Provide trauma informed education in UK schools

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Studies now show that nearly every school has children who have been exposed to overwhelming experiences, such as witnessing violence between their caretakers, being the direct targets of abuse, and other kinds of adversity. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study found higher levels of traumatic experiences in the general population than previously imagined.

These included physical, emotional or sexual abuse; witnessing their mother treated violently; having a parent with substance abuse or mental health issues; or, living in a household with an adult who had spent time in prison.

If we add those who are chronically bullied, experience periods of homelessness, live in the proximity of pervasive community violence, flee war-torn countries, undergo multiple invasive medical procedures, or live with a parent traumatized by recent combat, the number of children affected by significant adversity grows even larger.

Trauma is a response to one or more overwhelmingly stressful events where one’s ability to cope is dramatically undermined. These experiences in childhood can lead to a cascade of social, emotional and academic difficulties. As students get older, exposure to traumatic experiences can also lead to the adoption of self-medicating behaviours such as substance abuse, smoking, and overeating. All of these responses to traumatic events can interfere with a child’s ability to learn.

Schools, which are significant communities for children and teachers, must be adequately supported in order to address trauma’s impact on learning. Otherwise, many children will be unable to achieve their academic potential. The answer is not to ask teachers or individual schools to solve these problems on their own or in piecemeal fashion but rather to develop a broad public policy agenda in which schools play a key role. To ensure that children achieve at their highest potential, we must make sure that research on trauma’s impact on learning is widely understood and informs decision-making at the public policy level. In short, helping traumatized children learn, should become a major focus of education reform.

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