How trauma-informed care in schools helps communities manage adverse childhood experiences

When a teacher has the tools necessary to manage traumatic stress and empower their students, the school community thrives


Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that occur in childhood (ages 0-17). ACEs can include bullying, violence, abuse, neglect, household member death or incarceration, and growing up in a family with mental health or substance use problems.

Stress from ACEs can change brain development and affect how the body responds to stress. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that preventing ACEs could reduce depression by 21 million cases.

ACEs are the single greatest public health crisis facing the United States. According to the CDC, approximately 60% of adults have experienced at least one type of ACE. Women and minorities are at greater risk for having experienced four or more types of ACEs.

Adverse Childhood Experiences are the single greatest public health crisis facing the United States.
Adverse Childhood Experiences are the single greatest public health crisis facing the United States. (Getty Images/SDI Productions)

Why hasn’t the U.S. taken this more seriously? Why isn’t there more community education regarding this crisis? Why aren’t schools helping children with the trauma they are enduring? Why aren’t pediatricians completing the ACEs checklist during yearly physicals? ACEs are preventable and treatable.

Trauma and stress affect how a student learns and behaves in school. The naughtiest, quietest, loudest, shyest, or wiggliest child in the class may be acting out for reasons that are beyond the basic behavior knowledge of an educator. These children may be sent to the principal’s office, placed on behavior interventions, suspended, or referred to special education by their teacher when the school is not aware of the root cause of the behavior.

A child’s coping mechanism can be negatively impacted through trauma. When a teacher has the tools necessary to manage traumatic stress and empower their students, the school community thrives. Trauma Informed Care is the open-mindedness and compassion that all students deserve, because anyone can have a traumatic history that impacts their learning.

Trauma Informed Care in schools is based on interventions that are guided by the understanding of neurological, physical, biological, and social effects that trauma has on a student. Trauma Informed Care is a systemic approach with behavior expectations for an entire school that focuses on safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness, and empowerment. The administrators, teachers, and staff in the school are prepared to recognize and respond to those who have been impacted by traumatic stress.

Using a trauma lens to better understand a child’s behavior helps school staff change their shift in perspective from ‘What is wrong with this child?” to “What has this child been through?’ Trauma Informed Care in schools provides tools to cope with extreme situations and to create an underlying culture of respect and support within the school.

According to research completed by Dr. Langley at UCLA, 75% of students access help and interventions through schools. Schools are the ideal setting for detection and intervention with traumatized children; they spend more time with school staff during the school year than they do at home with their families. Trauma Informed Care in schools creates the foundation for resiliency, hope, and wellness among these students.

A partnership between schools and communities is a critical component in Trauma Informed Care in schools. The school liaison establishes and maintains a relationship with parents to provide education and training on mental health in children. Raising awareness about ACEs with parents and the community can help how people think about the causes of ACEs and who could help prevent them.

The school/community partnership can help shift the focus from individual responsibility to community solutions. As school staff, the more that is known about ACEs and their impact on lives and the community, the more we can advocate for safe, stable home environments and loving relationships for students.

Let’s help all children reach their full potential and create neighborhoods, communities, and a world in which every child can thrive.

Interested in some grants that help fund mental health and trauma informed care programs in schools? Here are a few ideas:

“Unless you fix the trauma, you’re working on the wrong thing .… If you don’t fix the hole in the soul… where the wounds started, you’re working at the wrong thing…. It’s (ACEs) not an excuse. It’s an explanation….. It’s HUGE…. And it’s a game changer.” — Oprah Winfrey

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