Trauma in Schools - Roundtable Discussion, NIJ Virtual Conference on School Safety
On February 16-18, 2021, the National Institute of Justice hosted the Virtual Conference on School Safety: Bridging Research to Practice to Safeguard Our Schools. This video presents a roundtable discussion from the conference.
>> My name is Debbie Sellers.
I am the Director of Research and Evaluation for the Residential Childcare Project, which is based at Cornell University.
Residential childcare and public schools may not seem as though they overlap immediately but, about 35 years ago, the Residential Childcare Project developed this program called Therapeutic Crisis Intervention for residential care settings.
It's basically a crisis prevention and management system that's designed to prevent high-risk and disruptive behaviors and to deescalate those behaviors before they actually get to being high risk.
It's designed to reduce injury and risk of injury to students and staff, and to reduce the use of physical interventions, and also to teach students new coping skills.
It's a system-level approach.
So, it's really, as many school interventions, you need to have the buy-in from administration and leadership all the way down through classroom teachers and aides and everyone who's working in the school environment.
This program was quite successful in residential settings.
And a lot of residential settings have schools on their campuses.
It was being used in those schools.
So, around 2010, there was - a lot of people were asking us to develop a version of this specifically for schools.
So, using our usual rigorous development process, we read the literature and worked with a group of experts and got input from a number of different stakeholders, and developed what we call the Therapeutic Crisis Intervention for Schools.
It's a model that's disseminated through a Train the Trainer approach.
So, we, at the Residential Childcare Program use open trainings or we can do on-site trainings in particular locations where we train practitioners from the schools to provide the training to staff and teachers for this Therapeutic Crisis Intervention for Schools program.
So, we try to build up the capacity of the organization to really sustain the program themselves by having the trainers to continue to do the refreshers and to train new people that are coming in.
So, we are in the midst of evaluating this actually with a randomized control trial in 19 elementary schools, and things were going along smoothly, and the implementation and uptake in the Syracuse City School Districts was really terrific.
We were getting the measurements we needed and then suddenly school no longer was because of the COVID situation, obviously.
So, the Syracuse schools stopped in-person instruction in March of 2020 and didn't go back - were completely remote through the rest of that school year.
They've had some hybrid teaching going on through the fall, but very few students are really attending that.
So, we've tried to continue to provide support and consultation to them, to use the principles of the Therapeutic Crisis Intervention for schools in their remote work with students, but they - one of the problems they face is really engaging the children and families in remote instruction.
So, my colleague Martha Holden works with me in the study.
She is the person who developed TCI and then worked to adapt it for TCI for Schools.
Martha, you want to characterize any more TCI and TCI for Schools? >> I think the only thing that I would add is that I think one of the reasons that there is a lot of interest in this is because of the trauma-informed and system approach to dealing with challenging behavior in the schools.
So, that's an important element of it, which sets it a bit apart from some other kinds of crisis systems that are in place.
This is dealing with the trauma that is actually in the children or teachers or school as a setting condition, and not just trying to intervene in whatever trauma effects are left after a crisis.
So, that would be one of the main approaches.
>> So, in many ways, it's an approach to classroom management that teachers and teacher's aides and school administrators can use that takes into account the extensive levels of trauma that children in high poverty and high-need school districts have experienced.
I wish I had results to tell you exactly how things are going, but because we were interrupted, that's not happened yet.
So, hopefully, I'd be interested in what brings other people to this particular roundtable and how you've been working to promote trauma-informed schools in your own work.
>> I'm wondering if it would be useful, since it's a small group, to even just have everyone introduce themselves, what they do and where they're from.
Hi, I'm Martha Holden.
I work at Cornell University and I'm the director of the project.
>> I'm Michael Applegarth.
I'm an NIJ and excited to be here.
>> Hi, I'm Emma Espel Villarreal.
I am a senior research associate at RMC Research in Denver.
We had an NIJ CSSI project focused on compiling quantitative data for all students in Oregon from multiple agencies, including the education system, Oregon Youth Authority.
We had information about social supports they received and foster care services, things like that.
So, we've been thinking a lot about the multiple risk and protective factors that might contribute to school behavior, and the school-to-prison pipeline as well.
We were looking at some of that as well.
My background is in developmental psychology and I've thought a lot about how trauma can be really important for behavior but also incorporated into support programs.
So, I'm excited to hear some more about what you all have done and how you've been thinking about that.
