Every student from preschool to high school should have access to a high-quality, trauma-informed, safe, supportive school environment that promotes their well-being. This is especially critical for children and young people who may have experienced violence, racism and other forms of trauma and oppression. Key strategies for helping schools address trauma, oppression and the impact of violence includes developing partnerships with local health centers and domestic violence programs in the community and changing the conditions and environments that create trauma. Trauma-informed schools help educators help all students succeed by providing needed supports, teaching life skills, and enhancing resiliency, offering healthy relationship education, validating their diverse racial and gender identities and ensuring that school environments are safe and free from discrimination and harassment.
Early Childhood Education
Early Head Start and Head Start are federal programs that provide children access to high-quality early care and education, generally at no cost. They provide nurturing and stimulating environments and education programs that are focused on school readiness, social and emotional skills, language and literacy, and health. Because parent engagement is a key component, Head Start services strengthen family well-being, increase the capacity of parents to act as advocates and leaders, often introduce fathers to specialized fatherhood programs, and connect families to medical, dental, and mental health services.
Domestic violence programs should partner with Early Head Start and Head Start, and ensure that they provide trauma-responsive training to care givers, staff, administrators, and teachers who can integrate universal strategies to help prevent family violence, promote economic justice and respond to the needs of families who have been impacted by violence.
Social Emotional Learning and Positive Behavioral Interventions in K-12
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) help children and youth build life skills and resiliency, and are effective at improving academic achievement and reducing behavior problems in schools. SEL benefits children and young people by helping them develop key life skills – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. School serves as the primary place where students can learn and practice these life skills. Social emotional learning should embed an equity framework, acknowledging that not all children are starting from the same place and have different life experiences based on their race, economic and immigration status and gender and sexual identities.
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) de-emphasize punishment and emphasize the adoption of school-wide systems that define, teach, and support positive student behaviors to create positive school environments. PBIS helps to build a healthy school climate and culture where all students feel safe and supported so that they can learn and sustain meaningful relationships with their peers and teachers. Safe and supportive school environments have been shown to positively impact academic, behavioral and mental health outcomes for students
These approaches also serve as alternatives to harsh and ineffective punishment-based approaches that rely on suspension and expulsion and the overuse of police in schools to manage minor behavioral issues. Over-policing and these punitive approaches disproportionately harm BIPOC youth and students with disabilities – and perpetuate the “school to prison pipeline,” while making schools less safe and students less academically successful.
Support Equity focused Social Emotional Learning and Positive Behavioral Interventions in schools and include training for administrators and educators to understand and address child trauma, including historical injustice and ensure equity across race and gender to alleviate rather than compound children’s trauma.
- Information about Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports
- Futures Without Violence, Rethinking Discipline
- Futures Without Violence, New Research Offers Hope for Children We’ve Written Off for Too Long
- 9 Key Resources on Trauma Informed Schools
- National Women’s Law Center, Dignity Denial – How Discriminatory School Discipline Leads to School Pushout
- Department of Education, Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Needs
Title IV-A – Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants
The Every Student Succeeds Act, federal legislation to fund and direct federal education programs, created a new program in 2015 called Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants. Known more commonly as Title IV-A, based on where it exists in the federal code, this program serves as a flexible block grant to state education agencies to address costs of providing programs and educational opportunities beyond the core curriculum. Specifically, states can spend the funds on three “buckets” of activities:
“Providing students with a well-rounded education (e.g., college and career counseling, STEM, music and arts, civics, IB/AP, computer science)
Supporting safe and healthy students (e.g., comprehensive school mental health, drug and violence prevention, training on trauma-informed practices, health and physical education), and
Supporting the effective use of technology (e.g., professional development, blended and personalized learning, and devices)” (https://www.titleiva.org/resources).
Utilizing funds from the “Safe and Healthy” bucket schools can implement PBIS and Equity focused SEL programming as well as other successful programs to prevent and address violence and help students experiencing trauma.
