By Sen. Sandra Cano and Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell
Rhode Island has a unique opportunity to help thousands of children and educators this year. As state legislators and child advocates, we are working together to address the impact of trauma on children in our state. We are also working to address secondary trauma experienced by teachers, social workers, psychologists, para-professionals and those supporting our children in schools every day.
We strongly believe that by passing the Trauma Informed Schools Act (2022-H 66672022-S 2556) this session, we will help children and educators address the growing mental health concerns of children. We also believe this bill will help support 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 to provide them with opportunities they deserve to set them on the path for lifelong success.
What is a trauma informed school?  It is a school community where all adults are prepared to recognize and respond to those who have been impacted by toxic stress and trauma. In a trauma informed school, adults teaching or interacting with children are keenly aware of the implications of Adverse Childhood Experiences and the implications to teaching and learning.  They also reflect on their teaching practices and use strategies that support students who may be experiencing trauma.
It is also a place where students are provided with clear expectations and communication strategies to guide them through stressful situations. In addition, school personnel are equipped with essential skills and knowledge in responding to children who experience trauma in their lived experiences. 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 regardless of their circumstance, race, gender identity, ethnic background or zip code.
Whether you are from Westerly or Woonsocket, Providence or Portsmouth, Coventry or Cranston, children in Rhode Island are experiencing unprecedented levels of mental health challenges.  Far too many children across our state have been impacted by loss of loved ones through COVID, witnessing gun violence, untimely deaths of fellow students and friends, bullying, loneliness, abuse and neglect, parental overdose and more.
Mental health problems affect children of all backgrounds and from all zip codes. Nationally, 10 percent of children under age five experience a significant mental health issue. According to Rhode Island Kids Count, one in five (19 percent) of children ages 6-17 has a diagnosable mental health problem. The last two years of the pandemic have exacerbated these challenges for our children. In Rhode Island, we have seen an increase in suicide attempts, eating disorders and anxiety in children. Our children are hurting and our schools are places where they should feel safe and receive the support they need in order to learn, grow and thrive. Preparing our teachers, social workers, psychologist and para-professionals is a critical response to the current crisis.
Schools becoming trauma informed can be transformational for students, teachers and the entire educational community. Trauma sensitive and trauma informed environments allow educators the opportunity to collaborate in a way that supports a student’s mental and physical health so that learning can occur successfully.
We are thankful for the support from RIDE, the NEA, RICCF, RI Kids Count, the ACLU, Adoption RI, RIFTHP, the Rhode Island Disabilities Council, the Rhode Island Coalition for Children and Families, the Healthy Communities Office, the United Way of Rhode Island, numerous experts in the field of mental health services, individuals and families as well as so many education and child services organizations. Please join us and reach out to your legislators and urge them to pass the Trauma Informed Schools Act.
By passing this legislation, we are setting our children up for lifelong success and creating pathways where they can grow and thrive while also recovering from the horrible stresses and uncertainties we all faced during the pandemic.
Sen. Sandra Cano, a Democrat, represents District 8 in Pawtucket.  Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, a Democrat, represents District 5 in Providence.

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