Child Trauma

The Problem:

Last year, Chesterfield schools suspended students 4,300 times. 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.

The Solutions:

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. ACE Interface trauma information program has been introduced in Chesterfield Public Schools, and 60 new teachers were trained in Fall 2018. Furthermore, CCPS’ trauma specialist has been certified as a master trainer in ACE Interface.

Thousands of CCPS staff and students are still waiting for trauma-informed care training and its benefits for school safety, behavior management, and mental health.

Our trauma response team continues to ensure CCPS follows through on their commitment to provide ACE Interface for all 4,000 district teachers and staff. We will ask school leadership to use the free resources provided by the Virginia Dept. of Behavioral Health for this training, which would significantly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of training.

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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