>> Thank you.
>> I can go next.
Sorry, I'm having some issues with my camera.
I hope that's okay.
My name is Deanna Devlin.
I'm an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Farmingdale State College, which is one of the SUNY schools, so I'm familiar with Syracuse.
But I'm mostly focused on my research in evaluating school resource officers and some of the impacts of that and, you know, perhaps some of the unintended consequences.
So, I was particularly drawn to this conversation, mostly because we're starting to think about how officers in the schools may be traumatic for students.
And I'm curious to hear if this has come up at all, you know, in using this program in the schools and evaluating it, do these schools also have officers and how has that come into play at all? >> It certainly has come up a lot.
And it's really with very mixed conversations; wouldn't you say, Debbie? >> Yes, and an issue we faced was that those resource officers in the elementary schools were sort of in a very different department, so they received different kinds of training than we were providing to the rest of the school staff.
So, there were situations in which the sentries, I think is what they call them, in the elementary schools were involved, but they were working under a different approach and people weren't on the same page.
That created issued and raised issues.
I'm not sure that it's ever been worked out that they have received a TCI training or not.
I don't - not to knowledge, yeah.
>> And I think some of the impressions we were getting in just working in the schools were how they were viewed was so reliant on how they viewed their own role and interacted with children.
So, it was a wide range of responses to those folks being in the school.
I think they're even talking about taking a look at that role altogether.
I'm sure that's going on in a lot of places.
>> Yeah, interesting.
>> Yeah, and we aren't working only in the elementary or K-8 setting, so it's a little different issue, I think, with some of the resource officers than in the high schools and middle schools.
Someone else want to introduce themselves? >> My name is Jamie Soucie.
I'm the Northeast Regional Training Consultant for the Colorado School Safety Resource Center.
My background is in mental health primarily, so obviously trauma-informed approaches is a topic that comes up quite a bit with the schools we work with.
So, this definitely informs how we work with the school districts in our regions.
>> Someone else or? Are other folks working directly to try and implement particular programs in schools, particular trauma-informed programs in schools? >> So, my name is Basia Lope.
Welcome to NIJ School Safety Conference.
I am a social science analyst at NIJ.
School safety is my secondary expertise at NIJ.
I mainly focus on firearms violence, school shootings and such.
My question to you, and that's why I joined briefly this panel because I will have to jump off.
I will be moderating next session at two o'clock.
But I was hoping to hear from you how complex trauma, whether the studies about the complex trauma are advanced enough to give us some ideas as to how this may affect either aggressive, violent behavior overall, as well as potential active shooters.
Is there anything around it? Did your study touch on it and is there anything in the field done in that area? >> So, the relationship between shooting incidents or active shooters and aggressive violence and trauma.
I'm not aware of studies that specifically link those, but certainly trauma - children with complex trauma are more likely to experience challenging behaviors.
There's just much more being learned and known these days about how being under chronic traumatic stress as a young child affects the development of the brain and the ability to stay out of the fight or flight mode and out of the survival brain, and be able to self-regulate and use more rational responses is dramatically impaired for children who experience complex trauma.
Martha, do you have - >> Yeah, I think - I mean, the whole - all of the programs that we've been developing about our Therapeutic Crisis Intervention was our - one other model that we've been working with are really aimed at helping adults work with young people who have complex trauma effects.
So, there is a real focus on the whole issue around perceived safety because when the child feels unsafe, whether or not any of us would objectively say they're unsafe, but if they start feeling unsafe, that generally triggers their stress response, which is where you start seeing the aggressive behavior, flight behavior or the freeze behavior.
So, I think one of the things that we're doing with our TCI, Therapeutic Crisis Intervention, is focusing on what are the ways that teachers or aides, people in the school can make sure children not only are safe but feel safe.
So, I think that there's a huge focus on creating the kind of environment and interpersonal interactions and relationships among the adults and the children that help them feel safe, because it is the adults and how the adults interact and approach children that play a huge part in that perceived feeling of safety.
Which is where the comment earlier about the resource officers comes into play there, because if the children have a reaction to a resource officer that actually is a fear reaction, that's so much based on culture and background, and about the way that adult is approaching their role and approaching the children.
Then having them in the school or in the classroom actually increases their sense of being unsafe or fear, versus when that role is approached in a way that is actually developing relationships and responding in a way that reduces that stress.
That can be useful.
