I’m currently reading and blogging about Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education by Alex Shevrin Venet.
Here are links if you’d like to check out previous posts in my series of reading summaries and reflections:
Shift 1 Adopt a Universal Approach
While Chapters 1 and 2 focused on developing a common understanding of trauma and equity, the rest of the book is organized around four shifts in practice that are needed in order to move toward equity-centered trauma-informed education:
- Shift 1 Adopt a Universal Approach
- Shift 2 Rethink Your Role as an Educator
- Shift 3 Move from Mindset to Systems Change
- Shift 4 Change the World from Inside Your Classroom
Adopting a universal approach is important because we can’t tell who has experienced trauma or how it has impacted those who have experienced it just by looking at the people around us. When we adopt a universal approach, we treat trauma as a lens, not a label. We recognize that any one of our students may have experienced (or may be experiencing) trauma. “We recognize that trauma-informed practices are universal and benefit everyone.” The goal is to be proactive rather than reactive.
Chapter 3 Trauma Is More Than a Number
This chapter focuses on a common tool called the adverse childhood experience (ACE) score that has been used to label and sort children based on their experiences. The research behind ACE “validates what so many of us have observed in our own students over the years: trauma has long-lasting and powerful impacts on the minds and bodies of children, long after the traumatic event has ended.” (p. 47) The idea is that if educators can identify who has experienced trauma, they can provide those students the support they need to avoid negative outcomes in the future.
The Trouble with ACEs
The first issue is that even if two people have the same experience, it doesn’t mean it affects them the same way. Some people may be traumatized by an experience while others are not. The ACE checklist does not take this into account; it just identifies whether the person has experienced certain things or not. It does not provide much-needed context about each person’s experience with trauma. If you get an ACE score of 3 and I get an ACE score of 3, they may mean very different things for us.
Another issue is that the checklist only focuses on adversity experienced in the home. It does not include adversity experienced at school, even though we know schools can be a source of trauma. The checklist doesn’t give us the whole picture. It tries to make something very complex and nuanced into something simple. “Unfortunately, there is no way to simplify trauma.” (p. 51)
ACE Checklists in Action
It is particularly problematic for school staff such as teachers to administer an ACE checklist in school. “While it may seem simple to run through a checklist of yes/no questions, therapeutic screening requires skills and expertise. Clinicians need to choose research-validated tools (which the ACE checklist is not), consider legal and ethical issues such as parental and child consent, and understand the difference between screening and diagnosis.” (p. 51)
Even if the checklist is offered just “for informational purposes,” we have to consider how the act of working through the checklist can be re-traumatizing for individuals. I can speak to this from personal experience. When I was going through required training to become a foster parent, one of the sessions focused on the ACE Study, and as part of the session we were all given an ACE checklist to fill out. Discovering that I have a high ACE score is not something I wanted to find out in a room full of strangers. I was embarrassed and confused about what it meant about me as a person and future foster parent. There was no contextualizing my score or helping me understand what it did or did not ultimately mean about me. They opened a can of worms and sent me on my way with a, “See you next week!”
From a Checklist to a Universal Approach
Rather than trying to diagnose students first before providing support, the shift we need to make is toward being preventative and holistic. “One of the goals of trauma-informed practices is to decrease the stigma about trauma.” (p. 52) Since anyone can experience trauma in their lives, whether it’s at home or at school, everyone can benefit from a trauma-informed environment.