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Trauma-Sensitive Schools

Childhood Trauma

Traumatic experiences can have a detrimental impact on a child's life, including his or her functioning in school. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has reported several statistics on the impact of childhood traumatic experiences. In February 2011, SAMHSA reported that children who have experienced five or more traumatic experiences before the age of three were 76% more likely to have cognitive, language, or emotional delays. SAMHSA also reported in April 2011 that the more childhood traumatic experiences one has, the more likely he or she will have a multitude of health problems, including depression, anger difficulties, alcoholism, heavy drug use, and heart or liver disease. It's important for families to be aware of the warning signs of traumatization in their children so that they can intervene early before the experience(s) have a long-lasting effect.

Some examples of traumatic experiences common in childhood include the following:

  • House fire
  • Being bullied at school
  • Witnessing gun violence in one's neighborhood
  • Witnessing domestic abuse of a caregiver
  • Sudden loss of a parent or close relative
  • Incarceration of a parent or close relative
  • Substance abuse of a caregiver
  • Out-of-home placement (e.g., foster care)
  • Physical and/or sexual abuse

Children who suffer from traumatization often display the following symptoms:

  • School avoidance: not wanting to go to school, so they are often late or pretend they are sick to have an excuse to stay home
  • Somatic complaints: complaining of stomach pains or headaches
  • Low self-esteem: often reporting that they can't do anything well or that they aren't good at things
  • Extreme anger: difficulty controlling anger, so small things appear to trigger extreme responses of anger
  • Hyperactivity/hyperarousal: difficulty sitting still and appearing always to be looking over one's shoulder as though worried something bad will happen
  • Change in eating habits: loss of appetite or overeating in order to control or mask emotions
  • Drug or alcohol use: using drugs or alcohol to dull one's pain
  • Self-injurious behavior: cutting or hurting oneself in other ways in order to control emotions

It's important to note that not all children who experience a trauma will suffer these symptoms. Trauma responses can be complex, and many children have a natural resilience that helps them overcome these kinds of experiences. If you have concerns that your child is suffering from a trauma, please contact your school's support staff (school psychologist, school social worker, or school counselor) for resources in our community and to discuss a plan for supporting your child's mental health needs in school. Families interested in more information or support can consult the links below.

Local Supports
Information Resources

Violence Prevention Office

6620 W. Capitol Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53216

Email: ViolencePrevention@milwaukee.k12.wi.us

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