So, it has a lot to do with that interaction.
And I think that's the core of where we start approaching in our training with the adult is how do you want that child to experience you and what is the way you can stay attuned to how that child is experiencing you.
And then you build that kind of community within a classroom so that there's - so the ecology of the situations become one where stress is reduced.
But I don't know.
Debbie would know much more about what studies are out there, but I don't know that I - I think that the studies that I've seen about just, you know, the "lost boys" and violence around that is that there almost always is a history of complex trauma associated with those children who become extremely violent.
So, I would imagine there is some sort of connection there.
That would be my guess.
>> Thank you very much for your answers.
I will be listening in until I can.
Very interesting session.
>> Thank you.
>> Could you talk a little bit about some of the outcomes that you're looking at in your evaluation? I got my camera to work also.
Yes, our primary outcome is school climate, and we're using the Delaware School Climate as the measure, because that's linked heavily to academic achievement.
But we're also looking at disciplinary office referrals primarily, and attendance and academic outcomes, though seeing change in those will be more challenging, I think.
>> Have you noticed, as students are home more, any differences in sort of the trauma experiences they might be bringing with them to I guess now the virtual classroom? And the other question would be, have you been adapting your program to be administered virtually as well? I know you mentioned you're providing some consulting, but I'm just wondering how the intervention is working, you know, what adaptation you've had to make to make that happen.
>> Deb, you want me to - >> Yeah, you want to - yeah.
>> So, what we've been doing this past year - I mean, normally, we're doing the training, as Debbie described, and then our implementation teams were going into the schools, meeting with leadership, going into classrooms or lunch rooms or just hallways, making observations, doing case reviews.
We were doing pretty much hands-on support, helping staff actually implement some of these strategies and techniques that were taught.
That all came to a screeching halt last March.
So, what we did quickly was try and do some virtual - we do regular virtual meetings with our district-level folks, but we also created some small webinars, workshops that we can do virtually for our trainers in those schools, who could then do some support of teachers and aides that were talking about the kind of emotions and trauma we might see during this time, and also a lot about self-care.
So, we, again, are working, trying to make sure that teachers and aides are taking care of themselves so that they feel emotionally stable and confident, and then take a look at what kind of support they could get families.
There's outreach to the parents at home who are trying to juggle their own jobs or whatever and school for the young people.
So, there's some use of our - we have a TCI for Families that talked to about four families and foster parents that they're using some of those materials.
And also to talk about the kind of emotional expression that we're seeing more of as more depression, withdrawal, focusing on how to talk to the students about those issues.
But the main problem I think they've been having in Syracuse are kids are just not engaged in school at all.
So, it's become very, very difficult to actually get to that level.
>> And we were fortunate in one respect that the pandemic arrived when it did.
Most of our direct training of teachers and aides in the 19 schools occurred during the summers of 2018 and 2019.
So, virtually all the staff in the 19 schools were trained during that time.
So, it was really - and some during the fall of 2019.
So, the pandemic didn't impact our - the training component of our intervention as much as it has now the technical assistance and evaluation.
>> Well, I think we put as much as we could on the virtual platform for support purposes, so they could keep refreshing as they went along.
>> So, we really are focused more on the trauma that students bring to school because of their own experience rather than unusual shooting events or even natural disasters in a particular area, those kinds of trauma.
So, you know, how teachers, and teacher aides in particular, sort of attribute misbehavior and challenging behaviors amongst students is a critical issue for us within the TCI for Schools Intervention.
I wonder if other folks have had experience with how teachers tend to view those things, are they looking at challenging behaviors as what's wrong with the child versus the question of what happened to you that's creating these challenging behaviors? Do people have experience with working with teachers and school staff, and understanding those two different ways of really viewing challenging behaviors? >> I know you said you don't have any sort of findings yet to share, but do you have any anecdotal feedback about how it's going or any feedback from staff in the school about what they think of the program? >> We do.
You know, at a district level, they've become very enthusiastic about it and, at this point, the school board and senior leadership have committed to training all new teachers in TCI for Schools, which we saw as a major step in sustaining the program.
They're actively moving, I think, to move it into other schools in the district, in middle schools and high schools and things like that.
The implementation and the uptake of TCI for Schools has varied considerably across the 19 schools that are participating.
It was a group randomized trial, so we randomly assigned the 19 schools to either start right away or to wait a year to start.
