Trauma in schools focus of fifth annual Network conference

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — One out of every four students in the United States shows up to school each day shouldering the burden of a traumatic event that affects their learning habits and behaviors. During Penn State’s Child Maltreatment Solutions Network’s recent fifth annual conference, child welfare researchers, educators and advocates met to discuss the need of trauma informed schools.

The conference, held Oct. 10-11, kicked off with exciting news as Network Director Jennie Noll announced the new name for the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, formerly known as the Network on Child Protection and Well-Being. “The new name better reflects our mission, which is to provide solutions to the issues surrounding child maltreatment, including prevention, detection and treatment,” she said.

Nicholas Jones, Penn State's executive vice president and provost, then stepped up to applaud the conference for critiquing pre-college education and paving the way for positive change for schools and other academic institutions. “This conference will help our schools meet the needs of children affected by trauma and maltreatment, overcome achievement gaps, and uncover the child’s true academic achievement.”

The four sessions of the conference jump-started conversations on how child maltreatment prevention, detection and intervention can be integrated into the school setting — an important issue because so many students have had traumatic experiences, and trauma can impact learning, behavior and relationships at school and at home.

Mary Palido, executive director of The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, framed the importance of teaching young children about safe touches. “Most parents don’t talk about child sexual abuse and safe touches, and most children who have been abused don’t tell anyone for at least a year,” she explained.

Elizabeth Letourneau, director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at Johns Hopkins, also emphasized the importance of education as a way of reducing the likelihood of child abuse. “More abuse is being reported and less abuse is happening now than ever before,” she said.

Exploring the role of teachers and educators in recognizing and responding to maltreatment, Brian Bliss, superintendent of the Solanco School District, talked about high levels of poverty and how it contributes to child maltreatment in southern Lancaster County.

Bliss discussed how the Solanco School District is partnering with Penn State to develop sound methodologies to help students from a research-based perspective. They are incorporating teacher trainings on trauma, into existing trainings and meetings, effectively closing the gap between research and implementation.

“We formed focus groups of administrators, teachers, community members and faith-based organizations,” said Carlo Panlilio, assistant professor of education at Penn State and Solutions Network faculty member, about partnering with Solanco. “We’ve found that you need to work with the whole system to instill changes; leaving one out will cause it to fail.”

Presenters also discussed the anxiety felt by parents surrounding trauma. “There's a fear with the system, a disconnect somewhere between welfare, children and families,” said Peter Simonsson, director of survivor services at Joseph J. Peters Institute. “We can overcome this with programs that offer support to both the students and parents, inside and outside of the school setting.”

Additionally, teachers can be vulnerable to secondary traumatic stress because of their interactions with students who have been exposed to traumatic stress. “Self-care systems are needed, as there is no policy on the supervision of educators that pertains to secondary trauma symptoms,” said Joan Duvall-Flynn, president of the NAACP media branch.

“A trauma-sensitive school is one in which all students feel safe, welcomed and supported,” explained Michael Gregory, clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School. “We get there through whole-school effort. Helping traumatized children learn should be a major focus of education reform.”

Assistant Director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network Sandee Kyler reported, “I was impressed by the participation and dynamic points of discussion during the conference. The goal was to start conversation, and that’s what we did. I believe every attendee left a little more informed, invested and inspired.”

More on the conference and the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network can be found at http://www.protectchildren.psu.edu.

The Solutions Network was created to advance Penn State’s academic mission of teaching, research and engagement in the area of child maltreatment. Since its launch in 2012, the Solution Network’s annual conferences and awareness events have established a concrete frontier of understanding child maltreatment through advanced research. It is a part of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State.

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Last Updated December 12, 2016