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Keeping Race at the Center of School Discipline Practices and Trauma-Informed Care: An Interprofessional Framework



Given the unique forms of trauma that some Black and Brown youths are exposed to, and the salience of race and racial bias in discipline decision making, this article proposes that discipline interventions should be both race centered and trauma informed. Using critical race theory (CRT), trauma-informed practice literature, and restorative practice philosophies, this article presents a framework that highlights how schools can incorporate racial equity into mental health practices and discipline decision making with students. Namely, CRT tenets such as the centrality of race and racism, challenging the dominant perspective, valuing experiential knowledge, and the commitment to social justice guide authors' recommendations on discipline decision making. Using an interprofessional perspective, this framework delineates how school social workers, school psychologists, and school counselors can support their schools to integrate interprofessional, trauma-informed, and race-centered practices into a behavioral intervention. Ultimately, this article provides in-terpersonal, practice, and structural recommendations that can help practitioners engage in equitable discipline decision making.
Keeping Race at the Center of School Discipline
Practices and Trauma-Informed Care:
An Interprofessional Framework
Andrea Asha Joseph, Serena M. Wilcox, Rebecca J. Hnilica, and Mary C. Hansen
Given the unique forms of trauma that some Black and Brown youths are exposed to, and
the salience of race and racial bias in discipline decision making, this article proposes that dis-
cipline interventions should be both race centered and trauma informed. Using critical race
theory (CRT), trauma-informed practice literature, and restorative practice philosophies,
this article presents a framework that highlights how schools can incorporate racial equity
into mental health practices and discipline decision making with students. Namely, CRT
tenets such as the centrality of race and racism, challenging the dominant perspective,
valuing experiential knowledge, and the commitment to social justice guide authors’
recommendations on discipline decision making. Using an interprofessional perspective,
this framework delineates how school social workers, school psychologists, and school
counselors can support their schools to integrate interprofessional, trauma-informed, and
race-centered practices into a behavioral intervention. Ultimately, this article provides in-
terpersonal, practice, and structural recommendations that can help practitioners engage in
equitable discipline decision making.
KEY WORDS:adverse childhood experiences; critical race theory; school social work; school
suspensions; trauma-informed care
As schools continue to subscribe to trauma-
informed practices and suspension reduc-
tion interventions, it is equally vital that
schools consider the role of race and trauma in dis-
cipline practices and disparities. Multitiered inter-
ventions such as restorative practices have been
successful in reducing overall school suspensions,
but there is less consistency in the reduction of
racially disproportional school suspensions (Anyon
et al., 2014;Lustick, 2017). We agree with recent
research highlighting the way that punitive practices
and race-neutral interventions contribute to the
persistent racial discipline gap (Lustick, 2017).
However, we also position that some students of
color have unique trauma experiences (Slopen
et al., 2016) contributing to externalizing behaviors
that put them at greater risk for school suspension.
Moreover, given the salience of race in discipline
decision making (Anyon et al., 2014;Skiba, Shure,
& Williams, 2011), we suggest that racial bias and a
lack of training on adverse childhood experiences
(ACEs) can lead educators to see Black and Brown
students’ behaviors as deviant versus a call for help.
We use critical race theory (CRT) as a framework
of social justice to highlight how color-blind poli-
cies and practices of the past and present continue
to influence the racialized education outcomes that
students of color experience. We propose a race-
centered trauma-informed interprofessional frame-
work to inform the understanding of dispropor-
tionate disciplinary actions in relation to racialized
inequities, bias, policy, and practice.
During the 2015–2016 academic year, 2.7 million
students received one or more out-of-school sus-
pensions across the United States (U.S. Commission
on Civil Rights, 2019). That school year, students
of color and students with disabilities were dispro-
portionately represented in these suspension out-
comes (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2019).
The short- and long-term consequences of school
exclusion, particularly when associated with bias,
are well known. They are associated with academic
underperformance (Brown, 2007), mental health
strains (Brady, 2002), crime, substance abuse (Amer-
ican Academy of Pediatrics, 2003), fractured rela-
tional ties (Darensbourg, Perez, & Blake, 2010),
doi: 10.1093/cs/cdaa013 V
C2020 National Association of Social Workers 1
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repeated suspensions (Dupper, Theriot, & Craun,
2009), and future incarceration (Cregor & Hewitt,
2011;Wald & Losen, 2003). Given the dispropor-
tionate suspension of Black and Brown students de-
spite these risk factors, this aligns with Coles and
Powell’s (2020) suggestion that schools are depend-
ing on exclusions ‘‘to establish order, while over-
looking the disorder” (p. 114).
To address such disorder, some schools are in-
creasingly implementing trauma-informed practices
to help students who have endured ACEs and
require additional academic and socioemotional
support. The earliest research on ACEs included 10
abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction categories
that were associated with negative health outcomes
and early death in adulthood. These ACEs were
psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse,
witnessing violence against one’s mother, living
with people who engaged in substance abuse, living
with people who experienced mental illness, and
living with people who experienced imprisonment
(Felitti et al., 1998). With a predominantly White,
college-educated, and middle-income sample in the
original ACEs study, some ACEs research has since
expanded to include a more racially diverse demo-
graphic and people residing in urban city spaces
(Greeson et al., 2014;Research and Evaluation
Group, 2013). ACEs research in urban communi-
ties has expanded the neglect and abuse categories
to include witnessing or hearing violence, experi-
ences with discrimination, adverse neighborhood
experiences, childhood bullying, and experiences in
foster care (Research and Evaluation Group, 2013).
