Resources Specific to Schools

What do we mean by trauma-informed services and why is such an approach important?

  • The Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators is part of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), and describes how a child’s response to trauma can negatively affect learning and behavior in school. This resource also describes how school administrators, teachers, and staff can help reduce the impact of trauma on the students in their care. The toolkit is available in English and Spanish.
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NTSCN) is a collaborative group of academic and community-based service providers with a mission of raising the standard of care and increasing access to services for traumatized children and their families in the US. NTSCN created this toolkit for educators that discusses background facts and statistics about child trauma, educational implications of exposure to trauma, and information for parents and caregivers.
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has developed resources on building partnerships between a school and the families and students they serve. They believe such partnerships are essential in order for to maximize youths’ opportunities for choice and control, a key element of overcoming trauma.
  • Psychological First Aid for Schools (PFA-S) is an evidence-informed approach for assisting children, youth, and families after a school crisis, disaster, or terrorism event. This PFA-S Field manual was developed by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and National Center for PTSD and includes content that will guide provider self-care, resources for adults and students to seek social support, tips for relaxation, and guides for parents and students for helping families cope with an emergency.

My school or district has decided it wants to be more trauma-informed. Where do I start?

  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network put together a series of 5 presentations on how schools can address trauma. Presentations include information about the impact of traumatic events such as bullying, death and grief and loss; the benefits of constructing trauma-informed IEPs in schools, and methods for integrating trauma-informed approaches with evidence-based practice in schools.
  • The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning features this Empirical Guide on School Based Mental Health that reviews the history of mental health services supplied in schools and provides an overview of the evidence for school-based mental health services.
  • The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) formulated these tips for parents and educators on supporting students experiencing childhood trauma. This resource covers the individual and contextual characteristics associated with increased likelihood of experiencing trauma, warning signs in children, trauma’s potential impact on education, and strategies for adults and school professionals to re-establish security and stability for these children.
  • This white paper entitled Managing threats: Safety lessons learned from school shootings was written by an expert on school based mental health. The paper discusses the social and psychological effects of school shootings, provides suggestions for preventing these events, and discusses educational policy around school safety.

We’ve begun working on these issues, but are trying to decide what to tackle next. How can I figure out my next steps?

  • The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI) is a collaboration between Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Harvard Law School that advocates for school-wide trauma sensitivity that is a regular part of how safe and supportive schools operate. TLPI has produced a free e-book, Helping traumatized children learn. Volume 1 of this e-book proposes an educational and policy agenda that enables schools to become supportive environments in which children can focus, behavior appropriately, and learn. This resource articulates a framework for creating a climate in which children exposed to trauma can learn and grow
  • The Trauma Learning and Policy Initiative (TLPI) of Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children had an early report (2005) in the form of a free e-book that summarized the research from psychology and neurobiology documenting the impact trauma from exposure to violence can have on children’s learning.
  • The US Departments of Education and Justice have recently done extensive work on Rethinking School Discipline. School discipline policies are trauma-informed when:
    • Accountability is balanced with an understanding of traumatic behavior;
    • Positive behavioral support is emphasized;
    • Clear and firm limits are set for behavior and logical—instead of punitive—consequences are developed;
    • Consistent rules and consequences are created;
    • Non-violent and respectful relationships are modelled.

What are the key issues in making sure my agency does not re-traumatize our clients?

  • How students who have been exposed to trauma and loss are likely to re-experience stress response systems after being exposed to new traumas, or reminders of the original trauma; and
  • How the ability of children to recover from trauma depends on the coping skills of adults, including school professionals. Several videos are included that describe how teachers anticipated and talked to students about their feelings and concerns related to traumatic reminders.

How can I/my staff recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in the clients we work with?

For elementary-school aged children, the most common trauma symptoms are that they may:

  • Have feelings of persistent concern about their safety, or the safety of others at school or home;
  • Experience feelings of guilt shame;
  • Describe being overwhelmed by feelings of fear or sadness;
  • Have sleep disturbances;
  • Have interrupted concentration in school.

In adolescents, among the most common trauma symptoms are that they may:

  • Feel depressed or alone;
  • Develop eating disorders or self-harming behaviors;
  • Initiate and escalate alcohol and other drug use;
  • Become involved in risky sexual behavior;

My staff often burn out from dealing with students’ trauma constantly.  How can I support them?

  • Within the Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators there is a guide (on page 17) entitled Self Care for Educators that describes the ways teachers, staff, and other school professionals working directly with children and families who have experienced trauma are also vulnerable to the effects of trauma. This phenomenon of feeling physically and emotionally overwhelmed by students’ trauma is known as secondary traumatic stress or compassion fatigue. The guide covers early signs and ways to intervene to cope with secondary traumatic stress in school settings.
  • ACF’s National Center on Health and Wellness released this newsletter with information about how to address workplace related stress in early care and education settings.  This document describes the impact of stress on caring for young children, it also describes the signs and symptoms of stress, and offers tips for managing stress.  

What does my agency’s physical space have to do with being trauma-informed?

Schools play an important role in providing stability and a safe place for students who have experienced trauma to connect to supportive adults and link to other community-based services and supports. The Trauma Learning and Policy Initiative (TLPI) of Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children has developed an approach and vision for creating trauma-sensitive schools. The key elements of this approach involve trauma-sensitive schools as places in which:

  • All students feel safe, welcomed, and supported;
  • Addressing trauma’s impact on learning on a school-wide basis is the center of the school’s educational mission;
  • An ongoing process allows for teamwork, coordination, creativity, and the sharing of responsibility for all students.

The trauma-sensitive approach for schools is articulated in a free, downloadable e-book entitled Creating and advocating for trauma-sensitive schools.

Where can I learn more about evidence-based and promising interventions to address the effects of trauma?

  • Trauma-specific interventions have also been designed for use in schools. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS), is an evidence-based intervention that includes group and individual sessions for students, as well as psychoeducational sessions for parents and training for teachers. It has been implemented in elementary school settings, and also, in modified form, in middle school settings.
  • The California Evidence Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare has rated a number of client and organization level interventions for addressing trauma in children and adolescents. See the results of their review.
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has developed a reading list on community and school violence that identifies the books and articles which provide the academic and research foundation for researchers’ understanding of the effects of violence on children and youth.
  • Module 4 of a web-based toolkit produced by the National Technical Assistance Center on Children’s Mental Health at Georgetown University consists of Evidence-based treatments addressing trauma. Several interventions that are administered in school settings are described by practitioners in videos, including: Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS), Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), and Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP).

What elements of this process need funding? How have other agencies funded these efforts?

  • The Center for School Mental Health (CSMH) at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine produced a series of webinars on Funding and Sustainability in School Mental Health. These archived webinars highlight successful business plans and funding strategies for offering trauma-informed, student-centered services in schools. The advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of models are highlighted, included: school employees providing services; community mental health providers providing co-located services; and a division of labor between a school and clinic.
  • In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education funded 22 local education agencies through the Project Prevent grant program to increase their capacity to identify, assess, and serve students exposed to pervasive violence, helping to ensure that affected students are offered mental health services for trauma or anxiety; support conflict resolution programs; and implement other school-based violence prevention strategies in order to reduce the likelihood that these students will later commit violent acts.

    Return to Resource Guide to Trauma-Informed Human Services

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