As the school year begins amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado students, parents and educators are facing new and persistent levels of uncertainty, stress, anxiety and loss. These feelings, especially over a prolonged period of time, can be especially traumatic for children.

Experts point to a large body of research demonstrating negative effects of trauma on students’ cognitive, academic, behavioral and social-emotional functioning in schools. Equipped with this research, child, youth and family serving systems across the state are exploring ways to re-design the educational experience to reflect an integrated school system that fosters healthy, safe, and responsive environments.

Trauma-Responsive Training for Educators

With Dr. Evelin Gomez leading the way, the Kempe Center’s trauma-informed practice team has been at the forefront of creating practices for schools that help mitigate the impact of trauma and promote healing for children. A trauma-responsive approach can also help educators have better interactions with their students and colleagues and even improve their own well-being.

“Training teachers on how to be mindful and fully present in the classroom – it seems simple but has a huge impact on kids and their ability to learn and stay engaged,” said Dr. Gomez.

In an effort to promote trauma-informed practices even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Gomez and her team have provided training, coaching and consultation for educators in partnership with the Office of Behavioral Health in the Colorado Department of Human Services. As the pandemic continues, bringing additional stress and trauma to light, Dr. Gomez hopes to increase trainings across the state utilizing the Colorado Trauma-Responsive Schools Theory of Change Toolkit.

“Many schools already have some trauma-informed practices in place. Our goal is to take what schools are already doing and equip them with the additional tools they need to better serve children, parents and teachers, especially as they navigate through the current crisis,” said Dr. Gomez.

Trauma-Informed Support for Parents

In addition to trauma-informed trainings, professionals are also exploring new ways of addressing trauma in the wake of COVID-19, including small group discussions between parents looking for connection and resources. These discussions, facilitated by school administrators, allow parents the opportunity to solve problems together.

“If you don’t have people helping you and supporting you, how can you feel effective as a parent?” said Dr. Steven Berkowitz, professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, on the topic of small group interactions. “Connection with one another is the only way parents can handle the uncertainty we’re currently facing.”

Dr. Berkowitz explains that when supported by the right programs that address families’ needs holistically, children are more likely to avoid additional traumatic experiences like abuse or neglect.

“These small group interactions aren’t just helpful for parents – they allow schools to check in on the well-being of students and identify any instances of impeded family functioning or early signs of maltreatment,” said Dr. Berkowitz.

By focusing on the implementation of trauma-responsive and culturally reflective practices within schools, the professionals at the Kempe Center are leading a comprehensive approach to enhance the opportunities for all Colorado children to be resilient and equipped to reach their full potential.

We know the path to healthy childhoods requires aligning and integrating systems to serve all children and families, advancing policies that prioritize children and families, and building capacity to expand programs demonstrated to work. Each of these things requires a commitment to innovation and an ability to incubate new models, like the Trauma-Responsive Implementation and Practice (TRIP) program.

Help us make our vision a reality by donating the critical funds needed to expand this program and build capacity to help all children and families. Support Kempe today.