By expanding the original ACEs categories to in-
clude select community stressors found in an urban
population, this study identified community con-
textual stressors associated with negative adult
health and well-being outcomes (Research and
Evaluation Group, 2013). Namely, scholars have
found that Black children exposed to traumatic
stressors are more likely to experience arrests and
become incarcerated as adults compared with those
without trauma exposure ( Ja¨ggi, Mezuk, Watkins,
& Jackson, 2016). Not only do ACEs have negative
outcomes in adulthood, they are associated with
an array of negative behavioral outcomes among
school-age youths (Burke, Hellman, Scott, Weems,
& Carrion, 2011;Hunt,Slack,&Berger,2017).
Complicating this matter is the insufficient training
school staff often receive on culturally responsive
classroom management and the carceral-like struc-
tures in public schools; together, these contribute
to disproportionate discipline rates (Wade & Ortiz,
2017;Skiba, 2013;Vavrus & Cole, 2002). Further-
more, racial discrimination, a documented ACEs
metric (Research and Evaluation Group, 2013), de-
preciated academic outcomes, delinquent behaviors,
and dropout rates for students of color (Brown, 2007;
Cregor & Hewitt, 2011;Wald & Losen, 2003).
The relationship between ACEs, trauma, and
school discipline has now garnered class action law-
suits and legislative changes in select states. In the
state of Tennessee, an act to amend the Tennessee
Code Annotated, Title 49, relative to ACEs (S.B.
170, 2019), was recently signed into law by Gover-
nor Bill Lee of Tennessee. This act requires each
local board of education to adopt a policy requiring
all K–12 teachers, principals, and assistant principals
to participate in ACE training and incorporate it
into the discipline decision-making processes (S.B.
170, 2019). This legislative change acknowledges
the relationship between ACEs, trauma, and school
discipline and the need to provide associated train-
ing and support services in public schools.
Furthermore, in the ground breaking case of Pe-
ter P., et al. v. Compton Unified School District, et al.
(2015), student and teacher plaintiffs argued that
students attending Compton Unified School Dis-
trict were disproportionately exposed to complex
trauma, which inhibited their ability to learn and
thus met the definition of a disability according
to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and
the Americans with Disabilities Act. Federal judge
Michael W. Fitzgerald overruled the Compton
Unified School District’s objections, allowing
the plaintiffs to position that the district
ignored and affirmatively breached their re-
sponsibility to accommodate students whose
access to education is fundamentally im-
paired by reason of the trauma they have
endured [and that] subject[ed] trauma-
impacted students to punitive and counter-
productive suspensions, expulsions, involun-
tary transfers, and referrals to law enforce-
ment that push them out of school, off the
path to graduation, and into the criminal jus-
tice system. (Peter P., et al., v. Compton Uni-
fied School District, et al., 2015,p.4)
The plaintiffs suggested that the school district
should follow the guidelines of trauma-informed
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schools, which include (a) educators trained in
trauma-informed practices, (b) restorative practices
as a means to establish strong relationships and reduce
retributive discipline practices, and (c) the provision
of sufficient mental health support (Peter P., et al., v.
Compton Unified School District, et al., 2015). However,
less explicit in S.B. 170 and PeterP.,etal.v.Compton
Unified School District, et al., is the need to consider the
significance of race and racial bias in suspension rates
and the ways that exposure to ACEs can also become
racialized. To explore this intricate relationship, we
use tenets of CRT to examine the centrality of race,
color-blind educational reform, the influence of his-
torical inequity, and whiteness as property.
CRT and Racially Disproportional School
Whether illusive or explicit, race is constantly
present in policy, practice, and the school space.
Nationally, students of color with and without
disabilities are disproportionately represented in
school exclusions (Bradshaw, Mitchell, O’Brennan,
& Leaf, 2010;Office for Civil Rights, 2018;Skiba
et al., 2011;U.S. Commission on Civil Rights,
2019). Furthermore, poverty status and differential
rates of misconduct have not been found to suf-
ficiently explain discipline disparities for African
American students (Bradshaw et al., 2010;Skiba,
Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002;Wallace, Good-
kind,Wallace,&Bachman,2008). As such, the
centrality of race is a core tenet of CRT scholarship
as it is also a reoccurring factor associated with
economic, educational, and health care outcomes
(Delgado & Stefancic, 2012). Likewise, establishing
equitable trauma-informed discipline policy must
first start by rejecting color-blind ideology in school
discipline policy and practice. Color-blind applica-
tion of policy and practice have led to racialized dis-
cipline outcomes associated with Cheryl Harris’s
(1993) concept of whiteness as property. Harris sug-
gests that Black people were subject to slavery and
Native Americans demoralized and ripped from
their land ‘‘by conferring and acknowledging the
property rights of whites ... Only white possession
and occupation of land was validated and therefore
were privileged as a basis for property rights”
(p. 1716). In schools, whiteness as property is per-
formed when standardized testing is normed on
White middle-class populations (Moore, 2005), yet
is applied broadly and used as a measure of success
or deficiency. Likewise, the early Felitti et al.
(1998) ACEs study was conducted with a White
middle-class population and became the standard
for ACEs research; thus, practitioners working with
urban Black and Brown students must incorporate
the expanded ACEs survey established for diverse
urban populations (Research and Evaluation
Group, 2013). To do otherwise would be to
erase students’ trauma experiences and reinscribe
whiteness as property in trauma evaluation. Al-
though a concept like whiteness as property may
appear inconsequential and hard to measure, it
leaves behind unmistakable evidence in the visual-
ization of racialized outcomes.
