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Trauma and Triggers: Students’ Perspectives on Enhancing the Classroom Experiences at an Alternative Residential Treatment-Based School
Youths in residential treatment (RT) are often burdened with histories of trauma exposure and experience a multitude of unique challenges for both daily functioning and developmental trajectories. Youths spend a large portion of their day in school; these educational experiences affect long-term well-being. This study uses qualitative focus group methodology to better understand the school experiences of youths placed in an RT educational environment. The sample consisted of 45 female residents placed in out-of-home care due to a child welfare or delinquency petition. Several key themes emerged that illustrate youth perceptions of the climate of RT, how strict discipline schools can affect mood, and what factors promote or hinder school engagement and disengagement. These themes included issues related to interactions with residential and school staff, teachers, classmates, and other staff; their own inabilities to interpersonally cope; and mismatches between their educational needs and services provided. The article concludes with a discussion of implications for policy and practice.
Court-involved youth (i.e., youth in the foster care and/or juvenile justice systems), and particularly those in residential placement facilities, often present with trauma histories that can impede various areas of development and functioning. These traumatic histories can negatively impact academic performance and school success, leading to poorer outcomes later in life. In particular, female youth in these systems exhibit unique responses to traumatic experiences that further complicate healthy development. This study assesses female, court-involved students (n = 141), exploring the relationship between school attachment and school involvement, school social support (from peers, teachers, and other staff), and trauma symptomatology among a sample of residential placement students exposed to a trauma-informed teaching intervention over the course of a school year. It was hypothesized that higher school attachment/involvement and social support would be associated with lower student trauma symptomatology. As expected, findings demonstrated that students in the sample had experienced high trauma exposure, as indicated by their high trauma symptomatology. Unexpectedly, they also had high school attachment. Furthermore, higher school attachment was associated with lower trauma symptoms among students. On the other hand, students reported lower levels of social support from classmates, which was associated with significantly higher trauma symptomatology. Implications for future research are addressed.
Crosby, Shantel D., Somers, Cheryl L., Day, Angelique G., Zammit, Meredith, Shier, Jenna M., Baroni, Beverly A. (2017). Examining School Attachment, Social Support, and Trauma Symptomatology Among Court-Involved, Female Students. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 1-8. DOI: 10.1007/s10826-017-0766-9
ABSTRACT: Suspension is commonly used in schools, yet these practices can adversely affect students’ education well-being and do not improve student behavior. This study assesses the use of the Monarch Room (MR) intervention, a trauma-informed alternative to school discipline suspension policies, among 620 court-involved girls placed in residential care and enrolled in an urban-located public charter school. Teachers readily utilized the intervention as a first response to dealing with problematic behavior, and as a result, MR use significantly decreased reliance on suspension practices. Multiple stays in residential treatment and race were significant predictors of MR use.
ABSTRACT: This preliminary research focuses on the perceptions of academic staff working in residential settings with youth who have experienced psychological trauma. The article provides the psychometric properties of three instruments that assess academic staff perceptions of student behavior (TPSB), awareness of trauma (TTS), and responses to student behavior (TRSB). These measures can be used to assess academic staff readiness in working with traumatized students. Measurement validity/ reliability were established using a sample of 26 academic staff whose school was affiliated with a publicly funded residential treatment center. Factor analyses indicated that scales were comprised of questions that were adequately correlated; each scale reliably measured its own individual construct (i.e., staff perceptions, awareness, responses). Cronbach’s alpha internal consistency coefficient demonstrated that scales were reliable for measuring each construct, where the TPSB resulted in α = 0.83 for its “acting out” and “shutting down” subscales, the TTS had α = 0.91, the TRSB resulted in α = 0.79 for the “acting out” subscale, and α = 0.81 for the “shutting down” subscale. These instruments may be useful for teachers and academic staff working with traumatized students, particularly in residential treatment settings.
ABSTRACT: In response to the high nationwide prevalence of psychological trauma among court-involved youth who have been exposed to abuse and neglect and the associated far-reaching adverse consequences, there are calls to develop a trauma-informed workforce across the various systems (child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, and education) designed to serve this population. We describe a pilot test of a modified version of the Heart of Teaching and Learning (HTL) curriculum, an intervention designed to increase trauma-informed practices in education settings. This program was implemented in a public charter school that exclusively serves court-involved youth placed in residential treatment. The intervention was associated with decreases in trauma symptoms experienced by youth. Because student perceptions of teachers were high both before and after implementation of the curriculum, no statistically significant changes were observed. The article concludes with a discussion of the ways in which the curriculum can be used to help prepare a national education workforce capable of implementing trauma-informed evidence-based practices in school settings.
