A recent article in the Washington Post by Michael Alison Chandler, reports that, “47 percent of children and teens have experienced a traumatic event, such as the death or incarceration of a parent, witnessing or being a victim of violence, living with someone who has been suicidal or who has a drug or alcohol problem, or been treated unfairly or judged due to race or ethnicity”. It further stated that “22 percent of children nationwide have had two or more adverse experiences”.
Far too often, the idea of trauma has been relegated to black and brown communities. However, the report states that nationally, 40 percent of white children have had at least one adverse experience. With the level of mass school shootings and the current opioid epidemic in Caucasian communities, I would not be surprised if this number is higher. The percent of Hispanic children is 51 percent and 64 percent of children of African descent in America have experienced at least one traumatic event. With the level of racism, sexism, gender bias, discrimination, and war going on in communities all over the country and saturated in our news and politics, I would once again question if these numbers are not higher.
Many of us do not realize that the things we have been conditioned to deal with on a daily basis are traumatic. They change our very conscious existence. Forming us into the image of fear, destruction, pain and disconnect we experience from those around us. Trauma does not show up and is not experienced in any one specific way, which is why it is often missed. It can be experienced and the effects manifested physically, mentally and emotionally. It can also be experienced directly or vicariously.
When Fairfax County, a well to do county in Northern Virginia, decided to study trauma and the relationship of the children in their juvenile justice system, they found something many therapists know, but few have accepted or understand. They screened all of the children that were newly admitted into their juvenile court system. What they found was that 85 percent of the children being placed into the juvenile justice system had experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, trauma.
Trauma can express itself in many ways. Usually unhealthy. It shows up as anger, sadness, fear, confusion, self-doubt, and many other unhealthy thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and feelings manifest tangibly as behaviors. We are energy. Our thoughts and feelings are energy. When the energy can no longer be housed in the body, it seeks to find a way to escape through the body. Through behavior. When you are a child and cannot articulate these feelings, can not make sense of your thoughts or pinpoint where they stem from, you find a way to cope. Usually in a non-beneficial manner. You seek a way to feel something other than what appears to conquer
your senses. You reach for a way to have value and relevance or to hide from all that has caused you pain.
We have criminalized the pain of our children. We have made them wrong for what has been done to them and what we have failed to do as a society. We have found a way to benefit from their lack of understanding and ill guidance of underdeveloped brains, instead of seeking for their genius and cultivating their talents for our highest possibility as a society. We have failed them as those before us failed us.
It is now time to right the wrong and advocate for mental health counselors to be brought into schools alongside social workers. These two professionals do not provide the same services, nor are their curriculum and training the same. They are meant to provide different yet needed services in conjunction. However, social workers are saddled with roles and expanding responsibilities they have not been trained for and mental health counselors remain the missing piece of real long-term treatment and help for our children.
We have children that sit in classrooms and after-school activities for 7 to 9 hours per day consumed with thoughts and feelings of past and current traumas. Some of these children are relegated to sit in time out rooms, principal offices or some other place, not receiving any counseling to deal with their issues, but to be punished for the behaviors they present. Once again, reaffirming the negative stereotypes and placing the blame on the child for not being able to cope with trauma that makes grownups feel better about themselves. Instead of re-traumatizing children and placing them in isolation, time could be well spent with a mental health counselor getting long term treatment and resolution.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War veterans and 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan have PTSD. 25% of women suffer trauma through domestic violence and 14% of men suffer from trauma through domestic violence. These individuals are all expected and assisted in getting mental health counseling. They are adults. How is it that we can advocate for adults to receive necessary treatment for their trauma, but leave the most vulnerable to suck up it up daily? Their trauma often retriggered in schools by way of bullying, school violence, misogyny, teen sexual violence, and the list goes on. If we can accept that the trauma these adults have experienced is too much to carry alone without professional assistance, we cannot turn a blind eye to children’s needs. Time does not heal wounds, treatment of the wound heals the wound.