Trauma-informed Social Work Practice
Over the next few months we’ll be featuring a variety of Trauma informed social work projects and initiatives led by our MSW students. Here at UNE, our on campus MSW students can obtain a certificate in Trauma-Informed Care en route to getting their MSW. The trauma certificate coordinator, who is also one of our Assistant Clinical Professors, Arabella Pérez LCSW, is a national leader in trauma-informed care and has over 24 years experience as a practicing social worker and therapist.
To obtain the certificate, students must:
- Select two trauma-informed social work courses to satisfy their elective requirements
- design and implement a culminating trauma-informed project.
More details on our Trauma-informed certificate HERE.
Today, we feature a project of one of our current MSW students, Erin McCormack. Erin focused her project around creating trauma-informed spaces in schools, and calls her project “Peace Place.”
“In an effort to give students a safe space during the school day, to honor and respect cultural diversity, and to try and shift the lens through which trauma-informed care is seen I proposed a trauma-informed program implementation at Reiche named the Peace Place.” Erin shares.
“Trauma can undermine children’s ability to learn, form relationships, and function appropriately in the classroom.” (Cole Et al. 2005)
Peace Place is a trauma-informed program designed and implemented in collaboration with teacher leaders and school volunteers at Portland, Maine’s Reichie Elementary School. See details about the project below.
Three primary factors led to Erin’s inspiration to implement Peace Place:
- Ramadan– Staff at Reiche Elementary recently became aware there were not adequate systems in place for children fasting during Ramadan.
- Overstimulating Environment – as an open concept school, classrooms have wall partitions and can be overwhelming to some students, particularly those with history of trauma.
- No Alternative to Outdoor Recess – Erin wanted to create an option outside of outdoor recess that gives children a break from routine academic activities.
As a Title 1 School (also known as “education for the disadvantaged”), Reiche has a student body with a higher rate of childhood trauma in comparison to other schools, due to homelessness, abuse, refugee or asylee status, and a variety of other factors. Though Reiche school staff recognize and strive to effectively address the high rates of trauma among students, many have not had the opportunity to learn what it means to attend to these histories with a trauma-informed approach.
Trauma sensitive school environments benefit all children – those whose trauma history is known, those whose trauma will never be clearly identified, and those who may be impacted by their traumatized classmates” (Cole, S, et al., 2005).
Erin stresses that to be trauma- informed does not necessarily mean just talking about one’s trauma. In fact, to continuously discuss trauma can actually re-traumatize children. As McInerny states, to be trauma-informed means “providing a safe, stable, and understanding environment for students and staff. A primary goal is to prevent re-injury or re-traumatization by acknowledging trauma and its triggers and avoiding stigmatizing and punishing students” (McInerny, p.7).
“What McInerny posits is exactly what the Peace Place attempts to provide in the school environment for all children, but especially those who have experienced trauma,” Erin shares.
The Peace Place program at Reiche Elementary School was implemented successfully beginning on Monday, October 22nd, 2018. It is currently offered every day for third through fifth grades during their recess time. The initial planning process spanned a six week period in order to establish the previously mentioned logistical elements (volunteers, space, obtaining materials, creating a check-in system, etc.).
After four weeks of the Peace Place occurring daily, data was compiled to present to the three team lead administrators and classroom teachers. They received 451 total student responses. Third grade were the highest in attendance. See results below:
Once the program was up and running, select teachers commented on how impressed they were that their students were able to make informed decisions about their own needs each day. The number of students that have visited the Peace Place to date is 686, which means that there will most likely be well over 1,000 students who attend by the end of the school year. “Hopefully, these numbers will show the importance of the program to administrators and they will make a commitment to implementing the next best steps to keeping it going,” Erin shares.
Though the program implementation went more smoothly than expected and yielded overall positive results, there’s always room for improvement, Erin acknowledges. Moving forward, she’d love to see more student collaboration beyond just utilization of the space. “What would make the Peace Place optimal to serve their needs?” she wants to know.
Some questions that could be asked would be:
- What would you like to see in the Peace Place?
- What types of activities would you like to have available?
- Can you think of some different ways to set up the space?
- When you think of a calm and peaceful place what does that look like for you?
She’d like to see more data on attendees. For example, when students opt to utilize peace place for the reason “other,” she’d like them to have the ability to elaborate further.
Another important next step for the school to consider is more staff training around what it does and does not mean to be trauma-informed.
Though there were challenges and at times it felt overwhelming, Erin shares she’s grateful for the learning opportunity it provided. “It was incredibly rewarding to see it come to fruition during the semester.”