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How Trauma-Informed Education Needs to Change

BOULDER, CO (November 15, 2022) – Talking about education in the United States without talking about trauma has become increasingly difficult. Today’s youth suffer through challenges on multiple fronts, going far beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and its related social and educational fallout. Children experience trauma because of social conditions such as poverty, homelessness, family separation related to immigration, and increasingly frequent school shootings and community violence.

Schools, unsurprisingly, have been asked to heal these traumatic wounds. But the approaches currently used may be missing key elements.

NEPC today released a policy brief, Improving Trauma-Informed Education: Responding to Student Adversity With Equity-Centered, Systemic Support, in which author Stacy Gherardi of New Mexico State University explores the promise and the challenges of trauma-informed education.

Many schools have responded to students’ trauma-related needs, offering counseling and emotional supports as well as educational practices that increase individual students’ awareness of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma on their lives. In doing so, however, they tend to simply accept the social causes—the structural dimensions of trauma as it occurs both inside and outside of schools.

As a result, educators are expected to respond to trauma, but their training never prepares them to understand or engage with those causes. Their resulting decontextualized understanding of trauma can lead educators to implement deficit-oriented responses arising from their never acknowledging the role of schools and social policy in perpetuating the trauma—or the reasonable responses to the trauma by the children and youth. In addition, trauma-informed practices are often treated as an intervention for affected students, isolated from other efforts to improve the school environment or provide holistic student support.

In the brief, Dr. Gherardi suggests that trauma-informed education may be best designed as a systemwide commitment, rather than an intervention, and that the concept of equity-centered trauma-informed education may offer a productive path to addressing the conceptual and implementation challenges critics have noted. Specifically, equity-centered trauma-informed education is rooted in social justice concerns, highlighting the systemic roots of trauma as well as the need for equitable, systemic solutions.

To support effective integration of such an approach and address identified weaknesses of trauma-informed education to date, the brief offers specific recommendations for district and school leaders. And, in the interest of not only responding to trauma but of working to prevent it, also included are recommendations for state and local policymakers to promote broader social and education policy changes through specific funding strategies.

Find Improving Trauma-Informed Education: Responding to Student Adversity With Equity-Centered, Systemic Support, by Stacy Gherardi, at:

This policy brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces high-quality information in support of democratic deliberation about education policy. We publish original research, policy briefs, and expert third-party reviews of think tank reports. NEPC publications are written in accessible language and are intended for a broad audience that includes academic experts, policymakers, the media, and the general public. Visit us at: