What is trauma? It is an emotional response to an intense event that threatens or causes harm. That harm can be physical or emotional, real or perceived, and it can threaten the child or someone close to him or her. Trauma can be the result of a single event or it can result from exposure to multiple events over time. 


What are examples of traumatic events?  Traumatic events may include abuse (physical, sexual, or emotional; neglect, effect of poverty (homelessness, not having enough to eat etc.); parental abandonment or separation such as that caused by divorce or incarceration; bullying, witnessing harm to a loved one (domestic violence or community violence); or unpredictable parental behavior due to addiction or mental illness.


What are signs of trauma in children ages 6 to 12?  The Child Welfare Information Gateway has indicated that children ages 6 through 12 who display signs of trauma frequently have difficulty paying attention; they can be quiet or withdrawn; they frequently shed tears of sadness, talk about scary feelings and ideas, eat much more or less than their peers, get into trouble at home and at school, want to be left alone, fight with their peers or adults, have difficultly transitioning from one activity to the next and present changes in their school performance. Children ages 13 through 18 talk about the trauma constantly or deny that it happened; they refuse to follow rules, or talk back frequently; they exhibit signs of being tired all the time, sleep much more (or less) than peers and have nightmares; they engage in risky behaviors; they fight often, don’t want to spend time with friends, use drugs or alcohol,  running away from home, or get into trouble with the law.


How many children in the District of Columbia display signs of trauma? According to various government reports, including those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nearly 50 percent of District of Columbia children and youth citywide have experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences, or traumas. Researchers have concluded that children ages 6 to 17 who experience two or more ACEs are twice as likely to be disengaged from school compared to peers who have no ACEs.

What is the connection between trauma and academic performance?  If, as researchers have indicated, chronic toxic stress or repeated traumatic experiences can change the shape of a child’s brain, such changes can result in how a child thinks and functions. Trauma can affect cognitive development, language development, and make it difficult to form critical relationships that can be key to learning. A deeper dive into the performance of District public school studentssuggests a strong correlation between academic failure and trauma. Consistent with the CDC report, the majority of DC public school students have scored ‘below proficient’ in the past three years on English and math exams. 


More sources: Children’s Law Center in DC, Child Welfare Information Gateway, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, DC Department of Behavioral Health. 

Prepared in 2019 by Esther Productions Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to healing, inspiring and empowering fatherless girls and women.






The Cost of Juvenile Trauma

A Three Part Series

By Jonetta Rose Barras

December 3, 2018


Twelve-year-old Talayia Richardson wore a lovely flowered sun dress that complimented her milk chocolate-colored skin; her long black hair was perfectly coifed; the sun seemed to burst across her smiling face as DC Attorney General Karl Racine (D) introduced her at a 2018 youth roundtable organized with Ward 6 DC Council member Charles Allen (D). Showcasing local winners of the “Do the Write Thing” essay contest, the event featured voices of students from traditional and charter schools, whose views frequently are drowned out by adults.

“Growing up in Washington, DC, I have seen more violence than any child should,” said Talayia, a student at the Wheatley Education Campus; her serenity belied the gravity of her history. As an infant sitting in a car seat, she was nearly killed by a random bullet that whizzed just past her head. She heard that story from her parents.

The loss of her “Uncle Brock to senseless violence” was her narrative to own. Locked in her memory, it surfaced in her essay. “His murderer was never found. No one answered lingering questions. Why did someone want Uncle Brock dead? Why did no one ever come forward who witnessed this horrific act of violence and tell who did it,” continued Talayia. “As a result, my family was scarred permanently.”

Davon Harris, a senior at Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts, suffered his own mental and emotional distress. As a young boy, he watched helplessly as his mother was abused. The domestic violence stopped only after she lost her job and the family was evicted from their home, scattering the members of the household, including his two siblings—each went to live with separate aunts.

Homeless for nearly three years, Davon and his mother moved from shelter to shelter or from shelter to transitional housing. “The transitional housing was so bad, there were times I wished we were in a shelter,” he told me. During those dark days he was depressed; “I expressed it as anger.” 




A Traumatic Failure:

DC Public Schools Neglect Mental Health

The Impact of Trauma on District Youth, Part 2

By jonetta rose barras

January 9, 2019

“I have to meet this guy and have sex with him. If I don’t, then he and his friends are going to rape my little sister,” a student at Frank Ballou High School in Ward 8’s Congress Heights told her teacher. The teacher was trying to persuade her to stay after school, so he could help her improve her grades.

“She said that effortlessly, without any real emotion,” recalled the teacher, who requested anonymity. There wasn’t any reason to disbelieve her. “I wanted to call the police [but] she was worried about repercussions for her. So, I didn’t do anything.”

Inside Ballou’s gleaming $140 million structure, there are hundreds of stories from students who could be modern-day models for Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” Situated among private homes and rental apartments, Ballou’s ecosystem is marked by stunning toxicity: high poverty, double-digit unemployment, gun violence, domestic violence and child neglect. 







Between Academic Success and Failure:

Unresolved Trauma, Part 3

By Jonetta Rose Barras

January 22, 2019

“We’re only now becoming facile in the language of trauma,” said DC Attorney General Karl Racine, who is heartened by the District’s progress. “This is an opportunity to throw a Marshall Plan out there.”

A $12 billion, post-World War II initiative, the Marshall Plan was designed by the United States to prevent the spread of Communism and to assist European countries in restructuring their battered cities and bruised culture. Many people use it as an analogy to argue that something huge and dramatic must be done to solve a social or economic problem.



Got Your ACE Score?

What’s Your ACE Score? (and, at the end, What’s Your Resilience Score?)

There are 10 types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE Study. Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Each type of trauma counts as one. So a person who’s been physically abused, with one alcoholic parent, and a mother who was beaten up has an ACE score of three. READ MORE

Trauma-sensitive schools help children feel safe to learn.

Once schools understand the educational impacts of trauma, they can become safe, supportive environments where students make the positive connections with adults and peers they might otherwise push away, calm their emotions so they can focus and behave appropriately, and feel confident enough to advance their learning—in other words, schools can make trauma sensitivity a regular part of how the school is run. Trauma sensitivity will look different at each school. However, a shared definition of what it means to be a trauma-sensitive school can bring educators, parents, and policymakers together around a common vision. We define the core attributes of a trauma sensitive school to include the following:




  • Facebook Social Icon
  • YouTube Social  Icon

© 2019 Jonetta Rose Barras