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Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools

Children’s reactions to trauma can interfere considerably with learning and behavior at school. Schools serve as a critical system of support for children who have experienced trauma. Administrators, teachers, and staff can help reduce the effects of trauma on children by recognizing trauma responses, accommodating and responding to traumatized students within the classroom, and referring children to outside professionals when necessary.

The primary mission of schools is to support students in educational achievement. To reach this goal, children must feel safe, supported, and ready to learn. Children exposed to violence and trauma may not feel safe or ready to learn. Not only are individual children affected by traumatic experiences, but other students, the adults on campus, and the school community can be impacted by interacting or working with a child who has experienced trauma. Thus, as schools maintain their critical focus on education and achievement, they must also acknowledge that mental health and wellness are innately connected to students’ success in the classroom and to a thriving school environment.

Trauma-Sensitive Schools are ones where the educators:

  • Realize the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on neurobiological development and attachment
  • Recognize the impact of trauma on learning and behavior
  • Respond by building resilience and avoiding re-traumatization

(Perry & Daniels, 2016; SAMSHA, 2015)

Creating a Trauma Sensitive School is about creating a culture that prioritizes safety, trust, choice, and collaboration. Within a trauma-sensitive school, everyone (e.g., teachers, administrators, support staff, paraprofessionals, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, etc.) learns about the prevalence and impact of trauma in the lives of children and families. This awareness motivates and guides the examination and transformation of the school environment, policy/practice, educational strategies, staff training, and family involvement, etc. to ensure that children impacted by trauma can learn and be successful. (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2015)

Trauma-Sensitive Schools are created via schoolwide trauma-informed practices aimed at helping children feel safe, be connected, get regulated and learn. (Alexander, 2016)

   -Attachment and Trauma Network

Essential Elements of a Trauma-Sensitive School System

  1. Identifying and assessing traumatic stress.
  2. Addressing and treating traumatic stress.
  3. Teaching trauma education and awareness.>
  4. Having partnerships with students and families.
  5. Creating a trauma-informed learning environment (social/emotional skills and wellness).
  6. Being culturally responsive.
  7. Integrating emergency management & crisis response.
  8. Understanding and addressing staff self-care and secondary traumatic stress.
  9. Evaluating and revising school discipline policies and practices.
  10. Collaborating across systems and establishing community partnerships.

-National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Click on the images below to access the web page information.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has developed tools and materials to help educators, school staff, and administrators understand and respond to the specific needs of traumatized children.

ATN’s Trauma-Sensitive Schools Initiative is devoted to creating and supporting on-going school-wide trauma-informed reform.  Our experienced educators and experts in childhood adversities seek to inform and support educators at all levels in developing trauma-informed school systems.

The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative’s (TLPI) mission is to ensure that children traumatized by exposure to family violence and other adverse childhood experiences succeed in school.  They offer many resources, including the publications Helping Traumatized Children Learn, Volume 1 and 2.

The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments’ Trauma-Sensitive Schools Training Package offers school and district administrators and staff a framework and roadmap for adopting a trauma-sensitive approach school- or districtwide. The Training Package includes a variety of resources for educating school staff about trauma and trauma-sensitive practices and for providing school leaders with a step-by-step process for implementing a universal, trauma-informed approach using package materials.

This is a free, online, on-demand system consisting of three primary components. Through this system, learners will understand the prevalence and impact of toxic stress on youth and those who care for them. Additionally, participants will understand how to infuse the values of safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment into various aspects of their existing equitable multi-level system of support.

Updated August 30, 2021 10:35am