Healing Centered Schools: Addressing Collective Trauma with Children and Youth in School

Healing Centered Schools: Addressing Collective Trauma with Children and Youth in School

In the Fall, many students will be returning to school after a two-year period, during which they were socially isolated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there are signs of hope for the future, the COVID-19 pandemic continues with much talk about the delta variant driving spikes in new infections and increased vaccination rates amid ongoing controversies about vaccine and mask mandates.  All of this has occurred as our society experienced a racial reckoning driven by the murder of George Floyd and fears about the rise of white supremacy surrounding the January 6
th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.  All of these experiences represent a collective trauma and the question is not whether children and youth have been impacted by these events, but rather to what degree.

What We Know about Children’s Mental Health and COVID-19:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported elevated mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress and suicidality resulting from direct exposure to COVID-19 and to the efforts at controlling the spread of the disease through social distancing stay-at-home orders.  You can access the CDC report 
here.  Although the CDC data focuses on adults, we know that adult mental health impacts children’s mental health.  In addition, survey data and anecdotal accounts from hospitals indicate similar spikes in mental health problems among children and youth.  A Gallup poll of parents indicated that about a third of them report that children have already been experiencing mental health challenges as a result of social distancing.   Click
here for a link to a news story on the topic.   Moreover, we also know that many children and youth will have experienced exposure to intense Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), such as domestic violence, child abuse and neglect during the course of the pandemic. The increased mental healthcare needs resulting from exposure to collective trauma and adversity are occurring within a children’s mental health system that has been unable to meet the demand for children’s mental health services long before the pandemic.  All of these factors suggest a looming public mental health crisis among children and youth and schools may be ground zero for the crisis. 

What is Needed to Promote Resilience and Mental Health:

Schools can play a major role in promoting collective healing from COVID-19.  It will take preparation and a comprehensive approach that supports students, families and staff to move towards recovery from what has been and will continue to be the largest mass disaster event of our lifetime.  The Community Technical Assistance Center of New York (CTAC) has developed a series titled,
Healing-Centered Schools:  Integrating Trauma Informed and Resilience Building Approaches as Students Return to School.  The series is designed to provide all school personnel and school-based mental health practitioners, in particular, with information, tools and strategies to implement a trauma-informed and resilience building mental health response to address the needs of all students.  The series includes:  information on collective trauma and the impact of trauma; a description of 3-tiered model of intervention to address the needs of students regardless of the level of exposure to COVID-19 related stress, and; some specific strategies and tools for promoting safety, self-regulation, and connections among students.  The series also includes links to other resources to promote trauma sensitive schools.  The series can be found on the resources page of this NYS Trauma-Informed Network website or accessed by clicking
here. We hope that it will be helpful in preparing for the return of children to school.  Please visit the CTAC website at
www.ctacny.org for additional mental health resources or contact us at
ctac.info@nyu.edu if you have any questions. 


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