A report sent to state officials Thursday recommended standardizing how schools train employees to deal with students’ traumas after finding major disparities between districts.
The Florida Legislature commissioned the Lastinger Center for Learning at the University of Florida and gave the center $1.5 million last year, in part to write the report, said Christine Salma, innovations coordinator for the Lastinger Center. The study, titled “All Over The Map,” also mapped out patterns of adolescent trauma statewide.
The center surveyed 29 districts to find out how they trained their employees on approaching children who have experienced trauma. Researchers found there was no uniform training method or curriculum offered.
In addition to approaching training differently, some school district employees didn’t give consistent answers on what curriculum they offer, said Philip Poekert, the director of the Lastinger Center.
In one district, an administrator who responded to the survey listed “trainings offered,” while another wrote “none that I know of.” Another district sent two different answers in response to whether training was mandatory.
“There’s a wide variety of ways districts are approaching this,” Poekert said. “There really is no consistency and there needs to be some sort of framework from the state.”
The report links to a website the center created mapping indicators of trauma and each county’s overall risk score, which measures the probability of a child being exposed to trauma.
The center also mapped what trauma intervention and prevention programs were offered in each county. Broward County had the most programs with 24, while 22 counties had no programs at all. This data is based on what districts listed on their websites, Salma said.
Polk County had no programs listed on its website and ranked second-highest in the state for risk, according to the report. Broward had one of the lowest risk factor scores in Florida, despite having over two dozen programs.
Some of these numbers could be misleading, as is the case with Putnam County. Director of Student Services Randy Hedstrom said that while Putnam County uses Youth Mental Health First Aid to train counselors on how to identify students who may have mental health problems, the county might outsource further counseling to a third-party like Children’s Home Society.
“We want to be in the school and help them within the school, but that child still has to come home, and sometimes some of the issues are at home also and they need more help there,” Hedstrom said.
He said that guidance counselors can also receive more specialized training throughout the school year. These counselors then pass on what they learn to teachers and other school administrators.
The Lastinger Center sent the report to Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate President Bill Galvano and Speaker of the House Jose Oliva. Katie Betta, the deputy chief of staff for communication for Galvano, said their office hasn’t had enough time to review the report and could not yet comment on it.
Referencing other legislation focused on providing more school security such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, Poekert said the same rigor for standardization needs to be used in evaluating mental health resources.
He said keeping employees trained on what factors to pay attention to “mitigates the potential for horrible tragedies that can result from students who are going unseen.”
“We need to make sure we’re not only addressing the physical safety of schools, which is clearly of major importance and a significant topic of discussion this legislative session, but also the emotional and social safety,” he said.
Jennifer Taylor, supervisor of guidance and student services in Alachua County, said not every school district is the same, so strict standardization could have an adverse effect on some schools. Alachua County ranked second in training programs offered, according to the Lastinger Center report.
“I think there is some information that is necessary for everyone to have,” Taylor said, “but then how practices are put into the schools to make the school more trauma sensitive may vary a little bit from school to school.”
Taylor said she believes Florida is on its way to adopting standardized mental health training, especially in the wake of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act passed by the legislature last year.