Letter to the editor: State budget should support traumatized children

Two headlines in the paper this week inspired me to write the following:
“Expand Drug Treatment Network to Battle Addiction” and “Half of $28M Tobacco Settlement Will Go to Fight Opioids.”
Let me be the first to congratulate Governor Scott and the State of Vermont for the proactive look and actions to tackle this complex problem. I am dismayed though at the lack of acknowledgment for a segment of our population that is so directly affected by this battle. The children who come from families ravaged by addiction.
I work with families who have been fractured, torn apart by addiction. I know that the state is working diligently to address the issue with very young children who have to be scooped up by DCF as babies and toddlers because their parents are unable to parent them. There are not enough foster families to cover the need. We know that. What about the school-age children? There are not enough foster families to foster children who need therapeutic foster care. These might be school-age children or teens who have spent years watching their families disintegrate before their eyes.
This is the silent population that no one talks about. Children come to school traumatized by what they have seen. Just this week I heard from two families whose young children witnessed a parent dying right before them from an overdose. The police, first responders, DCF workers and therapists do their best and I am grateful for the work that they do. What about when those children enter the doors of their school?
I am so disheartened by the Governor’s dictum that school budgets must be reduced. The trickledown effect is that schools are forced to cut staff or try new ‘models’ using less staff. The staff that is being cut reduces that number of caring adults that can work with the children who come to school traumatized.
Interventionists, classroom teachers, special educators whose class sizes and caseloads grow with each reduction in professional staff — all are stretched to the maximum of their capacities. Then there are the paraprofessionals who are some of the most unsung heroes in schools. It is a scientific fact that children are not available for learning if their needs of safety and security are not being met. Children who come from families devastated by addiction cannot count on a parent being available to provide that safety and security. Children who come from families that are strong and are available for learning can be traumatized by a child in their class unraveling in front of them, with sometimes very frightening behavior. Yes, schools have protocols for trying to protect all the children.
However with reduction in staff, it is harder to implement those protocols sometimes as quickly as they need to be activated. Reduction in supports for teachers mean that the one-on-one support that a child sometimes needs is not there to help deescalate a child. So the teacher with 20-25 other children in the class has a frightening challenge, to protect both the child unraveling and all of the other children.
Teachers can tell you just how many of their students come from families with these challenges. What is happening for those teachers? The resources that they have to help them help children are being eroded with every budget cut, with every reduction in staff. As a new educator in 1972 I had a child who was a biter, a desk knocker-overer, a screamer. She was in first grade. In 1972 she was an anomaly — we just did not have kids who displayed those tendencies. Now every class has not one, no two, not three, but four or five students who need support to help them to address the terror that their bodies feel every day. School is a safe place. There are safe people there.
Unfortunately the safe people are slowly being taken away.
I would implore Gov. Scott to allocate funds from sources as indicated in the two articles, to replace those eliminated by budget cuts to support schools in providing the support that is needed for our traumatized children.
Phoebe Barash

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