This visualization refers to the way students of
color are noticeably overenrolled in detention,
suspension, and expulsion, and thus the associated
stigma becomes affixed to their presence. Indeed,
this is connected to the way Black and Brown bod-
ies have been associated with danger and marked
for punishment and commodification both histori-
cally (that is, during slavery and the genesis of
southern policing) (Coles & Powell, 2020;Durr,
2015) and presently through over-policing, dispa-
rate incarceration rates (Gilbert & Ray, 2016), and
the school-to-prison pipeline (Cregor & Hewitt,
2011). Such disproportionality reflects the criminal-
ization of blackness—a process in which Black
people are treated as criminals by institutions and
society to justify treating them in oppressive and
dehumanizing ways (Chandler, 2017). Therefore,
not only does CRT posit the centrality of race and
the rejection of color-blind policy and practice, it
also supports the rejection of ahistoricism (Ledesma
&Caldero´n, 2015). This is to reject the erasure or
denial of the influence of racism, bias, and inequity
on the lives of people of color and their current-day
manifestations (Ledesma & Caldero´ n, 2015). In
contrast, schools should incorporate this knowledge
into current policy and practice to reduce contin-
ued disenfranchisement. However, under carceral-
like models of school punishment today, many
schools have abandoned adolescent behavioral
management by school officials and have assigned
the responsibility to various agencies within the
criminal justice system (that is, police officers and
juvenile courts). This trend, which coincides with
the increased use of school resource officers
(SROs), subjects the most vulnerable students to
disciplinary actions that could lead to further trau-
matization within the school setting (Dinkes,
Kemp, & Baum, 2009;Wade & Ortiz, 2017). With
Joseph et al. / Keeping Race at the Center of School Discipline Practices and Trauma-Informed Care 3
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the schools’ reliance on SROs rather than school
social workers and counselors, students of color will
continually be criminalized (Hirschfield & Celinska,
2011;Shedd, 2015;Skiba & Sprague, 2008).
Color-blind approaches to trauma-informed practi-
ces and disciplinary interventions can confound the
influence of racism in creating inequity in the lives
of children of color who may have experienced
various forms of trauma. Consequently, a color-
blind approach to school-based trauma-informed
care and discipline is likely to uphold behavior-only
and victim-blaming conclusions.
CRT also underscores the importance of valuing
the unique lived experiences, experiential knowl-
edge, and voices of people of color (Delgado & Ste-
fancic, 2012). Often, students’ perspectives about
discipline policy are not included in the discipline
framework. By garnering the experiential knowl-
edge of students of color, educators can begin
to avoid what Hardy (2013) called ‘‘the case of
nobody” in racialized trauma. Hardy posited that
the strengths, skills, and talents of students of color
are often overlooked whereas negative characteriza-
tions, problem-focused framing, and racialized
beliefs systems are elevated. Ultimately, we use
CRT to outline the construction of race and the
persistence of racism in discipline outcomes. We ar-
gue that the voices and lived experiences of students
of color must be acknowledged and incorporated
when discipline policies and decisions are being
made. This is particularly vital for students of color
who have been exposed to ACEs. As social work-
ers, counselors, school psychologists, and educators
take the helms of trauma-informed practices for
trauma-responsive schools, they should likewise re-
ject a color-blind and blame-centered approach.
ACE Exposure and Behavior
Students of color and students from low-income
households are disproportionately exposed to ACEs
(Slopen et al., 2016). Several studies detail that
trauma, like poverty, can permanently impair the
limbic system, which can weaken a child’s self-
defense mechanisms, creating hypervigilance or
thwarted affect (De Bellis & Zisk, 2014;Dombo &
Sabatino, 2019). Thus, the ‘‘fight, flight, or freeze”
responses of a child who experienced trauma may
be atypical. In a study among children (N¼1,670)
from birth through six years old, Freeman (2014)
found that 70 percent of children had three or
more ACEs, which quadrupled internalization of
problems and nearly quadrupled externalizing by
theageofsix.Inasample(N¼701) with 54.3 per-
cent female children of color with a mean age of
8.13, those with four or more ACEs were more
likely to have learning and behavioral difficulties
(Burke et al., 2011). Finally, among middle-school-
age youths experiencing ACEs, higher attention-
deficit/hyperactivity disorder diagnoses were found,
as were higher rates of externalizing and internaliz-
ing behaviors, as early as nine years of age (Hunt
et al., 2017). As argued in Peter P., et al. v. Compton
Unified School District, et al. (2015), a child’s untreated
trauma exposure can make them disproportionately
exposed to school discipline practices. Fortunately,
school social workers and counselors are increas-
ingly receiving training in trauma-informed care
(Dombo & Sabatino, 2019;Lokeman, 2011)and
are often aware of the inequities that their students
experience. If intentionally incorporated with
antiracist and culturally responsive praxis, these
professionals will be situated to facilitate inclu-
sive trauma-informed practices that will support
schools with more equitable discipline outcomes.
Ultimately, ACEs training in schools should be
integrated with training that will strengthen edu-
cators’ racial consciousness and cultural compe-
tence (Dombo & Sabatino, 2019).
Trauma-Informed Schools
Trauma-informed care can incorporate screening
for trauma, evidence-informed practices, and mak-
ing use of trauma-specific resources within a con-
tinuous system of support (Ko et al., 2008). In the
state of Tennessee, the Department of Education’s
Building Stronger Brains initiative relies on six pil-
lars for trauma-informed classrooms:
(1) allow flexibility within predictable struc-
ture, (2) build supportive relationships, (3)
create a safe space, (4) empower student
voice and choice, (5) teach and support regu-
lation, [and] (6) use discipline to teach, not to
punish. (Tennessee Department of Educa-
tion, 2018,p.6)
Similarly, the Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) uses six
principles of a trauma-informed approach: (1) safety;
(2) trustworthiness and transparency; (3), peer sup-
port; (4) collaboration and mutuality; (5) empower-
ment, voice, and choice; and (6) cultural, historical,
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and gender issues (SAMHSA, Trauma and Justice
Strategic Initiative, 2014, p. 11). Both these models
reflect core components of earlier trauma-informed
care pillars, which include safety, connections, and
managing emotions (Bath, 2008). Bath’s three pillars
were present in an intervention used by a Wash-
ington state high school and were associated
with significant reductions in school suspensions
(Stevens, 2012). The school used a trauma-informed
approach called the Attachment, Regulation and
Competency framework, which trained staff to rec-
ognize signs of trauma, thus enhancing their ability
to more accurately interpret student behavior and
provide support as opposed to punitive discipline
(Stevens, 2012;Walkley & Cox, 2013).
