Trauma-informed schools

Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
  • This strategy can help address educational disparities, promote healthy childhood environments, and prevent violence. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve these outcomes are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program overview

  • School-wide reform to support students who have experienced trauma: Trauma-informed schools examine and adjust instructional methods, disciplinary policy, and student-staff interactions to create a learning environment that is safer and more supportive for students who have experienced trauma. There is some evidence that trauma-informed practices increase staff understanding of trauma and the use of trauma-informed best practices, and there is preliminary evidence that such practices improve student outcomes.

  • Implemented by schools with guidance from districts and states: Individual schools are typically responsible for the on-the-ground implementation of trauma-informed practices, with states and school districts playing a role in guiding this implementation. School building leaders are responsible for organizing training, revising policy, and selecting or adapting curricula that incorporate trauma-informed approaches. States and districts can create systematic frameworks for trauma-informed practices, establish grant programs for schools that utilize trauma-informed practices, or provide resources and training.

  • Training staff on trauma-informed practices: Staff training is key to the trauma-informed schools approach. Staff learn how to support children who have experienced trauma in a variety of ways, including building non-academic relationships with students, being attuned to students’ verbal and nonverbal cues, providing instruction in a variety of methods, providing frequent opportunities for students to demonstrate success, and avoiding triggering trauma responses whenever possible (e.g., by giving warnings before any disruptions to the classroom environment, such as turning off the lights or skipping a regularly scheduled activity).

  • Incorporating social-emotional learning: Social-emotional learning (SEL) refers to the process by which young people acquire the knowledge and skills to manage their emotions, achieve personal goals, feel empathy for others, build supportive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Teachers in trauma-informed schools integrate SEL into their lessons to help students build their competence in stress and conflict management, problem solving, decision making, expression of emotions, and emotional and physiological regulation.

  • Making revisions to disciplinary policy: When students behave in a disruptive, inappropriate, or aggressive way, trauma-informed disciplinary strategies focus on understanding and teaching rather than punishment. For example, schools may choose to implement restorative justice practices and move away from suspension and expulsion or “Zero Tolerance” and “Three Strike” policies.

  • Providing support services for students who suffer from trauma: Students with the most serious trauma exposure may need more intensive interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Once these students are identified, they can be matched with school counselors or social workers, who can provide more comprehensive and individualized support.

Target Population
All school-aged children
Cost per Participant
Not available

Evidence and impacts


Ranked as having the second-highest level of evidence by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps

Multiple studies with rigorous designs provide some evidence for trauma-informed schools as a strategy to improve staff understanding of trauma and increase the use of trauma-informed practices. There is preliminary evidence that trauma-informed schools may also positively impact student outcomes.

  • A 2018 research synthesis found that the trauma-informed model improves school staff’s understanding of trauma and increases the use of trauma-informed practices.

  • A 2016 pre-post evaluation found that trauma-informed practices improve student attendance.

  • A 2016 pre-post evaluation found that trauma-informed practices increase student resilient recovery.

Best practices in implementation

  • Conduct and follow through on screening: Identifying children who need additional trauma-informed support requires awareness from school staff and formalized screening processes. Staff should formally evaluate students who continue to struggle despite more general interventions, and then provide supplemental support as needed, including by collaborating with IEP and 504 teams and referring students for assessments with other mental health providers.

  • Train staff at all levels: Although classroom teachers are most immediately responsible for implementing trauma-informed approaches, it is important for all school staff to be trained on how to recognize and understand trauma and the best practices for supporting students who have experienced trauma. School support staff (e.g., aides for students with disabilities, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, coaches) may be able to identify signs of trauma in a student and refer them for further support services. Administrators have the ability to initiate and approve policy and curriculum shifts, which may be needed to better incorporate trauma-informed methods.

  • Build community partnerships: Trauma-informed schools should identify service providers in the local community with strong backgrounds working with children impacted by trauma. These practitioners can lead training sessions for school staff or provide services for referred students who need additional support. Schools should build connections to the child welfare and juvenile justice systems to ensure that they are aware of students who may need additional support.

  • Engage with parents: Trauma-informed approaches are strengthened by incorporating parents into the support process. School staff should build trusting relationships with parents; once a parent trusts school staff, they can share valuable context on their child’s personality and past experiences. In addition, schools should establish processes and communication channels to share updates with parents on a regular basis (e.g., scheduling meetings and events at times and locations that are easy for families to attend). It may be helpful for trauma-informed schools to designate a specific staff member to serve as a liaison to students’ families.