed suicide in 2016.

For many children with mental health or behavior problems, trauma is a root cause. Traumatic events can include bullying, living in poverty, violence on your street, death of a parent, or abuse.

Last year, we found that trauma for Chesterfield children is growing fast. In Chesterfield County, increases in youth suicide, school dropouts and fights, and youth arrests point to a deeper problem—growing prevalence of traumatic experiences like abuse, domestic violence, poverty, and community violence.

  • In 2015, 155 children in the county were severely abused.
  • There were 6,000 domestic abuse cases in 2015, an increase of nearly 1,000 over 2 years.
  • Chesterfield children are twice as likely to live in poverty today as 15 years ago. Overall, 1 in 11 children live in poverty. Some populations are disproportionately affected—1 in 5 Latino children live in poverty.

All of these experiences are shown by national Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) studies to be potentially traumatic. Experiencing traumatic events between the ages of 0-18 has been linked to lapses in normal brain development and long-term problems with mental health, learning, and behavior.

Our Progress:

We did our research, and it led us to ACE Interface Training, which is nationally embraced and is currently rolling out state-wide in Virginia. ACE Interface is well-known for training people to recognize trauma, a crucial first step. And the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health is ready to provide ACE Interface for all 4,000 staff in Chesterfield before the first day of school next fall – at no cost to the district. (pause) They sent a confirmation letter which we shared with school leaders. A district-wide introduction will ensure no one is left waiting.

The second element of training is effective strategies for teachers to use in their classrooms once they have identified trauma. These strategies are urgently needed where suspension is the current response to trauma-related behavior. 7 middle and high schools had over 200 suspensions last year – and only 1 received trauma training. Chesterfield leaders told us that they have limited capacity for training, but these schools are in desperate need. We sought resources to expand Chesterfield’s capacity and make sure these schools get training. We found local providers who deliver training with a clear curriculum and evaluation of results. 

Finally, we sought a way for Chesterfield to evaluate their training with a nationally-recognized assessment tool. Since the Equity Recommendations approved by the school board this year include trauma-informed care training, we know there is a shared interest in results. We proposed these steps so that Chesterfield can train ALL staff and address their suspension problem.

At our 2018 Nehemiah Action Assembly, we got commitments from school district officials to implement the prove solutions we researched:

All Chesterfield County Public Schools staff will get ACE Interface Trauma Informed Response Training before the first day of school THIS FALL, and

CCPS will hire an outside organization to provide in-depth training to the six schools with more than 200 suspensions last year and the highest disparity in suspensions for African-American students with disabilities. Training will be evaluated using a nationally-recognized assessment to measure results.

We are excited about these results and will continue to follow up and monitor the results. Our overall goal is to keep our kids and their teachers feeling safe and supported. Our kids need care, not crisis.

Click here to see the Times-Dispatch article on the 2018 Nehemiah Action Assembly.




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