This intervention, like many others, used the orig-
inal ACEs measure, which was normed on a pre-
dominantly White and middle-class sample.
Although the results remain relevant, it is possible
that the trauma experiences of students of color were
not accurately captured. Trauma-informed schools
should cater to the unique regional stressors of their
urban, suburban, or rural environments (Pachter, Lie-
berman,Bloom,&Fein,2017). As demonstrated in
the Philadelphia ACEs study, five additional ACEs
were found among participants in diverse urban envi-
ronments (Research and Evaluation Group, 2013).
Thus far, we have outlined the literature on student
trauma experiences and how this may lead to inter-
nalizing and externalizing behaviors. Students of
color experience racial marginalization in society and
school, and are more likely to be entrapped within a
series of disciplinary actions. Thus, we offer that
trauma-informed care should be race centered and
implemented through interprofessional practice to
address the discipline gap. Subsequently, we suggest
that a race-centered trauma-informed frame-
work can be integrated with multitiered behav-
ioral interventions, a system of layered approaches
recommended for traumatized students (Rossen &
Conwan, 2013). As such, we outline the integration
of interprofessional practice, CRT, restorative practi-
ces, and pillars of trauma-informed care (see Figure 1).
Interprofessional Collaboration
The Every Student Succeeds Act (PL. 114-95) delivers
the charge for schools to develop trauma-informed
training among school-based personnel (Prewitt,
2016). Fulfilling this call requires trauma-informed
and culturally responsive school leadership and on-
going access to school social workers, counselors,
and psychologists (Rossen & Cowan, 2013). Many
school social workers are educated in complex
trauma and treatment modalities and thus have the
skill sets necessary for recognizing and mitigating
trauma experiences among students (Dombo &
Sabatino, 2019). Similarly, school counselors and
psychologists are situated to respond to the impact
of traumatic experiences on child development
(O’Grady, 2017;Rossen & Cowan, 2013). Al-
though there may be overlap in the professionals’
roles, they have distinct responsibilities. School
social workers are trained to administer emotional
and behavioral assessments, develop treatment
plans, provide group or individual therapy, serve
as case managers, provide crisis management, pro-
vide staff trainings, and conduct home visits (Na-
tional Association of Social Workers [NASW],
2019). Comparatively, school counselors are edu-
cation professionals trained to provide academic
and socioemotional supports centered on child
development theory (American School Counselor
Association [ASCA], 2019). Allen-Meares (2014)
suggested that teacher and school social worker
collaboration can help students at risk of suspen-
sion. Thus, the inclusion of school counselors to
implement a race-centered trauma-informed frame-
work has all the more potential to help appropri-
ately identify trauma-related behaviors and reduce
racialized discipline disparities. Finally, given the
importance of cultural competence for both
professions and the centrality of social justice in
the social work profession (ASCA, 2019;NASW,
2017), school social workers can help to implement
trauma-informed frameworks that are intersectional
and anti-color-blind. For example, a race-centered
trauma-informed collaboration can help schools ac-
count for the ways that some students of color are
likely to have less amenable relationships with SROs
due to the highly publicized killings of unarmed
people of color by law enforcement officers. This
approach is essential as students who have experi-
enced trauma may not respond to traditional modes
of school discipline (Pickens & Tschopp, 2017).
Applying CRT in Trauma-Informed
Discipline Decision Making
To acknowledge the role of race and racial bias in
discipline practices and trauma assessment, practi-
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tioners can work together to apply tenets of CRT
by asking guided questions through a CRT
decision-making tool kit (Portland Community
College, 2018). We adapted Portland Community
College’s CRT decision-making tool kit, but in-
cluded the following CRT tenets: recognizing
intersectionality, challenging the dominant perspec-
tive, committing to social justice, valuing experien-
tial knowledge, and using an interdisciplinary
approach (Portland Community College, 2018).
We describe these tenets and the questions practi-
tioners should ask themselves and their colleagues
to center race in discipline decision making and
trauma-informed practice in Table 1.
Integrating Restorative Practices and the
Pillars of Trauma-Informed Practices
In addition to engaging with critical questions to in-
form practice, practitioners can also demonstrate
their commitment to change by facilitating restor-
ative practice circles or one-one-one sessions that
affirm students’ strengths, acknowledge the inequi-
ties they experience, and co-construct solutions to
change. Restorative practices are used as a school-
wide multitiered intervention focused on relation-
ship building and addressing wrongdoing through a
system of macro and micro supports (International
Institute for Restorative Practices, 2014). Studies
have suggested that restorative practices can im-
prove relationships, reduce punitive and exclusion-
ary discipline, and increase teacher respect toward
racially diverse students (Anyon et al., 2014;Greg-
ory, Bell, & Pollock, 2014;Lustick, 2017). Such
outcomes can foster safety and trust, which are es-
sential to effectively work with students exposed to
traumatic events (Rossen & Cowan, 2013).