Target interventions to Middle School and High School & Support Young Men and Boys as Allies
Middle school matters — it’s a time of tremendous development and transition for young people. Middle schoolers are not only experiencing physical changes associated with puberty, but they also are experiencing social and emotional challenges tied to adolescent brain development. Advances in science show that the brain is changing and building millions of new connections that allow it to become faster, sharper and smarter during these years. Many adolescents also explore romantic relationships for the first time between the ages of 11 and 14, but healthy relationship conversations and education often do not begin until much later, if at all. This is a missed opportunity. This transition stage is critically important for preventing relationship violence and helping young people learn how to develop healthy relationships and understand how to successfully manage difficult emotions, like jealousy and anger, in constructive ways.
Young people this age are also receiving many mixed messages about gender and other social norms and expectations on how people are “supposed” to act because of their different identities. Helping young people, particularly those who identify as boys unlearn toxic masculinity and embrace the notion that they don’t have to use violence, bully LGTBQ people or use sexual aggression to “be a real man” and that sharing emotions is healthy and normal, can help reduce violence in later adolescence and adulthood and should be encouraged.
Schools and after school programs, including sports programs, should help young people learn about healthy relationships during middle and high school to prevent intimate partner, sexual assault, bullying and other types of violence throughout their lives. Creating safe spaces for LGBTQI+ youth is also critical. Additionally, requiring all students in middle and high school to receive sexual health education that is medically accurate, unbiased, inclusive of LGBTQI+ people, and appropriate for students of all races and genders is another important tool that helps young people develop positive and safe relationships. Further, advocates can support and promote national and local programs that work to prevent and stop teen dating violence and help young people develop and sustain healthy relationships. Finally, engage young men and boys as allies in the work of combating intimate partner violence. Programs like Coaching Boys Into Men, the only CDC-approved program for addressing violence and healthy relationships with boys and men, leverages the power of coaches on sports teams to create lasting change in attitudes and behaviors among male athletes in middle school, high school, and college.
- Futures Without Violence, Middle School Matters
- Futures Without Violence, The Developing Brain
- Teen Economic Abuse
- Creating safe spaces in schools for LGBTQI youth
- CDC Fast Facts: Preventing Teen Dating Violence
- CDC Preventing Teen Dating Violence
- CDC Dating Matters: Strategies to Promote Health Teen Relationships
- Coaching Boys Into Men
- A Call to Men
- Men Can Stop Rape
- Men Stopping Violence
Helping Schools Pay for Trauma and Behavioral Health Services for Students
In August of 2022, the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (CMCS) issued what’s known as an Informational Bulletin that reminded State Medicaid Agencies of the federal requirements for what’s called the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit. This benefit means that children who qualify for Medicaid can get many health services paid for by the federal government, yet many don’t get them, and it requires advocacy to ensure children receive what they’re entitled to. This Bulletin is a helpful tool for advocates because it also provides state Medicaid agencies, agencies administering the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), state behavioral health agencies, state developmental disability agencies, and other stakeholders with the relevant existing federal guidance and examples of the ways that Medicaid and CHIP funding as well as other government funding can be used in the provision of high-quality behavioral health services to children and youth.
A second memo issued at the same time also provided similar guidance to help schools know how they can use new “flexibilities” and funding to help provide those services and receive reimbursement for them. By doing this they can significantly increase the number of students who get mental and behavioral health services for addressing trauma and create a stable funding source for the school district.
For more information on these Information Bulletin’s, help understanding them, and working with schools to get coverage for students for needed health service, go to:
For additional information on new funding streams for youth and family mental and behavioral health please check in the future:
Preventing sexual violence and harassment in K-12 is imperative. Title IX is the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. Existing regulations make clear that stalking, domestic violence, and dating violence are considered examples of sexual harassment under Title IX. On June 23, 2022, the U.S. Department of Education submitted proposed changes to Title IX regulations for public comment. According to the Biden administration, the proposed changes to Title IX will restore crucial protections for students who are victims of sexual harassment, assault, and sex-based discrimination. The proposed changes also strengthen the rights of LGBTQI+ students by providing clarifying language against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Work with schools to proactively prevent and address sexual violence and harassment and gender-based discrimination in K-12 and ensure that your local school has a well-trained, accessible Title IX coordinator. K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities that receive federal funds, must legally take sexual violence and harassment and gender-based discrimination seriously, respond promptly and effectively to all forms of sexual violence and harassment and gender-based discrimination, and work to prevent sexual violence and harassment and gender-based discrimination.