Committed Collective Action:
Equality or Equity? What’s the Difference? Does it matter?

by Donna Kennebeck, Iowa AEYC High Performing Inclusive Organization (HPIO) Chair

As we continue to know and understand the children and families that we serve, it is important to think about ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). Feel free to take this ACEs quiz. Children who are affected by ACEs require educators to use a trauma-informed approach that considers a child’s individual needs.

So what is trauma informed care?

Trauma-Informed Care understands and considers the pervasive nature of trauma and promotes environments of healing and recovery rather than practices and services that may inadvertently re-traumatize. Trauma-Informed Care requires a system to make a paradigm shift from asking, “What is wrong with this person?” to “What has happened to this person?”

The intention of Trauma-Informed Care is not to treat symptoms or issues related to sexual, physical, or emotional abuse or any other form of trauma but rather to provide support services in a way that is accessible and appropriate to those who may have experienced trauma. When systems operating procedures do not use a trauma-informed approach, the possibility for triggering or exacerbating trauma symptoms and re-traumatizing individuals increases.

Re-traumatization is any situation or environment that resembles an individual’s trauma literally or symbolically, which then triggers difficult feelings and reactions associated with the original trauma. The potential for re-traumatization exists in all systems and in all levels of care: individuals, staff, and system/organization.

Re-traumatization is often unintentional. There are some “obvious” practices that could be re-traumatizing such as the use of restraints or isolation, however, less obvious practices or situations that involve specific smells, sounds or types of interactions may cause individuals to feel re-traumatized.

The Five Guiding Principles of trauma informed care are; safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness and empowerment.

  1. Ensuring that the physical and emotional safety of an individual is addressed is the first important step to providing Trauma-Informed Care.
  2. The individual needs to know that the provider/teacher is trustworthy. Trustworthiness can be evident in the establishment and consistency of boundaries and the clarity of what is expected with regard to tasks.
  3. The more choice an individual has and the more control they have over their experience through a collaborative effort with providers/teachers, the more likely the individual will participate in activities and the more effective the education may be.
  4. Focusing on an individual's strengths and empowering them to build on those strengths while developing stronger coping skills provides a healthy foundation for individuals to fall back on. (Buffalo Center for Social Research).

As we work with children and families with a trauma-informed lens, it is important to realize that teachers need to use an equity approach rather than an equality approach in how they interact with and teach children. Instead of being focused on every child getting the same; an equity approach in teaching means that teachers provide children with what they need to thrive.

Equality: everyone gets the same thing regardless of their needs.
Equity: everyone gets a fair and just opportunity to thrive according to their needs.
(Don’t Look Away, Embracing ANTI-BIAS Classrooms)

As I looked at the previous charts, I discovered many similarities to philosophies and strategies engrained in my studies of early childhood education. I think of “responsive respectful care,” “watch, act, adapt.” I think of PITC, I think of Gerber and Pikler, and their work. It all makes sense.

Equity is established when we truly know and understand each child and what they need as an individual to thrive. It means stopping and observing, reflecting, discovering each child’s gifts and interests. It means getting to know families on a deeper level and supporting and partnering with them to meet their individual child’s needs. It means watching for cues of discomfort as well as, cues of what soothes and calms.

As I reflect on the past year, I feel that it is more important than ever to support our children and families in ways that are comfortable, and create an environment where they feel safe, have choices, collaborate, have trust, and feel empowered.

This is a tall task—and quite frankly, it is rocket science!

Thank you for all you do for children and families—you are essential and are up for the challenge!