The Schott Foundation (2014) delineated that
there are ‘‘Four Ps” in the implementation of re-
Figure 1: Race-Centered Trauma-Informed Framework
Crical Race Theory Decision Making
Centrality of race and racism,
dominant perspecve, experienal knowledge,
social jusce
Type of RP Circle The 4 Ps
of RP
Pillars of
Informed Care
Proacve Circle
Interprofessional Collaboraon
ment of
Relationship Building Behavioral Event
Note: RP ¼restorative practice.
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Table 1: Using CRT for Discipline Decision Making
CRT Tenet Description
What a Practitioner Should Ask or
The centrality of
race and racism
and how identi-
ties intersect
We all have a race, and it exists in every space we
What identity-based stressors are my students
experiencing in society?
Everyone has biases that are often operationalized
on identity markers.
Are a student’s identity markers different from
mine? How might this affect what the stu-
dent is experiencing in the school setting?
Race intersects with other parts of a student’s
identity (for example, gender expression, class,
sexuality) and therefore can situate them in
interlocking oppression.
What are my biases and how do they interfere
with my beliefs about a student?
Challenging the
dominant per-
Acknowledge that every school has a ‘‘culture”
and it is set by the majority and the power
How can I include students in shaping the dis-
cipline culture of the school?
If you are a power holder or the racial majority,
acknowledge that the dominant perspective
and school culture may benefit you more than
the student.
What is our school’s discipline ethos (for exam-
ple, punitive, permissive), and who is
benefiting from it? What are students’ per-
spectives about the discipline ethos?
Acknowledge that there is a reward and punish-
ment system for resilience, grit, and leadership
that may be racialized.
Is there an expectation for students of color to
exhibit resilience and grit in the face of
trauma compared with what is expected
from their White peers? Do we expect resil-
ience yet ignore intervention? Do we re-
ward trauma-related resilience and punish
maladaptive coping?
Value experiential
Acknowledge that practitioner and theoretical
knowledge are different from student lived
How can I create space in the classroom or
school for students to share stories they value
about themselves, their families, and com-
Diminishing students’ experiences of identity-
based bias as ‘‘the race card” or ‘‘the liberal
agenda” is itself oppressive.
What opportunities do students have to share
their counterstory before, during, and after
disciplinary interactions?
Practitioners should take inventory of the spaces
and opportunities students have to share their
funds of knowledge.
What strengths does my student bring to the
classroom and the school? What strengths
does the student articulate? Are these
strengths listed in their conduct file along
with documented infractions?
The commitment to
social justice
Acknowledge systemic inequities and create a
plan to remediate them.
How can I incorporate students’ personal nar-
ratives and funds of knowledge into prac-
Create transparent data by (a) disaggregating dis-
cipline data across student demographics, (b)
disaggregating subjective behavior categories
such as disrespect and defiance, and (c) using
an ACEs inventory that captures the experien-
ces of minoritized students.
What role will I play in staying aware of disci-
pline policies, decision making, and data
analysis? How can I inform policies, new
interventions, and discipline trends?
Embrace cultural humility and accept the need
for lifelong learning about race, racism, oppres-
sion, and culture.
What professional development will I partici-
pate in to enhance my skills on trauma-
informed care, school discipline, and racism?
How will I use and disseminate this informa-
Notes: CRT ¼critical race theory; ACEs ¼adverse childhood experiences.
Joseph et al. / Keeping Race at the Center of School Discipline Practices and Trauma-Informed Care 7
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storative practices in the classroom and throughout
aschool:person (the way adults interact in
schools and how this affects relationships), place
(how the school space affects interaction), prac-
tice (how educators ‘‘prevent conflict, resolve
challenges, and create chances for relationship
growth”), and plan (the school’s commitment to
making restorative practices sustainable) (Schott
Foundation, 2014, p. 6). These elements can be
applied with several students through proactive or
responsive circles or with one student in clinical
individual sessions to reduce the possibility of re-
traumatization. Circles is a restorative practice
tool that can provide nonhierarchical communi-
cation space to build community and relationships
or to respond to an event or behavior exhibited
by students or educators (International Institute
for Restorative Practices, 2014). Moreover, re-
storative practices correspond well with core
components of trauma-informed care. As outlined
in Figure 1, we rely on Bath’s (2008) three pillars
of trauma-informed care and SAMHSA’s Trauma
and Justice Strategic Initiative (2014) principle of
incorporating culture, history, and gender issues
into trauma-informed care. Therefore, the frame-
work upholds safety (establishing trust with a child
through consistency, honesty, and reliability); con-
nections (establishing positive relationships to make
a child feel less at risk of danger); managing emotions
(supporting a child in reflecting on feelings and
emotional proclivities) (Bath, 2008); and cultural,
historical, and identity factors (active institutional
anti-bias commitments, acknowledging histori-
cal trauma, and the need for gender-identity and
culturally responsive service) (SAMHSA, Trauma
and Justice Strategic Initiative, 2014). By following
this framework, we suggest that practitioners
will be able to build stronger relationships, earn
student trust, and view student behaviors more
To address high and racially disproportional school
suspensions, schools are implementing multitiered
interventions and trauma-informed care practices.
As demonstrated in Peter P., et al. v. Compton Unified
School District, et al. (2015) and the amended Ten-
nessee Code Annotated, Title 49, relative to ACEs
(S.B. 170, 2019), there is now legal precedent with
requests to ensure that schools are using both restor-
ative practices and trauma-informed care. Although
both are essential to support the socioemotional and
academic needs of students, equity-focused and
antiracist practices are also needed to address the
role of racial bias and inequity in discipline dis-
parities. We argue that behavioral interventions
must center the sociohistorical significance of race
and racism in student discipline and how this inter-
sects with trauma exposure and trauma expression
among students of color. Without this, schools and
legal systems will uphold trauma-informed care
models that engage in the erasure of racialized and
urban trauma.
