50-state analyses of school health policy and trauma-specific guidance give lawmakers tools to address trauma in schools

January 31, 2019

To create safe and supportive schools, state policy must move beyond siloed approach to issues affecting students

Today, Child Trends released a comprehensive suite of resources to assist policymakers, educators, and advocates in building supportive learning environments in the nation’s schools. The resources, developed in partnership with the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago and EMT Associates, Inc., focus on a model of school health and wellness that addresses the full range of issues affecting a child’s ability to learn and thrive. This comprehensive approach is critical as lawmakers, educators, and parents work to address the effects of trauma on teaching and learning.

Using State Policy to Create Healthy Schools provides state-by-state and issue-specific analyses of the extent to which state laws address the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model. The model has the following 10 components: health education; physical education and activity; nutrition environment and services; health services; counseling, psychological, and social services; social and emotional climate; physical environment; employee wellness; family engagement; and community involvement.

“While every state has policies aimed at addressing school health and wellness, only a handful focus on all aspects of a healthy school environment, and those that do cover multiple aspects do so in a siloed and disconnected manner,” said Deborah Temkin, coauthor of both reports and the senior program area director of Education at Child Trends. “Policymakers and advocates can help schools address the full spectrum of student needs by understanding that students’ physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being are inherently linked, and by coordinating initiatives meant to address school safety, child health, and academic achievement.”

Responding to Trauma through Policies that Create Supportive Learning Environments is a resource that state legislators can use to build learning environments that effectively support students who have experienced traumatic events. This tool aims to improve policymakers’ understanding of trauma and its implications for teaching and learning. It also gives them guidance on working with school communities to create learning environments that support and nurture all students. Finally, this tool cautions policymakers about enacting policy to conduct trauma screening and identification in schools; such efforts risk stigmatizing and alienating the very children that officials seek to help.

“Studies estimate that 45 percent of all children have had at least one adverse childhood experience. While they might not all experience trauma as a result, the reality is that every school serves students affected by traumatic events,” said Kristen Harper, director for policy development at Child Trends. “Safe and supportive learning environments can provide the protective factors these children need to continue learning and growing: strong relationships with trusted adults, mental and physical health supports, and more. What is most important for lawmakers to note is that all children benefit from these kinds of school environments.”

In conjunction with the report’s release, the National Association of State Boards of Education’s State Policy Database on School Health was also re-launched today, featuring all of the data analyzed for the Child Trends report as well as the relevant statutory and regulatory language.

These reports were funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and produced as part of the RWJF’s Together for Healthy and Successful Schools Initiative (THSS).