In both cohorts of schools, we've seen quite a bit of difference in how much attention is paid by the administration in the school.
And that really drives, as you all know I'm sure, drives a lot about what happens.
But we've had some stories about teachers who were able to listen to children in a different way and intervene and get help for a child that was experiencing abuse at home, and change their living situation such that they weren't going to be in the situation where the abuse was happening, which was gratifying, particularly given COVID and the need to be at home all the time.
I think our implementors have had observations of times where teachers are taking on and being able to use the practices they've learned and other times when it's just not happening at all.
>> It really does, which is almost always the case.
And I'm sure any of you who've tried to implement a system-wide or organizational-wide program, a lot depends on leadership and leadership's attention and follow-through with steps that need to be taken to fully implement.
And I think that's really played out in a significant way in the schools where there was a lot of excitement and attention and getting people trained right away, and using our resources and our own technical assistance in a very robust and targeted way.
I think, basically, we've had a lot of good reports about just the ability of the - well, if nothing else, just the communication that goes on when they have staff meetings or when they're meeting around a certain child or incident, is that they're all using the same language, they can talk about the same strategies, and that they're able, therefore, to problem solve and plan in a more comprehensive and targeted way.
I think that they've seen some good results from those kinds of endeavors.
So, I think given enough time and given a different climate right now to be working, that it is very frustrating for all of us because we were about halfway there and are just trying to maintain where we are.
But we were pretty optimistic about the schools who were fully implemented, that they were going to see some pretty good results from that, but it seemed to be headed in that direction.
I think it's going to be - you know, we're all holding our breath for what's going to come up with fall and, you know, can we get back to in-person instruction in school, and, if so, we're working to figure out what kind of supports teachers are going to need to be dealing in some ways with, I think, different sets of challenging behaviors.
We also work in New York City schools and we just ended up having a meeting with them, and that issue of loss is going to be huge in New York City just because of, you know, the situation there over the past year.
So, I think that's going to be different, depending on where you are and what you're doing with the schools in the next few months.
>> So, Deborah, you said the implementations vary just depending on leadership and some of them have been much more willing to do it than others.
I feel like that's pretty common in a lot of different areas, but for those that struggled to implement it, did you have a sense of just, like, a lack of buy-in of the training or they didn't see a need for it, or do you have a sense of why some of them were less willing to implement it than others? >> Martha, you may have a better sense of that from an implementor's - >> Yeah, I would - I mean, there are numerous reasons and no two the same, but I would say part of it has to do with just some of the levels of acuity of children and schools, but I would say that trying to implement too many different programs at one time so that it felt like there was just such a shotgun approach to what we're going to do here that anything that was organization-wide was going to take almost too much attention to do versus some of the other programs where you could maybe just run a workshop or a seminar and be done with it.
I think it was confusing as to we were asking for a lot more than that, although there was a training component.
So, I think that it was just too many priorities or too many programs started and not continued.
So, there's a little bit of a - I think people get cynical when we say we're coming in with this big program and we're going to be doing this for two or three years, and it's like, that's a huge investment to make.
I think that was part of it.
And then there was the range from the principal who said, you know, "Hey, I got my own system, I'm good, you know, we're doing well, we don't need it," to somebody who's just brand new, overwhelmed with it, just trying to figure out what they wanted to do in the school.
So, there was a very big range.
Some of the schools were - I can't remember the technical term, it's been so long since we were in that situation, Debbie, but that were already kind of under audit.
>> Oh, yeah, they're persistently dangerous schools or - so they've been - and the achievement hasn't been what it is, so the state takes over control.
That happened in one of the schools that's participating this year, and several of the other schools have been in the process of working their way out of that situation.
So, then the school where that happened, they had to turn over 50 percent of the staff, which, yeah, is - and rippled out to all the other schools, too.
>> Which makes it very difficult to implement when, you know, 50 percent of the people you had trained are gone and now you've got a whole new batch.
So, just a lot of different things, but I think considering - and when you are working in a school district that actually - you know, is already in a situation where they have a lot of issues, which is why you're there, you know, it's not as smoothly-going as if it were in a different area.
But I think, even given all that, we were pretty happy - >> Yeah, with the progress, yeah.
>> I think more schools were embracing and getting it going, at different rates.
It was all developmental, but most schools were engaged than weren't.
It was just - we were just frustrated in trying to find the key to unopen some of the problems we were having with some of the schools that were most stressed.