Our recommendations are undergirded by the
literature, the rapid inclusion of trauma-informed
care in policy, and the professional experiences of
professional and research capacities within schools
that make us privy to the need for collaborative
models for trauma-informed care that are race cen-
tered. Schools unprepared to provide culturally
responsive and trauma-informed practices may in
turn contribute to the disproportional suspension
of marginalized youths. As such, practitioners need
trauma-informed frameworks that acknowledge stu-
dents’ strengths and consider race and the manifesta-
tion of racial bias in policy and practice. Using our
interprofessional framework, we propose that school
social workers, counselors, and psychologists can be-
comes for students of color. This framework can be
integrated with CRT and existing behavioral inter-
vention systems such as restorative practices, which
rely on less punitive techniques to address wrongdo-
ing, repair relationships, highlight students’ cultural
capital, and value their lived experiences.
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Andrea Asha Joseph, PhD, is assistant professor, College of
Social Work, University of Tennessee–Knoxville, 193 Polk
Avenue, Suite E, Nashville, TN 37210; e-mail: Ajoseph7@ Serena M. Wilcox, PhD, is a postdoctoral scholar
in sociology of education, College of Education, University of
Kentucky, Lexington. Rebecca J. Hnilica, MSSW, is a doc-
toral student and graduate research assistant, and Mary C.
Hansen, MSSW, is a graduate research assistant, College of
Social Work, University of Tennessee–Knoxville.
Original manuscript received July 3, 2019
Final revision received December 31, 2019
Editorial decision January 16, 2020
Accepted April 4, 2020
10 Children & Schools
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... When exposure to adversity and resulting trauma is unacknowledged or unsupported by adults in a student's life, the strategies students may use to cope can be misinterpreted as willful defiance or disruption, rather than an indication of their need for support (Joseph et al., 2020;Van der Kolk, 2005). Unrecognized adversity and misinterpretation of coping strategies, in conjunction with perceptions shaped by negative social constructions of race can lead to punitive and disparate disciplinary responses (Welsh & Little, 2018). ...
... We suggest that the disproportionate rate of calls home for students of color expericing polyvictimization corroborates school discipline research showing that Black and Latinx students are more likely to be surveilled sthan their White peers. These results support recent calls for increased scholarly attention to the interaction between inequality, adversity, and school discipline (Gherardi et al., 2020;Joseph et al., 2020). ...
... While the short and long-term outcomes of anti-bias trainings may vary, we suggest that schools only hire training organizations that can implement the following recommendations by Carter et al. (2020): 1) develop a wholistic diversity and inclusion training while acknowledging it as only one facet of the antibias approach, 2) Ensure that the training is not general but specific to the practice needs of the audience while honing on biases and action steps, 3) Acknowledge and support participants through their discomfort versus avoiding it, 4) Prepare participants to gain at least 2-3 anti-bias strategies, and 5) Measure the effectiveness of the training. Alternatively, for educators already applying anti-bias practices, we also recommend the use of Joseph et al.'s (2020) restorative practices framework that centers both critical race theory and trauma-informed care as a means to address racially disproportional discipline disparities among students experiencing ACEs. ...
Full-text available
The effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on children are often misinterpreted in schools as misbehavior and can impact students’ academic progress. We explore how the intersection of race and ACEs make students of color hypervisible and more likely to enter the school discipline pathway. Using tenets of critical race theory and the concept of the disciplinary gaze; we found that children of color, experiencing complex trauma, had 1.85 times the odds of receiving a call home (surveilled) for problems at school compared to their White counterparts. Implications for trauma-informed and culturally responsive practices are discussed.
... As an example, future efforts may support the development of trauma-informed expulsion policies within school systems, which take into account the effects of trauma on child behavior and the potential for secondary stress of educators. Such frameworks should also center the influence of racial biases and inequities within the intersection of school discipline and trauma-informed school approaches (Joseph et al., 2020). ...
... This is especially important in schools that serve racially and economically marginalized students, where teachers from primarily White and middle-class backgrounds may not have been exposed to the structural inequalities faced by low-income communities of color or their assets (Levin, 2000;Mitra, 2004;Travis & Leech, 2014). However, there should not be an expectation for students in these schools to exhibit resilience and grit in the face these unequal school contexts, but rather school staff should improve conditions and facilitate opportunities for positive student-teacher relationships, equitable roles, and sense of community within these schools (Joseph et al., 2020). ...
This study explores the association between school-level poverty rates and young peoples’ perceptions of student empowerment, drawing on survey and administrative data from a large urban district. Participants included 29,318 diverse youth in grades 6-12 from 211 schools. We used multilevel linear regression models to estimate the relationships between school poverty rates and students’ reports of positive relationships, equitable roles, and a sense of community. Results indicated that youth attending schools with higher poverty rates were less likely to report empowering school climates than their peers from schools serving more affluent students. We also found a strong correlation between school-level poverty rates and student racial composition. Findings suggest that young people who attend racially segregated schools with concentrated poverty would likely benefit from greater opportunities for relationship building, power-sharing, and community building. Such efforts may also strengthen other domains of youth development, including academic achievement and positive identity.
... Joseph and colleagues provide recommendations to educators for using critical race theory and ACEs frameworks to select nonpunitive responses to child behaviors. 78 ...
Data from the US Department of Education clearly documents the chronic and persistent disproportionality of negative educational outcomes for students of color. To move closer to an antiracist system that provides all youth with the resources, protections, and opportunities to which they are entitled through public education, we recommend that mental health clinicians understand the social determinants of education; become familiar with the historical legacy of inequity in schools; identify current trends of racial disparities in education; engage in opportunities for antiracist school transformation; and reflect on their personal practices in providing access, diagnosis, and treatment to underresourced and minoritized youth.
