Trauma and Schools

When children and youth experience trauma in their lives, their capacity to engage in their education can be challenged. The effects of trauma on children can hinder their ability to appropriately access their education because of their emotional reactions to stress. Research suggests that approximately one in four children in America will experience at least one traumatic event by the age of 16. With that, schools are a critical resource for children to obtain the support and structure they need to be successful. Creating an environment where children can learn and grow regardless of the trauma they’ve experienced or are continuing to experience is critical for the child/ youth’s future success.

School teams consisting of educators, administrators and support staff can help reduce the impact of trauma by learning about the different trauma responses children/ youth can experience, using trauma sensitive language when responding to traumatized students within the classroom setting, and referring children and families for additional mental health supports when necessary.

School administrators and teachers are focused on creating opportunities for learning for all students which can be enhanced by using a trauma informed approach. Trauma informed education does not need to be a new initiative, many of the components of this approach can be woven into existing frameworks including Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and Response to Intervention (RTI) along with a myriad of other frameworks and programs initiated in Vermont schools.

The State of Vermont’s Agency of Education has partnered with the Department of Mental Health to encourage social emotional learning and positive mental health in schools through school based mental health services and Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS). The PBIS framework has been identified to promote and teach social emotional health to students from Kindergarten through High School. The multi-tiered system of support creates a positive and supportive school environment for all children but can also increase the supports based on the student’s needs. Currently PBIS is being implemented in 143 of the approximately 250 public schools in Vermont.

Many schools throughout the state also work with their local Community Mental Health Center to have contracted clinicians in the schools to treat children with trauma and various other mental health concerns. For children with intense emotional and behavioral health needs, Behavioral Interventionists can work with children one on one to teach the necessary skills to be successful in accessing the student’s education. School based mental health services through the Community Mental Health Center system are provided in 188 of the approximately 250 Vermont Schools.

Since 1988, the State of Vermont has also recognized the importance of collaboration between the family, community providers, and school, through the Act 264 legislation that encourages collaboration and planning for children whose needs require more intense support. These programs/ frameworks have been organized to assist in providing the best care we can for the children and families in the state.

Trauma Informed schools are sensitive to the prevalence and impact of trauma on their students and create an encouraging environment for children to learn, grow, and meet their educational needs. The educators and administration in the schools in Vermont have recognized the need for collaborative and trauma informed care and have reached out to the Department of Mental Health, the Community Mental Health Centers, as well as Private Consultants throughout the state to discuss how educators can create a flexible framework that provides support, is sensitive to the unique needs of students, and is mindful of avoiding re-traumatization. It is important to remember that trauma is a reaction to an external event. In schools, it is not always appropriate or even possible to discover whether a child’s

behaviors or learning struggles are the result of a trauma response. Therefore, when educators take a universal approach to creating a trauma informed environment throughout the school day, they are creating an atmosphere of support, encouragement, and growth which can help all students access their education and minimize the enduring effects of trauma in their lives.


School-based Mental Health

Interconnecting School Mental Health and School-wide Positive Behavior Support

Vermont Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

VTPBIS Mental Health Roles

School Mental Health Project – Center for Mental Health in Schools UCLA

Specific to schools & Trauma:

Helping Traumatized Children Learn; and the Six Elements of School Operations Involved in Creating a Trauma-Sensitive School (MA legislation for safe & supportive schools)

NCTSN Resources for School Personnel includes the Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators, trauma impacts at each school age, guidance for supporting students in coping with traumatic events, implementing the mental health component of school crisis plan, and self-care for educators.

Treatment and Services Adaptation Center – Resiliency, Hope & Wellness in Schools

Trauma Workforce Development

VT Child Welfare Training Partnership online modules: FUNDAMENTALS in Trauma Informed Practice with Children and Families

Childhood Trauma: Changing Minds

NCTSN Schools and Trauma Learning Series of 5 presentations focused on partnering with schools to enhance mental health and trauma-informed services and is designed to inform both school personnel and mental health professionals

PBIS and Trauma-Informed Schools


NCTSI Understanding Childhood Trauma

Dos & Don’ts of a Trauma-Informed Classroom

Trauma-Informed/Not Trauma-Informed


The Heart of Learning & Teaching: Compassion, Resilience & Academic Success

Integrating ACEs science and trauma-informed practices in your school district - what role does the administrator play? ACEsConnection

Responding to Students with PTSD in Schools

Unlocking the Door to Learning: Trauma-Informed Classrooms & Transformational Schools discusses the impact of trauma on learning and what schools and educators can do to create a trauma-informed learning environment.


Contact Information

Department of Mental Health
Interim Commissioner Mourning Fox
280 State Drive, NOB 2 North
Waterbury, VT 05671-2010
Phone:  (802) 241-0090
Fax: (802) 241-0100

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