Moving Policy Toward a Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Approach to Support Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

Research BriefHealthy SchoolsDec 7 2020

As attention to the potential negative outcomes of childhood trauma has grown, so have calls for schools to take an active role in supporting students experiencing trauma. These calls extend beyond efforts initiated by individual schools to include those mandated by state law, which largely focus on teacher training and on screening for adversity.


This article explores the evidence base and limitations for current approaches in state law and explores how policies to address other student health, safety, and wellness issues can help either ameliorate or exacerbate students’ experiences with trauma.


Few trainings for nonclinical staff have rigorous evidence of effectiveness, and based on evidence of teacher trainings on other topics, cannot work in environments that do not actively reinforce and encourage the application of that knowledge. Trainings also largely do not acknowledge the structures and systems, including systemic racism within schools, that may contribute to disparate rates of adversity for black and American Indian and Alaska Native children. Screening carries several risks, including confounding adversity with experiencing trauma, missing broader contextual adversity, and potentially retraumatizing children.


State policymakers need to take a more holistic approach in creating policies to support students experiencing trauma.

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