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The importance of trauma assessment in schools
July 28, 2020

This week’s blog was written by PAR Project Director Carrie Champ Morera, PsyD, NCSP, LP

Millions of children have experienced some type of trauma including, but not limited to neglect, abuse, natural disasters, death of a parent, and violence. These negative experiences subsequently can alter brain development, contribute to health problems, and impair functioning in multiple areas. We now know through the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) study that the effects of stressful and traumatic events can have immediate and lifelong impacts. Trauma manifests itself in various ways. In the short term, behavioral issues, academic issues, and emotional dysregulation may be observed in the school, community, and home settings as a result of trauma. Years later, substance abuse, cancer, depression, and even heart disease can be linked to childhood trauma. Education, prevention efforts, and strategies to develop resilience in children are needed to break the cycles of abuse, addiction, and disease, which in turn, will lead to more positive outcomes in children and provide them with the opportunity to live emotionally stable and productive lives.

Assessments are like puzzles, and addressing trauma is one of the many pieces needed in a comprehensive evaluation. In the school setting, one would not imagine leaving out academic measures as part of a psychoeducational evaluation. That is the way we need to think about trauma in school and community-based evaluations. As a starting point, we need to address whether the child experienced any type of trauma, how often, and to what extent. We need to intervene if there are immediate safety concerns. We need to uncover what supports, coping skills, and resources the child or adolescent utilizes. Trauma does manifest itself in many ways, and children and adolescents will respond to traumatic experiences differently, some in a more complex manner than their peers. However, if an assessment of trauma is not at least considered in our evaluations, this could lead to misdiagnosis, implementation of inappropriate interventions, and/or treatments that do not address the root cause of the problem. If an assessment of trauma is incorporated in an ethical, safe, and caring manner, we are minimizing the risk of harm and increasing the risk at a chance for positive outcomes in all children we evaluate.


 

Further reading on trauma:

Essentials of Trauma-Informed Assessment and Intervention in School and Community Settings

“Trauma is there, it is happening. We can either chose not to acknowledge it and continue to fall short in meeting needs, or we can acknowledge it is there and figure out how to help. We need to know how to effectively and ethically assess for its presence and then use assessment data to drive intervention planning.”  -coauthor Kirby L. Wycoff, PsyD, EdM, NCSP

The Neuropsychology of Stress and Trauma: How to Develop a Trauma Informed School

The ACES study has unveiled that childhood trauma is much more prevalent than previously thought; therefore, it is imperative that schools are better informed of the cognitive, academic, and social-emotional manifestations of trauma in order to provide appropriate accommodations to help ensure student success."-Steven G. Feifer, DEd


To learn more about what school professionals can do to understand trauma in light of the COVID-19 crisis, visit PAR’s YouTube channel to watch a recorded webinar presented by Terri Sisson, EdS, and Carrie Champ Morera, PsyD, NCSP, LP.