I was blessed to have had the opportunity to speak at the Joint Citizens and Legislators Committee on Children last week here in Florence, S.C.
I was given three minutes to testify on a topic close to my heart, trauma-informed systems, particularly schools. Here's the gist:
My name is Jamie Matthews and I'm an elementary educator and school counselor turned trauma informed consultant and adverse childhood experiences advocate. I have been partnering with schools and organizations for over five years empowering them with tools for resilience through trainings and conferences. I served on the planning board for a fully trauma-informed charter school. I’m also an active member of CTIPP- Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice in Washington, D.C. I believe children are precious gifts and should be treated as such. It is our responsibility to steward resources in a way that sets each child up for success not only for school, but for life.
My journey as a childhood adversity advocate began with my time as a kindergarten teacher and later school counselor in title one schools. What I saw and experienced in these roles truly changed me as I came face-to-face with the reality that the needs truly outweighed the resources. Research tells us that a higher percentage of kids who experience chronic stress and ACEs in the form of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction may fail in school and struggle in life. They have higher incidence of every type of illness and even drug and alcohol abuse, even shaving up to 20 years off of one’s life.
But thankfully, what is predictable is preventable. It's said in education the only constant is change, but I believe a change is possible that will bring ramifying solutions instead of problems. Those solutions begin with protective factors.
“When a flower doesn't bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” -Alexander Den Heijer
This is the heart behind trauma-informed schools. When we review the data, we see trauma-informed schools focused on meeting basic needs for feeling safe, trusting relationships, and healthy coping rather than punitive punishments boast 60 percent fewer referrals, 90 percent fewer suspensions, and 70 percent fewer fights. Higher teacher retention, overall safer school climates, decreased suicide and self harm, bullying etc., and higher graduation rates. Not to mention, a lower designation to special education as there is a significant overlap among high ACE students with ADHD, as they present very similarly in the classroom.
Jane Stevens from ACEs connection gives support, saying,
“ACEs science can prevent school shootings, but first people have to know about ACEs science”.
Why wouldn’t we push for trauma-informed policy and practice?
The cost of not addressing trauma in systems is evident…ACEs cost nearly 2 trillion dollars annually in America alone.
If we don’t spend the money on the front end in the form of prevention and early intervention of childhood adversity, we will spend it on the back end through the increasing cost of incarceration and recidivism, medical care, and loss in workforce productivity annually.
The call to action is this:
We must prioritize funding for trauma-informed policy and practices which mitigate childhood adversity and seek to prevent it through preventive measures, to be implemented from the top. Educators must be extended the same compassionate regard with which they are expected to have for students. We will not see a return on the other investments in specialized programs, facilities, or staff without first focusing on meeting needs for felt-safety, connection, and healthy coping strategies. Funding for such programs potentially could be provided through the RISE from Trauma Act and the Community Mental Health and Resilience Act, but should be pursued at the state and local levels. All schools need an initial training, ongoing coaching, and resources to be empowered with tools for resilience.
Once we know better, we can collectively do better for our schools and communities. I am eager to support the efforts of the committee in any capacity deemed fit. I look forward to partnering with you to see healthier, happier children in South Carolina.
Thank you for your service!
Click below for a free Childhood Adversity Awareness PDF: