Detainment: Thinking About the Future of Our Young and Innocent

This school year, I learned about the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study (Felitti et al., 1998), which examined survey data from a questionnaire and found that both positive and negative childhood experiences have an immense impact on lifelong health. The survey included questions such as: did a parent in the household swear at you, put you down, humiliate you, or act in a way that made you afraid you might be physically hurt?; did you often feel that no one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special?; did you often feel that your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?; did a household member go to prison?

The survey can be found here.

Based on the answers to the aforementioned questions, responses were tallied and correlated with future health outcomes. Some ACEs have been linked to future negative health outcomes such as alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even early death. As the number of ACEs increases, so does the risk of negative health outcomes. ACEs were later categorized as an experience related to abuse, an experience related to neglect, or an experience related to household dysfunction. (This is a very brief summation of the study and is in no way exhaustive of the study methodology, results, discussion, etc.)

Since I learned about ACEs, I’ve been extremely interested in how ACEs impact physical and mental health throughout the rest of a child’s life. I am truly intrigued by how an adverse or traumatic experience during childhood can impact physical and cognitive development. While watching the news lately, I couldn’t help but ask myself how child detainment will impact the physical and cognitive development of all the children taken away from their parents. I’m no scholar when it comes to ACEs, but I’d venture to say that a child being detained and taken away from his/her parents is probably one of the most traumatic things he/she could ever experience.

From this perspective, I feel that any approach to solving a country’s myriad of problems that perniciously harms children obviously does more harm than good. In the immediate sense, this is clearly true. But, based on what we know about adverse child experiences and trauma and the lifelong harm they do, this harm will surely be long-lasting and impact these children for the rest of their lives.

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Safety in Our Schools: A Parent’s Poignant Question Regarding Erin’s Law

Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Kress. He will be presenting information concerning Erin’s Law to our entire district (parents, students, teachers, administrators, and other community members). His presentation was very informative. In addition, it was certainly geared towards his most important audience members: students.

Last night’s session was intended for parents and community members. Tom presents to parents and community members first in the event that a parent may wish to opt out his/her child from the school-wide presentation. Thankfully, it didn’t seem that any of our parents desired to do so.

After the presentation, Tom opened the floor for a Q & A session. A parent asked a question that rattled me all night and has stayed with me this morning as well. She asked, “Why aren’t training and informational sessions such as this [Erin’s Law training and informational sessions] mandated like other safety drills throughout the district/schools?” The parent was referring to tornado drills, fire drills, lockdown drills, etc. I began to cogitate on her inquiry. We have fire drills. We have tornado drills. We have lockdown drills. We constantly engage in other safety precautions and measures throughout the entire school year. It’s not that these measures aren’t important (especially from a preventative perspective). I’m not saying that these drills are not essential. Of course, anything that has the potential to keep our students safe is pivotal. However, we haven’t had a fire in years. We’ve never had a tornado. We do occasionally have external lockdowns (when something unsafe or potentially unsafe for students occurs within the city or community), but they are always resolved by the community police force. Yet, we have an abundance (unfortunately) of students who are the victims of sexual abuse. As a teacher, I had multiple students confess to me about sexual abuse they experienced. As an administrator, I’ve had teachers bring their concerns to me regarding potential abuse of students in their classrooms. Clearly, as a mandated reporter, I brought these concerns to the proper authorities. But, one can’t help but wonder about this reality.

In the room last night, a parent broke down and admitted to being the victim of sexual abuse as a child. She mentioned knowing others who were also victims of sexual abuse. If we work to keep our students safe at all times from ALL threats, isn’t sexual abuse training just as essential as the tornado drills, fire drills, and lockdown drills, especially considering that many of us teachers and administrators have actually had to navigate situations where children confide in us regarding some of their horrific experiences?

I encourage you to reflect on this parent’s question. Should we mandate and normalize sexual abuse training the same way we’ve mandated and normalized tornado drills, fire drills, and lockdown drills? In addition, should parents be able to opt their children out of training regarding sexual abuse? This is an issue that impacts so many and truly has the potential to alter the trajectory of a child’s/family’s life.

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