xml:space="preserve">
In a photo taken Tuesday, July 2, 2019, Scott Hopewell, right, a student holistic specialist, gives a high-five to a child during a group session in a "peace room" at New Song Community Learning Center in West Baltimore. In Baltimore, there's been a growing realization that levels of youthful trauma, whether exposure is mostly from neighborhood or domestic dysfunctions, are alarmingly high.
In a photo taken Tuesday, July 2, 2019, Scott Hopewell, right, a student holistic specialist, gives a high-five to a child during a group session in a "peace room" at New Song Community Learning Center in West Baltimore. In Baltimore, there's been a growing realization that levels of youthful trauma, whether exposure is mostly from neighborhood or domestic dysfunctions, are alarmingly high. (Julio Cortez/AP)

We read with interest the editorial, “We can prevent the health consequences of childhood trauma” (Nov. 6). Research demonstrates that when youth have four or more adverse childhood experiences, they are 32.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with behavioral and learning problems than those without this ACE score. These very problems are two factors that often contribute to truancy, a leading cause of the school-to-prison pipeline. Helping youth attend and stay in school is one way to prevent the cycle of adverse childhood experiences from damaging a child’s life and perpetuating the trauma.

Since 2005, the University of Baltimore School of Law Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts has operated a Truancy Court Program (TCP) designed to help truant children attend and reengage with school by identifying and addressing the root causes of each child’s truancy. This voluntary, school-based, non-punitive program provides students with one-on-one weekly conversations with a volunteer Maryland judge or magistrate. The TCP team also provides mentoring and character-building, restorative circles, legal information, parent outreach, counseling and resource referrals. Students “graduate” from the program if they demonstrate a 65% decrease in their unexcused absences and improved academic performance. Utilizing this therapeutic, holistic approach, almost 75% of the 3,000 students the TCP has served over the years have graduated from the program, substantially reducing their truancy.

Advertisement

It is common to view truancy simply as a child who just does not want to attend school. The reality is that the underlying causes of truancy are almost always related to at least one adverse childhood experience. Since 2005, the issues our students face have become increasingly dire. Their lives are directly affected by poverty, homelessness, violence in their schools, violence in their communities, death of loved ones, bullying, substance use issues and transportation problems, among others. These issues, and the trauma they cause, make it challenging for students to attend school on time every day. Identifying the root causes of each child’s truancy and providing support and referrals to address them are at the core of how the TCP operates. Team members ask each child, “What happened to you?” They get to know students and offer them an opportunity to be heard. This feeling of support is critical to help students reengage with their schools and to combat the effects of adverse childhood experiences.

We cannot undo the lives our students have had, but we understand them and support each TCP participant. As a consequence, they feel empowered to take control of their lives, and their likelihood to attend school and stop the school-to-prison pipeline increases. There is no single response to address adverse childhood experiences, but staying in school is one way to help prevent future problems. The TCP team’s trauma-informed approach provides opportunities for students’ success.

Barbara A. Babb and Rebecca M. Stahl, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, director and deputy director of the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Add your voice: Respond to this piece or other Sun content by submitting your own letter.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement