Trauma Aware & Responsive Education

Centre for Trauma Aware and Responsive Education

In 2004, the Australian Childhood Foundation pioneered a partnership with the SA Department for Education to deliver an Australian first workforce capacity building initiative called SMART (Strategies for Managing Abuse Related Trauma) which is still being implemented today. It was originally established as part of the state government’s child protection reform agenda – Keeping Them Safe. Specifically, it sought to provide specialist training for teachers and school welfare personnel to ensure they have the skills to support children who have experienced trauma arising from abuse and neglect, in addition to promoting and implementing school policies and programs that are committed to non-exclusionary practice for children and young people living in out of home care or at risk of disengaging from education.

Attesting to the quality and positive outcomes it achieved, Commissioner Ted Mullighan (2008) following his inquiry into children in state care made, as the number one recommendation in his final report, the need for the SMART Program to be an ongoing training program in SA and extended to other health and welfare professionals.

Since then, the Foundation has continued to evolve its approach to supporting schools and early childhood education programs. Rather than advocate for a specific model of trauma informed schools, we provide a tailored and flexible framework that integrates with the core principles and values of schools and education systems. We have found that this makes it easier for different learning environments to adapt the principles of trauma responsive education and translate them into their daily practices with students. It also builds on the pre-existing strengths and capacity of many of the professionals who work in these systems. Schools have found it effective to integrate the knowledge base with their established positive behaviour support models and specific pedagogical approaches.

Through adopting trauma-informed approaches that are sensitive and predictable in their implementation, schools can open up a space for traumatised children and young people to learn, stay engaged in education and experience opportunities to heal and grow.

The Centre for Trauma Aware and Responsive Education is a central hub for information, training and resources for teachers, early childhood learning professionals and educational leaders. It will draw on opportunities to engage in new areas of knowledge that are emerging from trans-disciplinary approaches to understanding the neuroscience of trauma and relationships. It is evolving all the time. We invite you to be part of it by  signing up to regular newsletters. There are some exciting initiatives planned.

Making SPACE For Learning - A culmination of our beliefs about effective trauma aware and responsive education

We have put together our extensive experience of working with schools and early childhood learning programs using trauma aware and responsive approaches into an easy to use no cost guide. It summarises the important elements of the neuroscience and translates a set of principles using case studies that are relevant for supporting students in one-to-one, whole of classroom and whole of school contexts.


Download here

Making Space for Learning Resources

We have developed a series of practice reflection tools that accompany the Making SPACE for Learning Approach. They represent discussion papers that schools and early childhood learning programs can use as reflective opportunities to consider how to best resource child focused and trauma responsive practice with students.

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National Guidelines for Trauma-Aware Education

ACF has collaborated with Queensland University of Technology to develop and promote a consolidated set of National Guidelines for Trauma-Aware Schooling The National Guidelines for Trauma-Aware Education have been developed in response to a rapidly growing (national and international) awareness regarding the impact of complex trauma on education and life outcomes for children and young people, and a keen desire by educators to do something to address this.

Trauma aware education is a systemic process to ensure all educators are aware of the premises underpinning this approach and are supported to engage in trauma-aware practice. It is a way of thinking, understanding, believing and acting so that the harm that complex trauma exerts on the functioning of students is minimised or alleviated, leading to improved (education and life) outcomes not only for these students, but also for their classmates and those adults working hard to deliver inclusive education programs.

Download Guidelines

Training and Capacity Building for Educational Professionals

ACF has provided training and capacity building for education and early years professionals for more than 20 years. It has a range of programs that start with learning the core knowledge and skills associated with trauma responsive practice in schools. As an RTO, ACF is also able to provide its Graduate Certificate in Developmental Trauma to support education and early childhood professionals upgrade their qualifications and be recognized for their additional skills.

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Trauma Responsive Educational Needs Assessments

We have developed a comprehensive approach to undertaking Educational Needs Assessments of children and young people who have experienced trauma and/or are at risk of disengaging from formal education.

These assessments are tailored to each school/learning context and allow teachers, school support workers and principles easily understand how to best configure learning environments so that they are positive experiences for hard to reach young people.

