information for transformational people

Trauma Education 246Insight into trauma-informed education settings

From a report by West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership

A 2022 report by Oxford academics provides insights and recommendations for trauma informed schools and educational institutions. They studied such institutions across West Yorkshire that have committed to strengthening educational outcomes for vulnerable young people through attachment and trauma-informed methods.

Across 5 districts in West Yorkshire (Wakefield, Leeds, Calderdale, Kirklees, Bradford), there are 4280 children in care, 13,552 children with a social worker and 882 permanent exclusions.

The necessity for attachment and trauma informed school programs developed after decades of research on trauma led to the understanding that interpersonal violence, maltreatment and deprivation could impact children and young people in the much the same way as war veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. The breakthrough study, Adverse Childhood Experiences, identified that nearly two thirds of adults had experienced trauma in their childhood.

Further investigation into the neuroscience of attachment and trauma revealed that trauma affects brain development. The earlier, more sustained and greater the number of traumatic experiences e.g., domestic abuse, parent divorce, parent addiction, etc., that create, what is referred to as, complex trauma, the more pervasive it is, affecting all areas of a person’s life.

Therefore, a more holistic understanding developed of how physical, social, emotional, cognitive, relational trauma and deprivation affects children and adolescents, not only in their school experience but across their lifespan. Vulnerable children and young people with adverse childhood experiences are at higher risk for school exclusion, substance, misuse, unemployment, homelessness and incarceration. Children and young people who have been exposed to early life stress, impacts learning abilities related to IQ, attention, working memory, verbal ability and comprehension, and relational abilities.

Trauma-informed programs in schools educate school staff about the neurobiology of trauma to help them better understand why pupils have challenges in learning and why their responses to adverse situations in the classroom may appear, at times, impulsive, disruptive or inappropriate. It shifts their thinking from “What is wrong with you?” to “What happened to you and how can I help you?”.

Exchanging school sanctions with emotion coaching techniques and restorative justice approaches are just a few of the methods used in trauma-informed practices to de-escalate conflict, avoid the re-traumatisation of children and young people and improve communication with adults to build an emotionally safe and positive school climate.

Trauma-informed frameworks embed six core principles that value and nurture transformative relationships with young people without re-traumatising. They emphasise:

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment - voice and choice
  6. Cultural, historical and gender issues.

For a school program to be effective, it must include the four R’s and embed such principles within an organisation’s culture as a whole school programme. Descriptions of the four R’s:

  1. Realises the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery
  2. Recognises the signs and symptoms of trauma in children, families, staff, and others involved with the system.
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practises
  4. Resists re-traumatisation

Programs must also align with the needs of the specific community and integrate cultural humility, inclusiveness, and responsiveness by acknowledging historical and cultural trauma, oppression, social injustice, intersections of identity, and intergenerational trauma.

Findings from the report are:

  1. The implementation of trauma-informed approaches in the education settings in the 5 regions of West Yorkshire resulted in some form of benefit to students and staff.
  2. Findings reflect similar outcomes to other UK studies exploring the impact of trauma-informed programs in schools. The most common experience for teachers/staff was having a greater understanding of how trauma impacts the lives of vulnerable young people, having greater confidence in applying trauma-informed practices as a result of training and improved communication with students.
  3. Benefits to students as reported by teachers were improved communication and relationships between adults and young people and greater observed emotional management by teachers and students.
  4. Reduction in school exclusions and improved attendance was observed in schools running the trauma-informed program from 1-3 years.
  5. The most significant barrier was School Leadership buy-in and concern that a relational approach to student management would be less effective than a behavioural approach to discipline and risk management.
  6. Schools with committed leadership to trauma-informed approaches fared better with positive discipline, lower exclusions and improved attendance.
  7. Barriers to effective implementation of trauma-informed approaches included teacher/staff levels of competency, inconsistent training and staff turnover. The most significant concerns were balancing curricular needs, emotional management and meeting the emotional needs of students.
  8. Allocating time and resources to embed and sustain a trauma-informed approach was a concern. Experienced schools prioritised time and funding, balancing the needs of the national curriculum with training and built-in time to address individual student needs.
  9. Emotion Coaching and restorative practices are necessary tools to a successful program, as understanding attachment and trauma is not enough to see improved outcomes.
  10. The whole school approach to training is vital to program cohesion and positive outcomes.
  11. There are a wide range of approaches to trauma informed training available to schools from a local authority level to external providers. However, it does not appear in this research that type of trauma-informed training is a factor in improved outcomes as long as there is a commitment to a whole school approach.
  12. The most significant changes to better implemented programs involved prioritising a shift to positive language, restorative discipline, empathetic relationships, staff support and a whole school approach.
  13. Support sessions and/or training for parents is important for continuity of approach and to aid parents/carers to understand the school philosophy.

Read the full report here.

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From a report by West Yorkshire Health and Care Pa, 26/10/2022

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