To the Editor:
We are writing to offer additional considerations related to the opinion essay “Police Violence and COVID-19 Have Been Traumatizing. Here Are Tools That Can Help Schools” (June 16, 2020). While the essay offers an overview of research on trauma with a focus on how schools can identify and respond to children who have been affected, it is missing attention to necessary systems for effective implementation.
Author Heather C. Hill appropriately identifies that reactions to trauma will be individually determined and recommends that restarting school should include screening for exposure and symptoms. Although screening may be appropriate, effective screening procedures must involve more than adapting a particular instrument and having students complete it without having supports available to avoid retraumatization. The systems supporting appropriate data use and response are equally, if not more, important.
With tighter budgets and ever-expanding lists of decisions that need prioritizing, schools must think carefully before engaging in any new assessment practices. They need to ask critical questions, including what data are needed to inform response, what data are already available, and how to prepare staff for identification and response roles.
We also agree that trauma-informed response must attend to both staff and student needs. An emotionally safe environment is critical to successful recovery and will not happen if staff are not ready and able to support students. We recommend relying heavily on existing frameworks for tiered service delivery with emphasis on strengthening core services based on community context.
Core services must have relationships at their center but should extend beyond teacher-student relationships to adult-adult, adult-student, and student-student in coordinated partnerships across school, family, and community.
We strongly recommend that schools engage their existing multitiered frameworks for identification and response, focusing efforts on strengthening the role of every staff member in identification and response to trauma.
Sandra M. Chafouleas
Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor
Neag School of Education
University of Connecticut
Associate Vice President of School and Community Initiatives
Child Health and Development Institute
A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2020 edition of Education Week as Schools Need More to Face Trauma