Legislators, advocates push for Trauma Informed Schools Act
STATE HOUSE – In the midst of what health care providers are describing as a mental health state of emergency for Rhode Island children, Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell and Sen. Sandra Cano are calling for the passage of their legislation to implement trauma-informed practices in schools throughout the state.
“Each and every one of us experiences trauma at points in our life, some more than others, and the trauma we experience as children can shape our lives forever. The difference that determines whether we are able to be resilient and recover is whether we are supported by those in our community,” said Representative Ranglin-Vassell (D-Dist. 5, Providence), who works as a teacher at E-Cubed Academy in Providence. “In schools, teachers like myself see kids suffering every day from the trauma they have experienced, particularly during the pandemic the last couple of years. The mental-emotional needs of our children need to be met with care, and teachers and staff need resources to know how they can respond in ways that are helpful.”
The Trauma Informed Schools Act (2022-H 6667, 2022-S 2556), which is scheduled for a vote before the House Education Committee tomorrow, would establish and implement trauma-informed practices within all elementary, middle and high schools. In a trauma-informed school, adults teaching or interacting with children are keenly aware of the implications of adverse childhood experiences and their implications to teaching and learning. They also reflect on their own teaching practices and use strategies that support students who may be experiencing trauma.
“By passing the Trauma Informed Schools Act this session, we will help children and educators address the growing mental health concerns of children. We also believe this bill will help our educators who often struggle to meet the needs of these children. By supporting students’ needs around the issues of trauma, we will help them come to school better prepared to learn and by providing them with the opportunities they deserve to set them on the path for lifelong success,” said Senator Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket).
Senator Cano and Representative Ranglin-Vassell, along with cosponsors Sen. Alana M. DiMario and Rep. Teresa Tanzi, were joined today by advocates at a State House event in support of the bill’s passage.
The bill aims to create school communities where all adults are prepared to recognize and respond to those who have been impacted by toxic stress and trauma. Students are provided with clear expectations and communication strategies to guide them through stressful situations. Trauma informed schools provide a safe, stable and supportive environment for students and staff and are welcoming and inclusive environments where all students can thrive.
“As a licensed mental health counselor, I have witnessed and helped treat the significant stress and trauma that is affecting our kids on a daily basis. The pandemic has only worsened the mental health of our students and appropriate steps and care are needed to ensure proper healing and growth. This is why I am proud to be a cosponsor of this important legislation, which will support and nurture the mental health of our students in their time of need,” said Senator DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown).
Last month, the Rhode Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Rhode Island Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, alongside Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Bradley Hospital declared a mental health state of emergency for Rhode Island children, saying the “worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020.”
Said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown Narragansett), “The isolation, loss and fear brought on by the pandemic have obviously taken their toll on kids, many of whom were already experiencing other traumas and mental health challenges. It is very clear that we are only beginning to come to terms with the shadow pandemic of serious and widespread behavioral health challenges. We need to respond to it intentionally, and implementing trauma-informed practices at school is an important part of that response.”
The legislation is supported by the Department of Education, Rhode Island Kids Count, Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, Mental Health Association of Rhode Island, Adoption Rhode Island, United Way of Rhode Island, State Treasurer Seth Magaziner, the American Civil Liberties Union Rhode Island, the City of Providence Health Communities Office, Rhode Island Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America, Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, Providence Teachers Union, National Education Association, Rhode Island Black Business Association, and Comprehensive Community Action Program. Parents, doctors and psychologists testified in favor of it in committee hearings.
“The pandemic has magnified the need for all professionals who serve children, to support the whole child. Childhood adversity is more prevalent than many are aware of, impacting children across our state and from every ZIP code. Understanding adverse childhood experiences will help educators and others to promote a more successful learning environment for all children,” said Darlene Allen of Adoption Rhode Island.