A Trauma-Informed Approach to Communication with Parents of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students

Key Takeaway

School counselors can play a key role in developing a school-wide, trauma-informed approach to advocating for culturally and linguistically diverse students with emotional and behavioral disorders. A strengths-based, holistic approach to student goal-setting that empowers families by taking unique cultural values into account is essential.  —Akane Yoshida

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students 

While traumatic stress is increasingly prevalent in children and young people, there is evidence to suggest that certain groups of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students are disproportionately affected.1 Moreover, CLD students are more likely to have trauma compounded by the process of assimilation into a new culture, increasing the odds that they will exhibit symptoms of emotional and behavioral disorder (EBD).

In presenting their rationale for focusing on the intersectional needs of CLD students with EBD, authors Hurless and Kong (2021) synthesize existing research on trauma-informed approaches—specifically, that of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)—and provide a concrete framework for school counselors to consider in communicating with families of this population.

The authors set forth their recommended framework according to the phases of an individual education plan (IEP) meeting, as follows:

Before the IEP Meeting

When offering trauma-informed counseling services prior to the IEP discussion, school counselors should adopt a “strengths-based mindset and conceptualize the student’s behaviors as a function of what has happened to them rather than what is wrong with them.” This, combined with promoting school-wide awareness of diversity, can help to establish a safe and trusting climate from which student-centered educational and emotional recommendations can be made.

Hurless and Kong make a strong case for school counselors to meet with students and their families before the IEP meeting in order to communicate the logistics and the purpose of the meeting. Furthermore, maintaining regular communication outside of such formal occasions can “provide consistency and a sense of safety between educators and families.”

During the IEP Meeting

School counselors should validate students’ cultural experiences by openly and collaboratively discussing them as an integral part of the IEP process. They must also ensure that the voices of students and their families are championed as equal partners in the process and avoid reinforcing the power imbalance that often occurs between educator and family.

After the IEP Meeting

The authors state that regular follow-up from the school counselor to families—based on each family’s preferred method and frequency of communication—is crucial.

School counselors “should continue to reflect and examine their personal cultural perspectives to address any biases that can affect the outcomes of IEP meetings,” especially given that:

[a] truly trauma-informed approach acknowledges personal trauma in addition to the sociopolitical complexity of trauma, which recognizes the role of gender, race, class, and other cultural variables in the establishment of a system of care. Thus, cultural awareness and competence are integral pieces of effective implementation of trauma-informed approaches.” 

Additionally, Hurless and Kong provide a practical list of guiding questions for building supportive relationships with families of CLD students with EBD, as well as examples of group counseling skills for IEP meetings such as active listening, scanning for nonverbal clues, summarizing, and clarifying.

Summarized Article:

Hurless, N., & Kong, N. Y. (2021). Trauma-Informed Strategies for Culturally Diverse Students Diagnosed With Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic, 1053451221994814.

Summary by: Akane Yoshida — Akane believes in the MARIO Approach because it puts student agency at the heart of the learning and goal-setting process. She loves how the MARIO Framework operationalizes this process and utilizes systematic measurement of student learning and teacher effectiveness to guide interventions.

Additional Reference:

  1. Kafer, A. (2016). Un/safe disclosures: Scenes of disability and trauma. Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 10(1), 1-20.

Researcher Nicole Hurless participated in the final version of this summary. 

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We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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