This month the Safe Start Center is honoring National Women’s History Month by profiling women who have made an impact on the issue of children’s exposure to violence.
Dr. Susan E. Craig is an accomplished author having published books including Reaching and Teaching Children Who Hurt: Strategies for Your Classroom as well as having created the essential training series Including All Children: Supporting Preschool Children with Disabilities.
Dr. Craig is also a professional trainer committed to teaching and training school staff throughout the country. Her work provides them with professional development tools to help them in creating an inclusive and trauma-informed environment for their students. Her ultimate goal is to help parents and caregivers support children effected by trauma and help them to thrive.
You can also read more about her work on her blog http://meltdownstomastery.wordpress.com.
Why do you feel children’s exposure to violence and traumatic stress is an important issue and how did you get involved?
According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) 26% of children under age four have suffered some type of trauma or toxic stress. We know that prolonged exposure to stress in early childhood changes the architecture of children’s brains in ways that threaten every aspect of their well-being: their ability to learn, as well as their physical and mental health. And yet there is no public outrage about it.
My interest in the relationship between CEV and learning began early in my career when I was working as a reading specialist. Many of the children referred for evaluations had histories of family violence. So I decided to find out if there was a connection. My doctoral dissertation established a relationship between CEV and subsequent learning problems in language, memory, impulsivity, self-differentiation and executive function. These findings, (published in Phi Delta Kappan in 1992) are now confirmed by research which documents the relationship between CEV and brain development.
What would you say are a few of the most valuable things you have learned through your work in schools training teachers and staff about the impact of trauma on children?
A trauma sensitive approach to teaching reflects best practices in education. Its emphasis on relationships, safety, and self-regulation benefit all children. So schools should jump at the chance, rather than fear implementing trauma sensitive strategies.
What would you like to see develop in research, policy and/or communities regarding children’s exposure to violence and traumatic stress?
How does CEV affect literacy and language development? Many of the adolescents who drop out or who are incarcerated cannot read. It is possible that the deficits in executive functioning observed in CEV combine to make learning to read difficult. I’d like to know more about that.
In terms of policy, we need to revamp early intervention services to make them available to all infants and toddlers. Children with disabilities make tremendous gains when they receive services from birth. I think we would see similar gains for children exposed to violence.
I would like to see educators invited to collaborate with mental health and juvenile justice professionals. Teachers work every day with children exposed to violence. Their participation in discussions of community based support is invaluable.