Schools play a critical role in addressing and mitigating the effects of child trauma by recognizing the impact of adversity and trauma on students, parents, and staff and embedding policies and practices that foster well-being and resilience. Within MTSS, universal trauma-sensitive strategies are adopted schoolwide to have the broadest effect on culture and climate. Trauma-sensitive strategies should be aligned and integrated with other Tier 1 strategies and approaches with shared aims within MTSS, including social and emotional learning, restorative practices, and efforts related to equity and positive school climate, to have the greatest reach and impact. Targeted interventions for addressing the trauma-related mental health needs of students exposed to trauma are also made available where appropriate.
AIR assists schools and districts in adopting a whole-school, trauma-sensitive approach to have the broadest reach and impact on the learning environment. In a trauma-sensitive school, all aspects of the educational environment—from workforce training to engagement with students and families to procedures and policies—are grounded in an understanding of trauma and its impact and are designed to promote resilience for all (Guarino & Chagnon, 2018). Adopting a universal approach to addressing trauma requires modifications to school practices, policies, and culture to ensure an environment that is most conducive to success for all, including students exposed to trauma. Creating a solid foundation for schoolwide and systemwide trauma sensitivity helps develop a culture of support for all students and helps staff recognize students who need more intensive services. Such a foundation fosters an environment in which targeted and intensive interventions for trauma are most likely to be successful when they are necessary.
AIR’s trauma-sensitive schools framework includes practices across six domains: (1) support staff development; (2) create a safe and supportive environment; (3) assess needs and provide support; (4) build social and emotional skills; (5) collaborate with students and families; and (6) adapt policies and procedures (Guarino & Chagnon, 2018). AIR supports schools in moving through a phased process of implementing a trauma-sensitive approach and aligning this approach with complementary efforts, including SEL, school climate, and MTSS. Trauma-sensitive strategies in schools may include educating all school staff about trauma and its effects; promoting physical and emotional safety in relationships and in the environment; reducing trauma-related triggers in the school environment and eliminating potentially retraumatizing practices; making trauma-specific clinical services available to students with more intensive needs; addressing the secondary effects of trauma on educators; and adapting policies and procedures to ensure alignment with a trauma-sensitive approach.