Trauma Informed Approach in Schools 

The primary goal of any school is to support every student to achieve their full potential. To effectively meet this goal, all children and young people need to feel supported, safe, and ready to learn. This can be extremely difficult for children and young people who have experienced developmental and relational trauma, attachment disruptions, and/or those who experience mental health difficulties. 

Research indicates that: 

  • Around two thirds of students have experienced trauma before the age of 16, and as many as 13 out of every 30 students in an average classroom will exhibit signs of toxic stress, having been exposed to three or more traumatic experiences. 
  • In 2021, 96% of young people reported that their mental health has affected their schoolwork at some point (Mind, 2021).
  • Children and young people exposed to trauma and adverse childhood experiences can show reduced engagement with school, lower test scores and increased levels of school suspension and exclusion (Blodgett & Lanigan, 2018; Perfect et al., 2016; Shonk & Cicchetti, 2001). 
  • Trusting relationships with ‘emotionally available’ adults are key to supporting children and young people affected by trauma, and adults in schools are ideally placed to meet this need (see, for example, Bellis et al., 2017).
  • A lack of understanding about mental health problems and trauma in schools can result in teachers misunderstanding or misinterpreting a young person’s behaviour and responding punitively. This is often ineffective and can become a barrier to the child or young person accessing beneficial support (Mind, 2021).

Thus, to provide the necessary nurture and support that will allow all young people to feel safe and thrive in the school environment, educators need to be able to recognise the impact of a child’s early experiences on their development, and implement trauma-informed, evidence-based strategies which foster trust, safety, and emotional well-being. 

The Impact of Trauma in Schools

Developmental trauma and/or early attachment disruptions can lead to a young person feeling fearful of others and the world around them. Often, children who experience trauma do so within their relationships with adults/carers who are intended to be their primary source of safety. This leads to the child or young person experiencing high levels of shame, and a difficulty trusting others to keep them safe. 

Unable to rely on adults to feel safe, the child’s brain can become heavily focused on surviving what feels like a very scary and chaotic world. As a result, learning social and emotional skills or engaging in learning activities in a classroom setting can be extremely challenging.  Neurobiological research also shows how experiencing trauma in early development can impact a whole range of developmental domains, including learning abilities (i.e., attention, working memory, verbal ability, and comprehension) and relational abilities (for example, challenges with emotional awareness, emotional regulation, and impulsivity); all of which can make engaging with education extremely challenging. 

Trauma Informed Approach in Schools

By implementing trauma-informed practices, we can move beyond a place where a child’s behaviour is seen as problematic and something that needs to be managed, to a place where we are curious about what the behaviour could be telling us. Through this approach, educators can become better informed of each student’s needs, and better able to support their young people to feel safe, supported, and empowered to overcome the challenges they face. 

At Meadows Psychology Service, we understand that transforming a school environment to be truly trauma-informed is a process which requires training, multi-level commitment, ongoing evaluation, reflective practice and fine tuning. That is why we work collaboratively with schools and alternative education settings across the country, providing packages of support that can be specifically tailored to meet the needs of your setting, young people, and their families. Our support can include:

  • Transformation Support: MPS will support education settings through consultative transformation work to ensure a trauma informed, therapeutic approach runs through every element of the setting. This can include SLT support and consultation, and review of practice, policy and documents, support and training.
  • Training and Development: We offer a range of training packages, including:
  • Whole school trauma sensitive training
  • P.A.C.E (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity & Empathy) approach in Education 
  • PBS (Positive Behaviour Support) Approach in Education
  • Understanding Attachment and Developmental Trauma
  • Working with young people with sensory processing difficulties

Bespoke training packages can also be delivered to meet the specific requirements of individual schools or clusters of schools. 

  • Consultation: Consultations can be held with staff teams to ensure staff feel they have the skills and confidence needed to work therapeutically with the young people they work alongside. Education provisions can also request consultation support to address whole school issues or support whole school development plans. 
  • Reflective Practice: At Meadows psychology service, we recognise the importance of supporting and enhancing staff resilience and well-being. Our reflective sessions aim to provide a safe space for school staff teams to explore the realms of working within complex systems with children and young people who can present with challenging and complex difficulties within the learning environment.
  • Assessments: We offer a range of psychological assessments for children and the systems around the child, including assessments of risk (e.g., AIM3). This aims to provide the staff team with a greater awareness of each young person’s individual strengths and difficulties, and guidance on therapeutic ways of working to support each child in a way that is trauma-informed and responsive.  All our assessments highlight recommendations for direct therapeutic intervention with a therapist, in addition to recommendations and specific guidance for staff within the school environment.
  • Individual Therapy: We work directly with students and parents/carers supporting a systemic approach to therapy. Sessions can be offered through small group work or on a one-to-one basis with children and young people.

For more information, or to discuss accessing training and support for your organisation, please get in touch via our online form.


Bellis, M. A., Hardcastle, K., Ford, K., Hughes, K., Ashton, K., Quigg, Z., & Butler, N. (2017). Does continuous trusted adult support in childhood impart life-course resilience against adverse childhood experiences – a retrospective study on adult health-harming behaviours and mental well-being. BMC Psychiatry17(1), 110.

Blodgett, C., & Lanigan, J. D. (2018). The association between adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and school success in elementary school children. School Psychology Quarterly33(1), 137–146.

Chafouleas, S. M., Johnson, A. H., Overstreet, S., & Santos, N. M. (2016). Toward a blueprint for trauma-informed service delivery in schools. School Mental Health8(1), 144–162.

Perfect, Turley, M. R., Carlson, J. S., Yohanna, J., & Saint Gilles, M. P. (2016). School-related outcomes of traumatic event exposure and traumatic stress symptoms in students: A systematic review of research from 1990 to 2015. School Mental Health8(1), 7–43.

Shonk, S. M., & Cicchetti, D. (2001). Maltreatment, competency deficits, and risk for academic and behavioral maladjustment. Developmental Psychology37(1), 3–17.

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