We deliver Behaviour Support Plans that are strengths based and trauma responsive. They are developed in collaboration with young people themselves. We also support the initial implementation of these plans with Care Teams that are established around unique individuals.

We can undertake these specialist assessments in person or using a telehealth model so that we can ensure young people do not miss out on accessing this important activity based on where they live.

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Action Research Projects

Over the past 10 years, we have worked in partnership with schools and early childhood services to seek to embed trauma responsive practice into sites in an individual and contextualized way.  One way we have done this is by working with schools in undertaking action research projects.

These projects are directed by each site and focus on a specific research question that is relevant to that site regarding their implementation of trauma responsive approaches.  Each site seeks to integrate this way of working with other processes, initiatives and requirements education environments.

We provide underpinning training as well as support to develop and implement the action research.  The outcomes of these projects are available for review.

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Reflective Practice for Schools and Related Services

A teacher spoke about reflective practice and said: ‘Reflective practice gives you a deeper understanding of why things happen. A few years ago our reflections amounted to reflecting on the day…. What made it successful? What might we do next? Now it’s much deeper and focused on what each of us did and didn’t do and how that contributed to outcomes for children. This can be really confronting.’

This process of reflecting on practice in education settings is increasingly seen as critical to responsive and best practice education experiences for children and young people.

It can be very helpful to utilise an external partner in the reflective practice to provide the best opportunities for review, growth and change across the whole site or learning centre.

ACF continue to provide opportunities for reflective practice spaces to build real and meaningful change within an individual school community.

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Workforce Development

Fundamental to the implementation of trauma responsive and trauma integrative education practices is a consistent and well developed baseline knowledge level for all staff, and broader education communities.  We would call this workforce development and the Foundation have spent the past 15 years developing the knowledge and capacity of education workforces across the country.

Each school or learning environment is its own community and each site is supported to integrate the knowledge of trauma and its impacts into the practices, policies and processes implemented across that whole community.  The focus is on embedding this knowledge base into practice that goes beyond the individual professional and moves into a fully integrated way of working that is demonstrated in multiple ways across the site and its community.

We are always very happy to discuss partnering with individual schools, districts, regions and whole departments to build this consistent knowledge base and practice application.

Learn more about Workforce Development

Partnering to improve outcomes in early childhood learning contexts

Our Early Childhood Team has established partnerships with a range of providers of early learning services to enact trauma responsive and relational approaches. For example, since 2012, ACF has developed and run workforce training for the early year sector in Victoria and NSW about the impact of Toxic Stress and Developmental Trauma for children in early years context. – program for early years staff.  After receiving funding from the Warrawong Grant to deliver one half day professional development session on developmental trauma to 64 early childhood professionals in Melbourne, its popularity led to the Foundation for Early Childhood Graduates supporting the delivery of a further 18 half day workshops across Victoria to around 750 early childhood professionals to assist this workforce to better understand the impacts of trauma that result from experiences of abuse, neglect and family violence.

Since then the Victorian and NSW Governments have funded extensive training for early years workforce.

This program has also continued over the past three years under the School Readiness Funding program and is available to be accessed by individual services across all Victorian regions.

Ask us about partnering

Trauma Responsive Practice in Education - Online Training

Trauma Responsive Practice in Education brings together our experience over the past 20 years in training and supporting teachers, other school personnel and early years professionals to engage in trauma responsive practice with vulnerable children and young people in a range of settings. The training is self-paced and includes knowledge checks to support your learning.

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Join Our Childhood Professional Community

Register your details here and we will send you regular e-newsletters and free resources about working with children, young people, families and their networks. It is the easiest way to not miss out on news, training, tools, blogs and research from the Foundation.

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A blog by professionals for professionals working with children and young people

Prosody Blog

Prosody is the pitch and tone of the human voice. It is the very essence of connection.
Our blog – Prosody – hosts an ongoing forum for the exchange of ideas about protecting children and young people from abuse and exploitation, advocating for their rights, resourcing the adults who are important to them and applying the neuroscience of trauma and healing. It is filled with articles reflecting on research and practice knowledge written by professionals who share in a commitment to the well-being and safety of children and young people. We hope you join the conversation too!

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