Student Well-Being

Watch: Child Trauma Survivors Reunite With the Adults Who Made a Difference

By Evie Blad — October 19, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Brain research has led to two striking findings that have led some schools to change the way they work with children who’ve dealt with trauma and violence.

The first finding: Exposure to experiences like divorce, abuse, violence in the home, and parental incarceration can actually change the structure of a child’s brain, and the resulting behaviors can often be mistaken for defiance or disengagement. The more hopeful second finding: Research has also demonstrated that having a strong relationship with an influential adult can provide stability for a child, helping to counteract the effects of trauma on their brain.

To help build awareness of the importance of adults in children’s lives, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Ad Council, and Futures Without Violence have teamed up to launch a campaign called Changing Minds that features emotional videos of former students reuniting with the adults who helped anchor them through difficult childhood experiences.

“The idea behind Changing Minds is that adults who regularly interact with children (teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, nurses, social workers, etc.) can reverse the negative impact that witnessing violence has on a child’s brain and increase a child’s chance of success through ‘everyday gestures,’ like comforting, listening, and collaborating with them,” a campaign announcement says.

The videos include this one, a simple explanation of the brain science behind a growing field of research called adverse childhood experiences.

But the centerpiece of the campaign are shorter and longer length mini profiles of survivors of youth violence and the adults who helped them succeed. Here are a few that will stoke all of those feel-good emotions that help adults stay motivated as they walk through the tough times with students.

Chad talks about a football coach who helped him deal with an abusive father.

Unique explains the normalized violence she witnessed in middle school, including her friend’s stabbing. Her mentor explains what she saw in Unique: “She’s one of the students who taught me how deep I could love,” she says.

A longer video about the brain science behind these stories and more information are available on the Changing Minds website.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

This brain research will not be unfamiliar to many who work with children. Research around the effects of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress has snowballed in recent years, and schools, health care providers, and public safety professionals have sought to explore cross-sector solutions to address its effects.

That research started with a study of over 17,000 adults in Southern California conducted at Kaiser Permanente in the mid-1990s. Using the results of confidential surveys about patients’ childhood experiences, researchers tied exposure to traumatic events to a number of poor health and social outcomes later in life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has illustrated those outcomes in this pyramid.

My colleague, Sarah Sparks, has written previously about how childhood trauma can effect students’ self-regulation and cognitive development.

Have you seen this research play out in your community or in the lives of children you know?

Related reading about childhood trauma, violence, and mentoring:

Follow @evieblad on Twitter or subscribe to Rules for Engagement to get blog posts delivered directly to your inbox.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion What 9/11 Can Teach Us Today
We can only guess at what weighs on other people. Hurts and wounds are not always visible on the outside.
Pamela Cantor
1 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Student Well-Being Opinion Educators, Be Future-Ready, But Don’t Ignore the Present
Being ready for what lies ahead is important, but we also need to gain a better understanding of the here and now.
5 min read
shutterstock 226918177
Student Well-Being Opinion How to Prioritize Student Well-Being This Year
Use the Student Thriving Index to find out where your kids stand. Because you cannot manage what you cannot measure.
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Student Well-Being Spotlight Spotlight on Supporting Teachers & Students
In this Spotlight, evaluate your district and what supports your schools offer, assess attendance policies to avoid burnout, and more