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School-based mental health practitioners can offer enhanced support to schools and students; yet their training, roles, and expertise vary. The roles of these professionals are often conflated, misunderstood, or marginalized in their utility throughout the school system. The purpose of this manuscript is to enhance the capacity of educational leaders to make informed hiring, contracting, and role assignment decisions that best fit school and student needs regarding school mental health services. We clarify the landscape of two distinct groups of qualified school mental health professionals-those who are education certified and those who are independently licensed; each group represents professionals from multiple disciplines. We illuminate similarities and differences of these professionals and juxtapose the utility of traditional mental health versus school-based mental health. We then discuss the similarities and differences of qualified school mental health professionals described within the context of traditional and school-based mental health preparation and service delivery. We conclude by contributing three resources for educational leaders to support the process of engaging school-based mental health practitioners. First, we offer a planning guide to understand state variations in certification requirements across professionals. Second, we provide a hiring guide primer that summarizes education requirements and delineates role orientations for school mental health practitioners. Third, we provide an interview guide to help clarify a candidate's experience and skills useful to contemporary school needs. We conclude by offering recommendations for educational leaders to become more effective consumers of school-based mental health services. Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s12310-022-09530-5.
Largely absent from the feminist qualitative social work research literature are practical discussions about the ethics of white researchers who “study up” people and institutions of power. This methodological article grapples with how to conduct data collection from an anti-racist framework. I explore my use of an arts-based self-reflexive memoing process of embodied tableaux to inform my experimentations of rejecting “neutrality” when interviewing participants. I provide examples of disrupting white, patriarchal, and colonial norms during qualitative interviewing, including directly naming my whiteness and anti-racist stance; intentionally challenging the racism of white participants and deepening critical reflection; and viewing myself through a lens of critical skepticism to recognize when I was protecting whiteness or failing to effectively intervene. I conclude with an invitation to others to experiment with an anti-racist research praxis—an iterative process of self-reflexivity and relational accountability to reflect, theorize, and act differently during feminist social work research.
Black students experience a unique form of pervasive trauma based on their racial identity. Discrimination—a social determinant of health (Social determinants of health)—results in racial trauma that negatively affects students’ college and career outcomes, such as career adaptability, career thoughts, career decision making, and postsecondary attainment. We share recommendations for school counselors to adopt an antiracist and trauma-informed approach to implementing career development interventions that address SDOH-related challenges for Black students.
An abundance of research on the prevalence of traumatic experiences in childhood and their impact on the brain, behavior, and learning led to discourse on how schools can provide trauma-informed services to prevent further re-traumatization and provide support. Over the last two decades, research has highlighted the integration of trauma-responsive practices in schools in place of traditional school discipline. Traditional school discipline policies disproportionately impact students of color and help support the school-to-prison pipeline. This chapter addresses the issue of schools creating trauma-engaged learning environments. However, there is less direction in the literature about why or how creating trauma-engaged schools should happen from a culturally affirming lens and social justice perspective since it is minoritized students that are more likely to feed the school-to-prison pipeline. Therefore, this chapter aims to provide an overview on creating trauma-engaged and culturally responsive schools to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.
The school-prison nexus is comprised of all systems and services that reduce access to education and increase involvement with the justice system, particularly for clients of color. All professionals who come into contact with these services are in an ideal position to disrupt this system and address social inequities; however, they may overtly or covertly also be contributing to the nexus through inequitable practices. Consequently, this chapter will firstly explore how the school-prison nexus contributes to incarceration, including an exploration of how the systems in which counselors and other helping professionals are integral to this nexus through racist practices. The chapter then moves on to suggest ways in which helping professionals can work to disrupt this nexus in their work. These strategies to disrupt the school-prison nexus focus on how examining professional bias and applying a systems-based approach to practice can assist in achieving the social change necessary to end the criminalization of youth of color and address the impacts of incarceration before it happens.
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When teachers care for children with trauma histories, they are at risk of developing compassion fatigue (CF), or a reduced empathic capacity (Hupe and Stevenson in J Child Custody Res Issues Pract 16(4):364–386, 2019. They may also develop secondary traumatic stress (STS), a secondary condition resulting from a person learning about details of a traumatic event experienced by someone in their care (Essary et al. in Kappa Delta Pi Record 56(3):116–121, 2020). While CF and STS have been studied widely in healthcare and mental health professionals (Baird and Kracen in Couns Psychol Q 19(2):181–188, 2006; Caringi et al. in Adv Sch Ment Health Promot 8(4):244–256, 2015.; Cieslak et al. in Psychol Serv 11(1):75–86, 2014), STS and CF have been understudied in the teaching profession (Caringi et al., 2015; Christian-Brandt et al. in Child Abuse Neglect 110(3):104437, 2020; Hupe & Stevenson, 2019). As such, we sought to complete a systematic review of the literature to answer two questions: (1) To what extent are CF and STS being studied in teachers?; and (2) How have CF and STS been studied in teachers? Qualitative data analysis led to the emergence of four themes across all included studies: (1) conceptualization of CF and STS; (2) teachers are at risk of developing CF and STS; (3) varying approaches can mitigate the risk of CF and STS in teachers; and (4) there is limited research on CF and STS in teachers. Limitations and directions for future research and practice are described.
