During a recent classroom visit, Delaware Gov. John Carney was stunned at a first-grader’s answer when he asked her how things were going.
“She said to me, ‘Well, I’m really worried about my mom and dad, when they’re going to get up here from Georgia.’ And I was floored by it,” Carney recalled.
Of all the things going on in the classroom that day, the first words out of her mouth concerned the separation from her parents. “That was the only thing on her mind,” Carney said. “Obviously, if she’s thinking about that constantly, it’s going to be difficult to teach her and get her where we need her to be so she can be successful.”
Separation from parents, abuse, witnessing community violence — all are considered traumas that can affect children for the rest of their lives. Multiple incidents can have compounded impact.
“Now you have a child whose brain has actually been changed by their life experiences,” said Josette Manning, secretary of the state Department of Services for Children, Youth, and their Families. “It makes them more likely to make poor choices and engage in risky behaviors.”
Those poor choices can include substance use and other behaviors that can result in early death and risks to their health.
On Wednesday, Carney signed an executive order making Delaware a “trauma-informed-state.” The order calls for all state agencies to develop strategic plans to prepare their staff to engage clients in a way that takes into consideration traumas they may have faced in life.
“At the end of the day, we will not be successful in combating crime, the opioid epidemic, or low reading proficiency rates unless we understand trauma, understand its impact and know how to prevent it and mitigate it,” Manning said.
State workers will also be trained in how to identify someone who has suffered trauma, and how to respond.
“Every time someone walks into a state agency for assistance, we need to be able recognize those signs of trauma, we need to do so without criticizing or judging their behavior, without escalating the situation,” she said.
The state will also work with outside groups to collect and analyze data on how the state is doing.