Transforming Trauma in Schools

This article was authored by Lauren Thomas, Online Professional Community Manager at the Australian Childhood Foundation.

Children and young people around Australia are struggling to participate in school life because their brains are shutting down due to toxic stress. When exposed to levels of high stress like trauma and abuse, children and young people can struggle to follow simple instructions even – resulting in them often being perceived as naughty kids. Our work with education departments over the last decade has consistently shown us the value of knowledge for staff. When they are empowered with understanding about the effects of trauma on the developing brain, they are able to understand the meaning behind the behaviours they see and in turn respond in a more empathetic and supportive manner.

On Wednesday, our CEO Joe Tucci was on ABC radio discussing the Transforming Trauma project we have been involved in in Tasmania. The three year project worked with schools around the state, training psychologists and social workers, as well as other key staff in phase one. It then supported those schools as they embarked on action research – testing whether the application of this knowledge would produce change for young people and their school communities.

As highlighted in the interview, training education staff to better understand the impact of trauma on the developing brain has had positive impacts for children around the state, and has in turn increased teacher awareness of their own exposure to trauma as well as their ability to manage the resulting stress levels. “Trauma impacts those who work with it, and this type of vicarious trauma has really high rates of incidence in Education circles” said Education Program Manager Beth Guy. “We work with staff that are spending up to eight hours a day with troubled kids – often more than their own parents – and who have historically had minimal supports to enable them to process the toll of that care giving role”.

Deb McKenzie, who co-ordinated the project on behalf of the Australian Childhood Foundation said “The enormous enthusiasm and commitment of staff to this project was a testament to the quality of teachers in Tasmania which bodes well for the future. However, all professionals need continued development and support.”

If you are working in education and are looking for a free resource to boost your knowledge around the impacts of trauma, you might like to check out the following free resources:

Alternatively, if you’re looking for training for your staff group, or individuals email training@childhood.org.au and we’ll be happy help.