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School nurses, counselors, teachers and administrators learned Tuesday how to support children who have gone through adverse childhood experiences.
The forum, held at Wilson Community College, was sponsored jointly by the Wilson Education Partnership and the Area L Area Health Education Center.
“As our mental health needs increase each year, we are here to get education on how to manage those in a school setting,” said Valerie Kersey, one of six school nurses who handle 26 schools in Wilson County.
It can be hard to identify instances where children have suffered adverse childhood experiences that can lead to social, emotional and cognitive impairment, adoption of health-risk behaviors, social problems and even early death.
“Lots of times children are not completely upfront,” Kersey said. “They have to build that trust with someone. There are not enough resources for mental health, in my opinion, in our county.”
Kersey said her hope in attending the forum was to glean good information that can be taken back to her schools to better help her students and staff members.
“They are seeing it every day,” Kersey said.
Chanda Atkins Lane, a school counselor at Hearne Elementary School, attended to find out more information about training to deal with children who have experienced trauma and see how that training fits in with helping the kids at Hearne.
“We have had some recent traumatic events for some of our kids, so this training will provide some information on how to help them best with what’s going on with them,” Lane said. “It’s very helpful, and I feel like it will be very beneficial for training for counselors, social workers and for helping our students.”
Tammie Yates, a social worker who serves nine schools, said adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, affect behaviors in the classroom.
“Whenever you see disruptive behavior, and you dig deeper, you can do the ACEs score, and you can see that they have had those adverse issues in their childhood, you can see, OK, the child is struggling here, so let’s give the child some support and identify what we need to do as far as resources to help support that kid and the family,” Yates said.
Yates encounters this every day. Kids’ struggles are not new, and the different things they are struggling with are not new, Yates said.
Tuesday’s focus on trauma is long overdue, she added, and it brings attention to the issue facing children.
“These are areas of concern in the community that we need to be paying attention to,” Yates said. “The kids do need that support. It’s primarily for education and we get that, but you’ve got to focus on this to get good outcomes.”
Jaymie Lee, school counselor at Springfield Middle School, said that often educators look at academic data, but a lot of the time that’s definitely not the factor in childhood learning.
“With some of these children who are struggling, it’s not necessarily that they have a problem academically,” Lee said. “It is an emotional issue stemming from something that happened earlier on in life that has not been dealt with, and they can’t focus academically because of that issue. They are not emotionally mature enough to handle it and need support either psychologically or emotionally, and it’s just not addressed like it should be.”
It is almost like a child’s version of post traumatic stress disorder.
“Just like we know that people that go to wars can’t focus on certain things and have certain issues, you think about a child who is not as mature as an adult who has experienced that, how they don’t have the coping skills to deal with the academic setting if they are suffering from adverse childhood experiences,” Lee said. “They don’t know that they should ask for help, or their parents don’t know that they should ask for help. So this is a way for us to help in our role as counselors and social workers and looking at the whole child. It will help them be more successful academically, which is what the focus has been.”
A lot of the children who have suffered adverse experiences at a very young age are the ones who tend to have attendance problems.
“When you don’t attend school and you are idle and home and you are unsupervised, it leads to all sorts of things,” Lee said. “We find that these kids are more involved in drugs, in gangs and all kinds of behaviors. We are a point where the opioid crisis of school age children particularly dropouts, is at an all time high, so if we can get them when they are young, we can help with that also.”