Addressing Childhood Trauma and Building Resilience

Resilient Richland Launches Pilot Program to Help Kindergarten Students

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The Resiliency Team at Jackson Creek Elementary
Photo Credit: United Way of the Midlands. The Resiliency Team at Jackson Creek Elementary.

Childhood trauma impairs development and its harmful effects can last a lifetime. The early experience of trauma is more common than is widely known and has a tremendous cost to our community. More than two-thirds of adults in Richland County have experienced childhood trauma, whether it’s food insecurity, an abusive parent or guardian, homelessness, or another sustained traumatic event.

Resilient Richland was launched in November 2018 by United Way of the Midlands and 22 partners to reduce the stigma of trauma and equip individuals and organizations with information and skills to build resilience among children and youth.

One of the strategies Resilient Richland will employ is school-based resiliency teams that follow children from kindergarten to third grade.

Each Resiliency Team includes a behavior interventionist and a social worker. The interventionist is based at the school and available to provide immediate support to children exhibiting disruptive behavior and prevent disciplinary responses that can re-traumatize the child while at school. The social worker works with the families to provide case management and navigate them to resources in the community.

“The need for a Resiliency Team began when we started realizing that the kids were bringing a lot of things into school that were impacting their behavior and their ability to succeed academically,” said Robert Lominack, Executive Director, Richland County Public Education Partners and Resilient Richland partner organization. “Teachers don’t have the time or sometimes the training to deal with all of these issues. And they shouldn’t have to.”

Two Resiliency Teams have launched this school year at Watkins-Nance Elementary in Richland One and at Jackson Creek Elementary in Richland Two. The Resiliency Teams are funded thanks to Richland County Government.

“Our model is based on a real deep level of assistance, and we will follow these families until the end of third grade,” said Lominack. “Next year, Staci, the behavioral interventionist, and Caitlin, the social worker, will be working with the first-grade team [since they are working with the kindergarteners right now] and keep making that transition each year.”

When children are disruptive in school, the behavioral interventionist spends time with those children one-on-one to deescalate the situation and pinpoint the underlying cause for that child’s behavior. Once identified, the behavioral interventionist coaches the child to find healthier, calmer ways of lettings their feelings be known.
The social worker then works with the families of the children with disruptive behaviors to fully understand the child’s situation. They spend time having important dialogues with the families to let them know how their child is doing – whether the child had a terrific day or a difficult day. Finally, the social worker coaches and advises the parents/guardians on what they can do to help their child be successful, happy and well-behaved and connect them to resources to reduce financial stressors.

“We wanted to start the program in kindergarten. The earlier you start, the easier things will be two or three years later,” said Sabina Mosso-Taylor, Principal, Jackson Creek Elementary.
The Jackson Creek Elementary Resiliency Team hopes to increase engagement and build positive relationships with parents. It also hopes to increase teacher retention by giving teachers the support they need to successfully manage a very diverse group of students. Finally, it would like to reduce the number of students who enter the special education program due to behavioral issues and make sure every child has the opportunity to succeed.

“We really want to focus on keeping these kids on track to be good readers, on grade-level,” said Lominack. “When we’ve worked with kids in middle and high school who are three, four, five or six years behind in reading, the academic and behavior problems start to snowball. The bottom line is to sustain and grow.”

To learn more about United Way's Resilient Richland initiative, visit resilientrichland.org.

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