On December 14, the nation will mark the year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut. Twenty children and six adults were killed that day in a senseless act of violence. Almost a year later the violence continues with news of a middle school teacher gunned down in Sparks, Nevada shielding his students from a gun wielding classmate. This is not the only time in the last year when there have been reports of gun-related violence in schools.
Regardless of your position on gun control, everyone is asking why this increase in violence and how can we stop this from occurring. Together as communities we should address how to assure that children are kept safe especially in schools and that teachers and school personnel not worry about their security.
The answer is not to arm our teachers or turn schools into fortresses, but rather to create communities that are attentive and responsive to the needs of our children and families. One of the things that we have begun to do at Hillsides is to sensitize all our staff to the role trauma has to play in the lives of the children and families we serve. For many of them they have experienced a great deal of violence not only because of physical threats but also emotional abuse. A word, a gesture or a tone of violence can trigger memories that revisit a traumatic event and prompt an otherwise irrational response.
We have learnt that without this kind of heightened sensitivity we run the risk of retraumatizing children who are already in vulnerable emotional states. These episodes of post traumatic stress have the ability to destabilize a child and further jeopardize the child’s well-being. It is in this kind of situation that violent outbursts can occur, contributing to a cycle of behavior that is challenging to stop.
An approach to care that is sensitive to the trauma that has been experienced can effectively reduce episodes of post traumatic stress. More importantly, the approach by staff exposes the child and family to an environment that is attentive, supportive and responsive. With in this kind of environment difficult issues can be addressed, solutions can be identified, healthy strategies pursued, and hopefully violence averted.
This is not the only thing that can be done to address a pervasive violent culture, but it certainly is something that can be introduced into all our schools. A trauma-sensitive approach can have a lasting impact not only on our students and their families but also affect our ability to support communities responsive to the needs of the most vulnerable. With any luck it could also be a strategy that contributes to stopping the senseless violence that has become all too pervasive.