Effective practices for integrating student supports in a trauma-sensitive, safe and supportive school

This post was published by MAC’s Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, a collaboration with Harvard Law School whose mission is to ensure that children impacted by family violence and other adverse childhood experiences succeed in school. Click here to see the original post.

Our previous blog posts have delved into the inquiry based process that schools can engage in to create trauma-sensitive, safe and supportive learning environments. We have also shared with you our Flexible Framework that schools can use to weave trauma-sensitive approaches throughout the whole school environment. This month, we turn our attention to one important element of that Framework for a trauma-sensitive, safe and supportive school – integrated student supports.

A critical component of creating a safe and supportive school is giving thoughtful consideration to making sure that when needed, students and families have access to culturally, linguistically, clinically, age and developmentally appropriate services that are integrated into a welcoming school culture. A safe and supportive school culture promotes a sense of safety and belonging, nurtures relationships, fosters students’ ability to regulate emotions and behaviors, supports health and well-being, and enhances academic development. Effectively integrating services and supports into a school requires a school infrastructure where school-based student support staff and community providers can work collaboratively, confidentially, and in a coordinated way.

Recognizing the critical role of integrating student supports in creating safe and supportive school environments, the Massachusetts legislature directed the Safe and Supportive Schools Commission to make recommendations to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on the principles of effective practice for integrating student supports. To inform this work, the Commission spent significant time interviewing experts in the field and reviewing relevant literature. From this work and from the considerable collective expertise of Commission members and participating guests, the Commission gleaned an initial set of eight principles, which we share with you here:

Whole School, Whole Child, Mindset, Confidentiality, Collaboration, Coordination, Access to Services, and Partnering with Families.

A brief description of each principle follows and for the full report, which contains a more detailed exploration of each, please read the document shared by the Commission by clicking here.

  • Whole School:

Creating a consistent safe and supportive learning environment that integrates services in an inclusive way requires a strong infrastructure. This means that all elements of school operations – leadership, professional learning opportunities, access to services, policies and procedures, academic and non-academic strategies, and engagement with families – must support the teamwork necessary to carry out these goals.

  • Whole Child:

All services (no matter where they are delivered or who delivers them) should be focused on supporting the whole child, so as to “enable students to develop positive relationships with adults and peers, regulate their emotions and behavior, achieve academic and non-academic success in school, and maintain physical and psychological health and well-being.” As each student presents with a unique set of strengths and needs within these four core domains, providing individually tailored services and supports is essential.

  • Mindset:

To effectively integrate services in a safe and supportive school, educators and families may need new ways of thinking, at both the school level and among community-based providers. Shifting mindsets helps create the school-wide culture that facilitates effective service integration. A few examples of mindsets that need to be encouraged, strengthened or adopted are:

1. Emphasize a strengths-based focus on skill-building, asking “what can we as a school community, in collaboration with community-based providers, do to support this student in developing skills?” vs. focusing exclusively or primarily on student deficits.

2. Consider all staff as a team to have responsibility for all students in the school vs. each student being one professional’s responsibility.

(To learn more about the needed mindsets, please read the full report on effective practices for integrating services).

  • Confidentiality:

To build trusting relationships among school, community, and family partners, and thus better support student needs, partnerships with local community-based providers and child-serving state agencies should be carefully structured and consistent with privacy laws. Schools must establish and maintain clear protocols around confidentiality, providing regular training to all staff to ensure consistency across the school.

  • Collaboration:

Effective integration of comprehensive services to meet the individual needs of students and their families can be aided by institutional collaboration. Institutional collaboration refers to the institutional-level partnerships between the school/district and community-based organizations.

  • Coordination:

Coordination refers to the student-specific partnerships within the school and between school-based and community-based providers. The goal of coordination is to enable effective and on-going communication at the school level so that all services and supports to an individual student/family are cohesive, comprehensive, mutually reinforcing, individually tailored to specific needs, and organized around common goals that support the student’s success at school.

  • Access to Services:

Schools must ensure that all students, including those with a range of disabilities, have equitable access to clinically, culturally, linguistically, age and developmentally appropriate services. Ensuring access to services does not require the co-location of services in schools; rather, it recognizes that schools are uniquely situated to know each of their students and families, and to facilitate students connections to a tailored set of school – and community-based services and opportunities that support students’ readiness to learn.

  • Partnering with families:

Safe and supportive schools are flexible and creative in their efforts to fully engage all families as essential partners, providing a range of opportunities for authentic and meaningful involvement. Families are empowered to participate as partners in every facet of the education and development of their students, including in the provision of both school- and community-based services.

Creating an infrastructure that integrates services in an inclusive way provides the needed consistent approach for students; sharing consistent values and a clear set of goals for each student enables educators, families and service providers to help students practice their newly developing skills both at school and in the community.

We invite you to read the full report by clicking here. This report lays out the positive vision for service integration, the Safe and Supportive Schools Commission (as separately ordered by the MA Legislature) is undertaking an investigation (through focus groups) of where the Commonwealth stands with respect to these principles. The purpose of this investigation will be to uncover barriers and challenges. We will share this information as it becomes available from the Commission.

How has your school community worked to effectively integrate student supports throughout the whole school?

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