Trauma-informed schools could make a positive difference to young people’s behaviour and to their mental wellbeing, attainment and future life chances, a new report says.

The Centre for Mental Health report says exposure to trauma is relatively common among young people; and, without appropriate support, these experiences can have severe and long-lasting effects.

It reviewed research into the impact of seclusion, restraint and exclusion from school on children’s mental health.

Restrictive interventions

And it found evidence these restrictive interventions can make problems worse and cause a cycle of trauma, challenging behaviour and psychological harm.

The report says trauma-informed schools seek to minimise the trauma-causing potential of the school environment by using less emotionally harmful alternatives to restrictive interventions.

It also says they teach young people about being and create a positive ethos by providing students with a direct experience of reliable attachment.

The report concludes that if schools are more trauma-informed, this could have wider benefits to all children and staff. It may help to prevent challenging behaviour by creating a safe environment where children are helped to manage their emotions and are taught about their mental health.

Trauma-informed approach

Jo Holmes, our Children, Young People and Families lead, said the report covered important issues relating to how young people’s mental health is handled within schools.

She added: “All too often schools tend to separate what they see as ‘behavioural’ or ‘mental health’ issues, viewing both as problematic but somehow not interlinked.

“This is often all too evident within the counselling room and can cause frustrations for practitioners (and families).

“A more trauma-informed understanding and approach is incredibly helpful to school staff and will certainly benefit students to receive more holistic support.

“Ideally, schools need more well-being or nurture support rooms as an alternative to using isolation rooms as a punishment.

Isolation can be worse environment

“Resourcing well-being facilities can be challenging, but so beneficial to students that might otherwise be isolated. This is because isolation can often be the worse environment for those struggling with their mental health or for those who have experienced past (or present) trauma.”

“As well as their work in the therapy room, counsellors are often involved in advising the schools the work in on providing mental health support. This can include how to set up therapeutic child-centred spaces, moving away from traditional behavioural strategies which can sometimes exacerbate volatile student and staff relationships.

“Having counselling embedded within a school can help reduce mental health stigma with staff and counsellors can act as onsite instigators to help create ethos change.”

Read the Centre for Mental Health report.