Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Conferences are usually good, in my opinion.  At least the ones that I've been to.  I usually attend art ones, so that may be a reason.  However, this past week I was required to attend a conference for State Operated Programs in Education.  It was actually really good, exciting, and hey-- I actually learned something.  The theme of the conference particularly had to do with brain research.  And I had never really even taken a class on the brain.  Yeah, I've taken tons of undergrad and graduate classes in psychology, but this was different.

One of my favorite topics of the conference was "The Brain and Trauma".  I knew a little bit about the research from my own reading, but I had never been introduced to it quite like the presenter.  Obviously its a serious topic, especially for anyone who works with incarcerated youth -- or any youth for that matter.  Or any one who comes into contact with PEOPLE!

One of the most horrifying statistics I learned was that it only takes 10 minutes of stress for 5 days to alter your physical brain.  Our brain stops making neurons when were still babies, basically, but our brain continually makes dendrites to get information to the neurons.  Stress or trauma makes the dendrites shrink so you can't pass information along.  The one thing I did learn however, is that dendrites can reemerge, they can grow.  So if stress and trauma are handled, we're all good.

However, that's not what happens in the D-home.  If anything, stress is recreated and re-traumatizes my students regularly.  Not that all kids are, but there is a difference between giving a kid a direction as opposed to yelling it at them, or being passive aggressive.  Or leaving them in their room for 24 hours, or not dealing with any issues they may have.

Do you realize there is not one psychologist in the building?  There are 2 1/2 time counselors.  And they're doing what they can.  But they can't do it all, and they especially can't do anything if the kids are there for a few days, gone for the next month, and then returns for 30 more days.

So think about it, our goal for the education department is to be as consistent as possible, to give students a feeling of normalcy.  The detention part of it is thinks everything should be punitive.   How can these work together to let the child thrive, or not damage the kid even more?

I think we all need more training in this arena.   Of course teachers are trained to recognize abuse, and handle behavior modification in a way that doesn't alienate kids, but the detention staff isn't.  Some of their knowledge and background comes from "scared straight" tactics.  And "scared straight" has been proven that it DOES NOT WORK -- in fact, it creates more delinquency.

So what do we do?  We try to offer a more normal "school" environment, we suggest that units don't be combined because of the size (they were starting to combine students because one unit has 4 and the other has 9-- never mind that one group can barely speak English and needs a different kind of schooling completely).

It's a diservice, to not account for the child's background in any situation.  But why are most juvenile detention homes trying to recreate environments that prevent healing, skill building, and knowledge.  The kids have a right to as much as anyone to a stress free environment.   If we do that right, then we have the power to let change happen.

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