CLEAR CA: Trauma-Informed School Improvement

Investigator: Joyce S. Dorado, PhD
Sponsor: Washington State University

Location(s): United States


Because trauma-informed practice in schools is new, we don’t know much yet about what works. The need to develop a coherent framework to support high impact practice is increasingly part of the national discussion on trauma-informed schools. However, at the moment, emerging trauma-informed school practices are scattered along a continuum from locally defined actions to more formal programs. While there are good resources available for aspects of this work, one barrier to this developing field of work is that key literatures that could help inform strong trauma-informed practices are not often organized in a systematic discussion of trauma-informed school practices. This paper is intended to introduce some key bodies of research that inform the CLEAR model, could be helpful to others, and are not routinely included in many discussions of trauma-informed practice in schools. Specifically: 

How distinguishing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) from cumulative risk models helps clarify what is shared across people and settings and what needs to be addressed as the consequences of ACEs which add to cumulative risk.  How the concept of complex trauma extends the ACEs framework with evidence-based intervention methods for recovery.
Why adopting a trauma-informed schools approach requires a movement away from an overreliance on a mental illness model to describe challenges from trauma due to ACEs.
Why social emotional learning practices and intentional efforts to increase resilience in children are both integral to trauma-informed school practices.
Why staff development in the ‘deeper practice’ of trauma-informed work is the foundation for change.
Why implementation science and an understanding of change in complex systems offers practical program design goals to improve the potential for sustainable trauma-informed school practice.