What we could do to train schools in trauma to improve students’ future

December 6, 2018

We need more school staff trained extensively on the observable signs of trauma and schools with more direct mental health services and more appropriate disciplinary approaches. Collaborative systemic partnerships forged between schools and social-service community agencies also help. Then staff can cultivate a broader sense of trust with their students.

A 12-year-old boy has witnessed repeated episodes of domestic violence through the years and his teachers are now observing significant difficulty with his behavior at school. Is there a link between these two circumstances? Very likely. And, what is being done to address this problematic link? Increasingly more.

According to the New Jersey Department of Human Services, individual trauma is caused by an event, a series of events or circumstances that an individual experiences as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that there is a widespread prevalence of exposure to traumatic episodes in childhood that cuts across socioeconomic status, race, age and gender.

The degree of the trauma is commonly gauged in terms of units called adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. The higher the number of ACEs in children’s backgrounds, the more likely they will have long-term effects from these traumas, which can result in a profound impact on academic skill acquisition and emotional and behavioral functioning. The level of the stress hormone cortisol tends to increase in children who have suffered trauma, and research has shown that accelerated cortisol levels can have harmful effects on the hippocampus, a primary region in the brain that governs memory and emotion.