Though this column is mostly about trauma and resilience, let’s begin by observing that special education costs in Regional School Unit 13 rose around $1.4 million this fiscal year. Regarding this increase, Superintendent John McDonald told the Bangor Daily News: “We’ve seen sort of an alarming trend of an increase in students [requiring special education services] coming into schools. But it’s not just the number of students, it’s the complexity of issues they present.” The high dollar amount of the budget increase — and the attendant tax hike — made local headlines, but they are a symptom of a deeper problem: children with difficult and traumatic lives who enter the school system unprepared to navigate its intellectual, emotional and physical world.

The idea and impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the study that popularized the notion of an “ACE score” are by now well known, but for readers who are unfamiliar, here’s a summary: Drs. Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda conducted a large long-term study that attempted to discern and evaluate a relationship between traumatic experience in childhood (ranging from verbal abuse to sexual abuse to neglect to having a family member in prison) and subsequent mental and physical health problems. The results were stunning. Anda later said that when he saw some of the initial data, “I wept. I saw how much people had suffered and I wept.” In a nutshell, childhood trauma causes immense physical, mental, and social ills over the span of many years. The effects are neurobiological: children in stressful environments have different bodies and brains than they might have had in more stable environments. There is now a large body of research to support these conclusions, which readers may readily explore for themselves, bearing in mind that “trauma” derives from a Greek word meaning “wound.”

How can our community address these deep and intractable problems? There exists a range of laudable and very important social service organizations and agencies that are attempting to tackle such issues, including the Knox County Homeless Coalition, the Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast and RSU 13 itself (just to name a few — there are many others, too numerous to name here). But is it possible (or desirable) to make a broader institutional commitment to addressing the effects of these persistent generational social ills throughout the community?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, launched a community trauma initiative in May 2015 and subsequently published six brochures highlighting the efforts of six different “resilient and trauma-informed communities” of varying sizes, geographies, and challenges. Of the six, the closest in size to Rockland is Tarpon Springs, Florida. The vice mayor of Tarpon Springs began an effort to make Tarpon Springs a trauma-informed city, and since then, the city government, the school district, and social service organizations have cooperated and coordinated toward this goal under the umbrella of the “Peace4Tarpon” project. Since the inception of the project, the performance of the elementary school has increased dramatically, and according to the brochure, “a professor and graduate students at the University of Florida are conducting an evaluation of P4T at no cost to the project.”

What could a trauma-informed community project look like in Rockland? It might start with neighborhood meetings preceded by door-to-door outreach by city and school officials and staff. These meetings and outreach could be both opportunities to listen but also initial attempts to reduce the alienation that so many people feel from civic institutions. They could also be efforts at community-building on a small scale: Do you know your neighbors from the next street over? Do you know your neighbors who are of a different socioeconomic background? Do you know that your neighbor’s sister has had trouble with opioids?

Philadelphia has started a “Porch Light” program that uses art as a public health strategy by placing collaborative art installations in public spaces around the city. These installations are co-created by “individuals experiencing mental health, substance use and intellectual disability-related challenges,” local artists, and others. The Central Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community in Worcester has begun a “Parenting Journey” program that “is a place for people who are addressing their trauma histories to reflect on how they were parented, re-write their own stories, reconnect with family members and ensure that intergenerational trauma will not be repeated.”

We should make a citywide commitment to pursuing these sorts of programs in Rockland. The reasons for doing so are humane, but they are also practical: the more people (and especially children) suffer, the more we have to do to address the consequences of that suffering.