I'm just curious for anyone who hasn't shared or is there - what you're doing or what your interest is.
>> And just as a reminder, we have about ten minutes left.
So, if there are other people wanting to share something, please do.
So, I was wondering, for Dr.
Sellers and Holden, have you done other projects and research on traumas in schools and, like, lessons that you feel like are relevant that have impacted your current project now that would be helpful to share with the group, or other things that you've seen that are beneficial in studying this topic? >> This is really our first venture formally into the - in terms of evaluation, into the school setting.
I mean, the TCI for Schools was developed and available back about 2012 and it's been fairly widely used, but we haven't really had an opportunity to evaluate it and establish a solid evidence base.
So, this is really our first formal evaluation in the school setting.
>> I think the only thing that's a little bit was with our other, which is evidence-based model, our care model, we've studied that in residential settings, but some of those settings also have schools, which have been part of the study.
So, that we have seen some good impact in that, but those are until dual level in residency going to an on-campus school.
There's some day students.
So, and that's very much a trauma-informed relationship-based approach.
And we've seen reduction in behavior incidents and restraints in schools also when they're part of that model.
>> So, you talked about training the trainers.
How often do the trainers interact with the teachers and the other - is it just when they need help or is it kind of on a routine basis that the teachers are getting pointers or guidance on what to do? >> I think that varies a little bit by school.
I mean, we tried to select people to be trained as trainers so that, ideally, we wanted to have a trainer in every school.
It hasn't worked out that cleanly.
People end up changing jobs or get moved to a different school or that kind of thing, and depending on what the formal work role of the trainer is changes the amount of time and their availability to do things with other teachers, even if they are in the school.
Just there's sort of their position in school and how much influence they have and how well they're received by their colleagues can make a difference in how much things like that happen as well.
So, it really varies across schools.
>> It varies, but the guidelines that we have at a minimum are the trainers are - while they provide the core training for the teachers, and then they are supposed to do refreshers at least twice a year for a total of eight hours.
So, that varies.
So, some schools will do refreshers, like, an hour a month or every other month during a staff meeting, or might set aside professional development time to do a couple hours throughout the year.
So, in terms of strictly going back and reviewing strategies and training, as well as we have a variety of different topics that we can train the trainers to do, like developing crisis plans for young people or debriefing crises.
So, those things are available that the trainers have, and they are, as part of the model, supposed to be providing those regular updates, and then actually recertifying teachers annually.
So, we're hoping that that's happening.
That's, again, been a real challenge this year, which is why we actually created so many virtual kind of refresher trainings that they could do because they really could not do anything in person.
They have been doing quite a bit of that.
>> Yeah, in some respects, some of the teachers have had more time to do refreshers and things like that because of the virtual setup, that they could only be done virtually, so.
>> So, is this program geared more towards particular incidents when a student is in crisis or does this sort of filter out into how the teachers and the staff in the school sort of handle all types of conflicts, or really just any incidents of problem behaviors and things like that in the school? >> Yeah, it's really geared toward prevention and de-escalation.
So, there's a lot about how to just create your classroom interactions to prevent, you know, escalated behavior.
About 75 percent of it is how not to have a crisis, you know, what to do to avoid that.
So, then the rest is about managing and then the after the crisis, post-crisis response.
Lots about coregulation, behavior support strategies, just the environment, setting up the environment, identifying setting conditions.
>> Any other questions? We must be approaching the end here.
>> Still have about two minutes left.
If there are any other last questions or if Dr.
Sellers or Holden, if there's anything that you just want to kind of share lessons learned or kind of the big takeaways you've had so far on this, you're welcome to do that as well.
>> Try not to schedule a big project in the middle of a pandemic.
>> That would be nice.
>> But we've had - the sort of district folks, the mid-level district folks who are really doing the implementation of this project have bought into TCIS before we all approached each other and sort of worked out all of this and the grant came around.
So, that level of enthusiasm and dedication has really made a tremendous difference.
And the funding to provide some of the training that came from the grant was extremely helpful.
So, it helps to have champions.
>> It seems like we are at our time today.
So, I really appreciate everyone for coming in, and for Dr.
Sellers and Holden guiding this conversation.
So, thank you all for attending this roundtable, and I encourage you to attend the rest of the conference.
If you're interested, all these sessions are being recorded, so you can back and review them at a later time.
They'll be made available.
So, thank you everyone for coming.
>> Thank you.
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