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Gregory, Bell, and Pollock offer principles and practices to help schools move beyond punitive discipline and toward conflict prevention and intervention. They argue that eradication of disproportionate punitive disciplinary sanctions begins by engaging and motivating students before the conflict occurs. Their chapter details four guiding prevention principles and practices: culturally relevant and responsive teaching, supportive relationships, academic rigor, and respectful school environments with bias-free classrooms. Additionally, Gregory et al. suggest four equity-oriented principles and practices for conflict intervention: problem-solving approaches to discipline, inquiry into the causes of conflicts, inclusion of the student and family on causes of and solutions to conflicts, and reintegration of students post-conflict.
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Implicit in the discourse on school discipline reform is the belief that utilizing positive school discipline practices, as opposed to suspension and classroom removal, will necessarily reduce the racially disproportionate representation of black and brown students in school discipline outcomes. Yet even in schools that utilize positive school discipline approaches, racial disproportionality persists; students of color continue to be disciplined more often and more harshly than their white peers, even when controlling for gender, socioeconomic status, and behavior. Framed by Vavrus and Cole’s concept of the socioculturally contextualized disciplinary moment, this article argues for an approach to positive discipline that incorporates the tenets of culturally relevant education. Implications for policy, research, and practice are discussed.
Through an analysis of Black urban high school youth’s critical engagements with literacy, the authors examine school suspensions–particularly disproportionality–as anti-Black symbolic violence. By historically mapping the terrain of discipline, from chattel slavery to The New Jim Crow, the article unearths the connection between racial disproportionality in school discipline and the micro-level context of systemic societal Black exclusion. Gathered from a 3-week summer writing course, the data highlights how Black youth conceptualize suspensions and disproportionality as structurally anti-Black by design. Guided by the triangulation of CRT, BlackCrit, and theories of critical literacy, the data provides an anti-Black specific analysis of school suspensions centered in the voices and lived truths of Black youth. The article concludes by prompting educators to (1) confront antiblackness within disciplinary practices (and schooling at-large) and (2) wrestle with the necessity for school suspensions given the history of being meted out in racially inequitable ways.
Creating Trauma-Informed Schools: A Guide for School Social Workers and Educators provides concrete skills and current knowledge about trauma-informed services in school settings. Children at all educational levels, from Early Head Start settings through high school, are vulnerable to abuse, neglect, bullying, violence in their homes and neighborhoods, and other traumatic experiences. Research shows that upward of 70% of children in schools report experiencing at least one traumatic event before age 16. The correlation between high rates of trauma exposure and poor academic performance has been established in the scholarly literature, as has the need for trauma-informed schools and communities. School social workers are on the front lines of service delivery through their work with children who face social and emotional struggles in the pursuit of education. They are in a prime position for preventing and addressing trauma, but there are scant resources for social workers to assist in the creation of trauma-informed schools. This book will provide an overview of the impact of trauma on children and adolescents, as well as interventions for direct practice and collaboration with teachers, families, and communities. Readers of this book will discover valuable resources and distinct examples of how to implement the ten principles of trauma-informed services in their schools to provide trauma-informed care to students grounded in the principles of safety, connection, and emotional regulation. They will also gain beneficial skills for self-care in their work.
The Philadelphia ACE Task Force is a community based collaborative of health care providers, researchers, community-based organizations, funders, and public sector representatives. The mission of the task force is to provide a venue to address childhood adversity and its consequences in the Philadelphia metropolitan region. In this article we describe the origins and metamorphosis of the Philadelphia ACE Task Force, which initially was narrowly focused on screening for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in health care settings but expanded its focus to better represent a true community-based approach to sharing experiences with addressing childhood adversity in multiple sectors of the city and region. The task force has been successful in developing a research agenda and conducting research on ACEs in the urban context, and has identified foci of local activity in the areas of professional training and workforce development, community education, and local practical interventions around adversity, trauma, and resiliency. In this article we also address the lessons learned over the first 5 years of the task force's existence and offers recommendations for future efforts to build a local community-based ACEs collaborative.
Children who have been exposed to maltreatment and other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are at increased risk for various negative adult health outcomes, including cancer, liver disease, substance abuse, and depression. However, the proximal associations between ACEs and behavioral outcomes during the middle childhood years have been understudied. In addition, many of the ACE studies contain methodological limitations such as reliance on retrospective reports and limited generalizability to populations of lower socioeconomic advantage. The current study uses data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a national urban birth cohort, to prospectively assess the adverse experiences and subsequent behavior problems of over 3000 children. Eight ACE categories to which a child was exposed by age 5 were investigated: childhood abuse (emotional and physical), neglect (emotional and physical), and parental domestic violence, anxiety or depression, substance abuse, or incarceration. Results from bivariate analyses indicated that Black children and children with mothers of low education were particularly likely to have been exposed to multiple ACE categories. Regression analyses showed that exposure to ACEs is strongly associated with externalizing and internalizing behaviors and likelihood of ADHD diagnosis in middle childhood. Variation in these associations by racial/ethnic, gender, and maternal education subgroups are examined. This study provides evidence that children as young as 9 begin to show behavioral problems after exposure to early childhood adversities.
Prior research indicates an association between exposure to trauma (e.g., being victimized) and perpetration of crime, especially in the context of chronic victimization. This study examines the relationship between trauma exposure, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and history of arrest and incarceration among a representative sample of black Americans from the National Survey of American Life (N = 5,189). One-third had a history of arrest, and 18 percent had a history of incarceration. Frequency of trauma exposure was associated with involvement with the criminal justice system. Relative to never experiencing trauma, experiencing ≥4 traumas was associated with elevated odds of arrest (odds ratio [OR] = 4.03), being jailed (OR = 5.15), and being imprisoned (OR = 4.41), all p < .01. PTSD was also associated with likelihood of incarceration among those with a history of trauma (OR = 2.18, p < .01). Both trauma exposure and trauma-associated psychopathology are associated with increased likelihood of arrest and incarceration in adulthood among black Americans.