Making Children's Mental Health and School Safety a Priority

Making Children's Mental Health and School Safety a Priority

October 9, 20192 min read

The U.S. Department of Education announced $71.6 million in grant awards to enhance safety in schools and improve student access to mental health resources. The grants will allow local leaders to tailor their approach to school safety and mental health in ways that meet their students' individual needs and their particular school's unique challenges.

"This is a strong step towards helping children across the U.S. who have experienced traumatic events. We know from previous research that traumatic experiences, even those in early childhood, affect an individual at any time in their life," says Elizabeth Dowdell, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor at Villanova's M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing. "In healthcare, assessing, identifying and treating trauma has become a major public health challenge since trauma exposures frequently go unrecognized and unaddressed."

The same is true in the educational system. For many children, adolescents, and adults, trauma results from an event, series of events or set of circumstances which are perceived or experienced to be physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening.

The landmark Adverse Childhood Experience study (1998) found that, in a population of 17,377 adult participants, 63% experienced at least one trauma exposure as a child and 20% experienced more than three trauma exposures. The experience of repeated trauma is sometimes referred to as toxic stress, which can have damaging effects on learning, behavior and health across the life span. These exposures included physical and sexual abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. Increased stress from family violence and chaos is trauma and, when combined with injury, is the leading preventable cause of morbidity and mortality. The lasting adverse effects from the trauma can affect a child's functioning and well-being, specifically mental and physical health, social, emotional and spiritual well-being as they age and develop.

"Healthcare is shifting to a trauma-informed framework that focuses on what happened to the person rather than what is wrong with them and recognizes that individual's strengths and resilience. Schools are ideal locations for identification of traumatized children and the implementation of services to help them," says Dr. Dowdell. "School districts have to create physical safety and psychological safe places where all children can learn."

Connect with:
  • Elizabeth  Burgess Dowdell, PhD
    Elizabeth Burgess Dowdell, PhD Professor and Coordinator of Undergraduate Research | M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing

    Elizabeth Dowdell, PhD, RN, FAAN, is an expert in the use of social media by adolescents and the health risks posed by online behaviors.

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