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PACEs in Early Childhood

Considering Family, Environmental, Cultural and Economic Factors, an opportunity to exclude children from Special Education and Address ACES and become more Trauma Informed.


The movement of schools to becoming more Trauma Informed provides many opportunities for teachers, administrators, families and students and therefore communities to grow and heal.  According to the IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act), when considering whether or not a child is eligible for special education we are to: 

 “Draw upon information from a variety of sources, including aptitude and achievement tests, parent input, and teacher recommendations, as well as information about the child’s physical condition, social or cultural background, and adaptive behavior;

(ii) Ensure that information obtained from all of these sources is documented and carefully considered.

My work in Special Education for many years, engaging in the process of evaluating students and determining whether they are “eligible” and “in need” of Special Education has been a journey.

I have always had this knowing feeling that there is something we are not considering.  I don’t think I have ever had specific training or guidance around the issue of Family, Environmental, Cultural and Economic Factors as an exclusion for special education.  I recently asked some administrators and was told: “If we were to consider this none of our students would be getting support”.

Well, what if we are giving “support” for the wrong problem?

Are students being blamed or scapegoated for not having their basic needs met and then being identified with “disabilities, impairments and disorders” when in fact they are living in poverty, have suffered significant adversity in childhood, and/or come from a different cultural background? 

It sure feels that way to me. My concern is that we are not addressing the root cause.  Trauma… Intergenerational and Collective Trauma.

Unfortunately, by putting the problem on the students we are causing more trauma.  We are making “something wrong with them” and trying to fix it. But I don’t think it is working.  Because the families and the teachers are not addressing the root cause and children are stressed, suicide rates are up, and teachers are leaving the profession. 

We are missing the “boat” and I believe it is because the conversation is so real and so uncomfortable.

It is time to be uncomfortable and heal.  We must be open and honest about what is happening and how we want things to change.

This week I called a parent in and let he know her kindergarten student was asking if he could draw pictures about the movie “Chucky”.  When I asked her if her son was watching this (very scary) movie she said her granddaughter likes to watch it with him but he doesn’t like it. 

Hmm.. Mom was not aware of the content of the movie, the 5 year old was being “parented” and guided by his Mom’s teenage granddaughter.  This is a parent who is very concerned about her child’s ability to communicate and he is on an IEP for being “Speech Impaired”.

When I look at Family, Environmental, Cultural and Economic factors, each of these have an impact for this child and yet none of them have been addressed.

Fortunately, I was willing and able to bring this to the family’s attention.  Now what? 

Now I will look into getting a social worker involved.  Now I will look into helping his teacher look at how she can continue to support him – she actually does great work with him

Now I will try to help the administration see that this child is the product of a society that has bigger issues to work on.   

Is this child resilient?  Yes, he has people who care and are present with him, but he is also living in “toxic stress”. He is also being parented by a teenager who was likely parented by a teenager… and the cycle repeats.

We need to break the cycle so that parents can experience their own development.  Many parents where I work speak Spanish only.  Their children are learning English and as they acquire this second language they communicate less with their parents because they have challenges going back and forth between the two languages.  It is breaking the connection children have with their parents.

What a growth and healing opportunity we have for our children and families.  Is this the school’s responsibility?  Well, if the students in Special Education were not eligible what would happen?  How can we reallocate resources?  How much money do we spend on special education services? Would they better be spend on becoming trauma informed?  If we answer the questions honestly and honestly document  Family, Environmental, Cultural and Economic Factors what can happen?

Let’s stop moving the “problem” around.  Let’s sit with it.  Let’s solve it.  There are so many ways.

1.   Let’s understand our own individual stories and the stories of each child who come into our governmental programs, including schools.

2.   Let’s look at our first experiences with families in Infant Toddler Programs.  Let’s help parents understand what ACES and Trauma are and how they can get appropriate help.

3.   Let’s understand that when children come to Preschool we need to work with them where they are at – in the “zone of proximal development” and recognize that they are all different and have had different experiences. Let’s stop trying to get them “ready for school”.

4.   Let’s start saying “I wonder what happened or is happening for this child/” instead of “I wonder what is wrong with this child or what category of special education they fit into?”

5.   Let’s start helping parents understand that early attachment is the key to future development and relationships and that they can work to repair their attachments with their children.

6.   If we have these conversations more and push a one size fits all curriculum less, we can shift the current state of affairs!  We can begin to heal intergenerational Trauma and Toxic Stress!


Every day we can change the way we look at ourselves and the children and families we work with. Every day we can connect with each other and begin to understand each other better. Connection Cures!

I am available to facilitate these discussions with administrators, teachers, families and communities. Connect with me


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