This post concludes the recommendations of the Task Force on Children Affected by Domestic Violence. Children who are victimized by trauma are often unable to develop or experience mastery and a sense of self, or to separate themselves psychologically from the violent physical experiences that produced their trauma.
New research suggests that the neurobiological effects of trauma are as real as their emotional consequences. The body appears to “keep score” of traumatic memories and is a theater where the memory of trauma is often reenacted. By creating what Dr. van der Kolk refers to as “islands of competence,”1 traumatized children can develop new coping strategies and behavioral skills that can promote healing, something, he argues, that may not be achieved through traditional talking therapies alone.
Adapt school curricula to respond to the needs of traumatized children.
Dr. van der Kolk encourages teachers to help traumatized children feel they can affect what happens to them by developing their “islands of competence.” By encouraging these children to cultivate their strengths in non-academic areas ranging from physical education to theater, art, and music, educators may foster the development of self-confidence and a sense of mastery.2
In addition, educators should incorporate instruction in conflict-resolution skills and the development of empathy into the regular education curricula. As these children begin to develop the ability to adopt another’s perspective, they are more capable of anticipating others’ behaviors and responding accordingly.
Traumatized children thus gain a feeling of control over what happens in their environment. Moreover, conflict-resolution skills help children understand and name their emotions, and thus gain a sense of mastery over them and a greater capacity for self-control.
Fund collaboration at the local level.
Community-based mental health centers, trauma experts, and local child protection agencies must be given funding for the creation of networks of local services that can support schools and provide the resources they need to help each traumatized child to succeed. These networks should facilitate the collaboration of those most immediately involved in the provision of services. It is important that teachers, the child’s social worker, psychologist, therapist, guidance counselor, parents, and school administrators be able to collaborate directly without fiscal or confidentiality barriers.
Schools should offer the families of traumatized children an opportunity to meet with local Family Support Teams that can assist them in identifying services they might need or want. Schools should be eager to participate on these teams when appropriate. Family Support Teams and services should not be located within schools. Families have the right to strict confidentiality and to normal interfaces with their children’s school. The primary status of schools as educational settings must be safeguarded.
1 van der Kolk, B. (1994) “The Body Keeps Score: Memory and the Evolving Psychobiology of Posttraumatic Stress.”
2 Perry, B. et al (2000). “Positive Developmental Effects of a Brief Music and Movement Program at a Public School: A Pilot Project of the Neighborhood Arts Enrichment Program.”