Schools in every corner of the United States serve children who have experienced homelessness or are currently homeless. Nearly 2.5 million children are now homeless in our country each year—that’s one out of thirty children. Children in our schools have lived on the streets, in cars, and in motels. They’ve moved in and out of crowded emergency shelters. They've experienced severe violence, abuse, neglect, and hunger. Traumatic events like these occur before or during homelessness, or too often both.
In an article in Mental Health Exchange, Lenore Rubin and Carrol Ann Leonard skillfully portray the challenges teachers may face working with traumatized children in their classrooms. The authors describe a classroom in which John, a pre-school teacher, has several students that have difficulty following routines, trouble managing transitions, and exhibit aggressive or withdrawn behaviors. These children have experienced multiple and prolonged traumatic events— from parental drug abuse to the fatal shootings of siblings.
Rubin and Leonard describe how living in unpredictable, stressful, and unsafe environments impacts a child’s development. It interferes with a child’s ability to regulate and express feelings, and compromises executive functions, such as a child’s capacity to focus, organize and plan. In other words, it interferes with the tools a child needs to succeed in school.
To provide quality education to children who have experienced homelessness, schools need to be aware of the impact of traumatic stress, and then adapt various supportive strategies to help them develop new coping skills. Rubin and Leonard describe the importance of developing “trauma-informed” classrooms. They conclude by providing concrete advice for school administrators and teachers, including:
- Training for all staff on understanding trauma and supporting children and families
- Using mental health consultants
- Offering community-based support for families
- Providing sensory curricula for younger children
- Ensuring predictable classroom routines
- Developing social skills curricula
- Giving positive feedback and tangible recommendations to caregivers about how to help their kids succeed at home
Access the full article here.
Also, learn about a recently filed lawsuit to require a California school district to implement trauma-informed care in schools.