ABSTRACT: This study explores how the lived experience of court-involved youth impacts learning and school culture, and solicits youth voice in creating a trauma-informed intervention to improve student educational well-being. Thirty-nine female students, with ages 14 to 18, participated in focus groups to describe externalizing behaviors that they have both witnessed and personally struggled with in the classroom, discuss the perceived causes of these behaviors, and their suggestions for improving school culture to reduce these behavior manifestations in the classroom. Two major categories of behavior were identified, including: “anger emotions” and “aggressive actions.” Students described the causes of behavior as, “environmental influences” and “triggers.” The most common solutions that students gave to reduce externalizing behaviors in school settings included “encouraging respect of others” and “improving behavior management to enhance student engagement.” An additional solution suggested by the students included the “monarch room as support.” The Monarch Room is an alternative intervention to traditional suspension/expulsion polices that provides students in need of specific emotional support an opportunity to redirect/de-escalate externalizing behavior or mood in the school setting. This study highlights the need for trauma-informed approaches in school settings, and the importance of the inclusion of a youth voice in developing and implementing these intervention models.
Research has yet to evaluate the impact of trauma-informed educational practices, especially among court-involved student populations. Additionally, the voice and experiences of these students is rarely included in the literature. Studies should conduct further testing of specific school interventions to determine effective trauma-informed methods of educating traumatized and court-involved youth. Critical to this evaluation is understanding the impact of the intervention from the perspective of the students themselves. This study seeks to fill these gaps, exploring student perceptions and providing empirical support for the use of trauma-informed training and practices in school settings that serve traumatized students. It has important implications for the use of trauma-informed policy and practices to improve the educational well-being of this traditionally academically disadvantaged population. Schools and other educational settings can apply this knowledge to inform the development of their own trauma-informed staff training, implement new teaching personnel practices in the classroom, as well as develop new policies and practices related to suspension, expulsion, and alternative disciplinary actions for students.
ABSTRACT: Court-involved students, such as those in foster care and the juvenile justice system, generally experience high incidences of both acute and chronic trauma, adversely impacting their educational well-being and overall academic trajectory. Utilizing perceptions of teachers and other school staff, this study explores the challenges and needs of school personnel working with this student population. Methods: Participants were school personnel employed at a Midwest, urban, public charter school during the 2012-2013 academic year. Focus groups explored the perceptions of school staff members working with court-involved students to develop a staff training curriculum. Focus groups also were conducted after the training intervention to get feedback from participants and identify remaining challenges. Focus group data were analyzed and results were member-checked with study participants. Results: Findings included 7 major themes (14 subthemes) regarding student behaviors that were challenging for school staff to manage. Themes included trauma-related behaviors, attachment-related behaviors, staff pre-intervention needs, intervention feedback, and staff post-intervention needs. Conclusions: Teachers and school staff can play a role in the educational well-being of court-involved youth. However, they need trauma-specific knowledge and resources to be effective.
Adolescents in Residential Treatment: Caregiver and Peer Predictors of Risk Behavior and Academic Performance
ABSTRACT: The purpose of this research was to better understand the substance use and sexual risk taking behavior among high-risk adolescent populations placed in residential treatment facilities, including those in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. The primary predictors considered in this study included caregiver support, caregiver closeness, other adult support, adolescent self-disclosure/communication with caregiver, caregiver expectations about sexual behavior, and peer influence regards to drugs/alcohol and sexual behavior. Participants included 120 adolescent females in grades 7 to 12 (median grade=10; mean age 15.7 years), primarily African American (57.2 %) and White (29 %), in a residential treatment setting in a large urban area in the Midwest. Caregiver support and self-disclosure/communication with caregivers predicted condom use at most recent intercourse, but variables related to substance use were most consistently predictive of sexuality variables including onset and frequency of behavior. None of these support variables significantly predicted onset and frequency of substance use. Caregiver support was the contributing variable in predicting academic achievement.
Adolescent Girls in Out-of-Home Care: Associations Between Substance Use and Sexual Risk Behavior
ABSTRACT: Substance use and sexual risk behaviors continue to be major concerns for today’s youths, and are particularly problematic for those who have been placed in out-of-home care settings. The purpose of this study was to explore these associations in a sample of 120 girls placed in a residential treatment setting and attending an on-site school in a major metropolitan area in the Midwest. A modified Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was administered including questions relating to the youths’ foster care or adjudicated status. The substance use variables targeted were alcohol and drug use. The sexual risk behavior variables were age of onset of first sexual intercourse, virginity status, contraceptive use, age of first sexual partner, and experience with ever having been forced to have sex. Results indicate that earlier onset and greater frequency of substance use were both correlated with number of sexual partners. Frequency of substance use was a significant and consistent contributor. Age of sexual partner was an inconsistent contributor, and history of forced sexual activity was not a contributor. Implications for policy and practice are offered to enhance the health and well-being of this unique population.
Predictors and Outcomes of School Attachment and School Involvement in a Sample of Girls in Residential Treatment
ABSTRACT: Researchers examined associations between number of schools attended, school attachment and involvement and social support among 86 girls (mean age = 15 years) living in a residential treatment center. Associations among school attachment and school involvement and symptoms of depression were also explored. Results indicated no association between numbers of schools attended and school attachment, involvement, or social support. Classmate support and support from people in school in general were significant predictors of school attachment and involvement, although teacher support was not. School attachment and involvement were not related to students’ reported symptoms of depression. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.