Trauma Informed School Newsletter--May 2015 Edition

Dr Susanne Stewart TEDx
Intergenerational Trauma and Education
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School Climate and Mental Health

Recent media reports on Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) have focused on isolated incidents of student violence. Reporters have not often explored the many ways SPPS is addressing school climate on every level of the organization.

A healthy school climate comprises many factors. These include how safe and respected -- socially, emotionally and physically -- people feel in the building; how engaged students and staff are; and to what extent each person understands and feels committed to the work of the school.

For some students in SPPS, the ability to contribute to positive school climate is affected by what happens to them outside of school. Students who experience trauma, sometimes known as Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs, may arrive at school anxious, angry, or in an ongoing state of high alert -- all natural responses to trauma. This can lead them to act out with other students or adults.

SPPS is working actively and collaboratively to address climate in its schools. SPPS veteran Kathy Lombardi spent 19 years as an SPPS social worker, including 12 years as social work lead, before becoming the district’s mental health coordinator in January 2015. Lombardi believes that the key to creating positive environments across SPPS is for all staff “to understand trauma and the best ways to deal with stress. Stress can affect all of us: staff and students of all races and economic levels.”

Two federal grants are helping Lombardi and her colleagues spread the word -- and improve coordination among the SPPS services that address student stress, trauma and behavior. The U.S. Department of Education awarded $1.9 million to SPPS specifically to ensure counselors, social workers, psychologists, school nurses and others align their efforts to help students and staff create healthy school climates.

"We’re creating a continuum of social, emotional and mental health supports," says Lombardi. “The continuum begins with establishing a sense of safety with consistent behavioral expectations for all. Further along, we try to intervene early when kids are struggling and support them to develop problem solving skills. When needed, we refer students to community partners that provide clinical mental health services.” Currently, 33 schools have a community mental health provider on site.

“We are helping every school’s Student Assistance Team develop and document interventions for kids who struggle with academics or behavior. It’s important for this information to be in students’ records so if they change schools, they aren’t completely starting over.”

Lombardi asserts that “mental health and positive school climate” doesn’t just mean treating kids with a diagnosis. It’s about interacting with all kids and families in truly respectful ways, with the adults modeling how we want kids to behave.

“We are not going to lower our expectations or accept bad behavior from students,” adds Lombardi. “We believe kids can change.”
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One failed response... five more assaults.
Stop the cycle and make our communities safer.

Start by Believing is a public awareness campaign uniquely focused on the public response to sexual assault. Because a friend or family member is typically the first person a victim confides in after an assault, each individual’s personal reaction is the first step in a long path toward justice and healing. Knowing how to respond is critical—a negative response can worsen the trauma and foster an environment where perpetrators face zero consequences for their crimes.

Because rapists attack an average of six times, one failed response can equal five more victims. Start by Believing will lead the way toward stopping this cycle, by creating a positive community response, informing the public, uniting allies and supporters, and improving our personal reactions. The goal is to change the world, and outcomes for victims, one response at a time.

Start by Believing was launched during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April 2011 in conjunction with the International Conference on Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Stalking hosted by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) April 11-13 in Chicago. The campaign featured unique messaging and campaign materials, web and social media outreach and opportunities for corporate partnership and support.

Strengthening the System …
By Improving the Response

The Start by Believing campaign is brought to you by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI).

EVAWI is the only organization dedicated to improving the criminal justice response to violence against women on every level — within the professions tasked with responding to victims and across society as a whole.

Why? Because EVAWI recognizes the many steps a survivor must take on the road to justice and healing. Reaching out to a friend or loved one to say they have been sexually assaulted… calling the police and being interviewed in embarrassing detail… submitting to a medical forensic exam that could take hours… talking with advocates and counselors about an incredibly painful experience… and participating in an investigation that disrupts the survivor's life… all of this to hold a rapist accountable, so everyone can live in a safer community.

There are so many steps. And each step is a link in the chain of support. But like any chain, one weak link can compromise the strength of the others. A police officer doesn't believe and refuses to conduct an investigation. A doctor or nurse doesn't believe and fails to provide an exam. A friend doesn't believe and accuses the person of “crying rape.” Just a single negative reaction can mean the whole chain falls apart.

What’s worse, this means a victory for the rapist. He remains free to rape again. And statistics show that he won’t just attack once — because rapists attack an average of six times. It’s a frightening equation: one failed response equals five more assaults.

We must do better. And we can do better. At EVAWI, we know how. We have the expertise, the resources, the tools and the models for best practice to help communities strengthen every link in their chain of response.