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Trauma-Sensitive Schools

What Is Trauma?

Trauma is not an event but a response to a stressful experience that can leave a person feeling hopeless, helpless, and fearful for their life, survival, and safety.


Common Traumatic Experiences

A traumatic experience is one that evokes feelings of extreme fear and helplessness. It is important to note that everyone has different reactions to traumatic events, and not everyone who experiences traumatic events will be traumatized. Some examples of experiences that may be traumatic include but are not limited to the following: 

  • Abuse (physical, sexual, or emotional)
  • Neglect
  • School-related violence
  • Bullying
  • Gang violence and threat
  • House fire
  • Medical trauma
  • Sudden loss/death of a relative or close friend
  • Domestic violence
  • Community violence
  • Incarceration (parent, self)
  • Natural disaster (tornado, hurricane)
  • Substance abuse of a caregiver
  • Removal from primary caregiver (e.g., foster care or treatment facility placement)


Signs and Symptoms

Not all children who experience a trauma will experience these symptoms. These symptoms also do not necessarily mean that a child has experienced trauma. Trauma responses can be complex, and many children have a natural resilience that helps them overcome these kinds of experiences. A student who has experienced trauma may display any of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
  • Changes in appetite
  • School avoidance
  • Anger
  • Withdrawal from friends or usual activities
  • Nervousness or jumpiness
  • Complaining of stomach pains or headaches
  • Low self-esteem
  • Hyperactivity
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Self-injurious behavior such as cutting or hurting oneself

If you have concerns that your child is suffering from any of these signs or symptoms, 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. 


How Can I Support My Child?

If your child may have had a traumatic experience or is experiencing any of the above signs and symptoms, the following strategies may be supportive to them:

  • Be patient — it takes time to heal.
  • Maintain a regular home schedule and school routine.
  • Listen to your child — allow them to express their thoughts and feelings.
  • Seek a qualified mental health professional if symptoms last for several weeks. Your school's support staff may be a good resource to help you do this.
  • Self-care is important — it is difficult to support others, so take care of yourself too!

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Trauma-Sensitive Schools in MPS

In MPS, we strive to create trauma-sensitive school environments. Schools that are trauma-sensitive

  • realize the prevalence of trauma in students' lives,
  • recognize the impact of trauma on academic and behavioral functioning,
  • respond by providing universal and multi-tiered supports that are sensitive to each student's unique needs, and
  • resist retraumatization through the implementation of trauma-sensitive policies, procedures, and practices.

Violence Prevention Office

6620 W. Capitol Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53216


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