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Adverse Childhood Experiences and Trauma-Informed Schools


The National Education Association (NEA) is committed to ensuring that school is a safe, welcoming and inclusive place where all students can thrive, regardless of circumstance or ZIP code, and where educators have the support and resources they need to be successful. We believe supporting students who suffer from childhood trauma requires whole school involvement and transformation. All school employs play a crucial role in supporting students impacted by childhood trauma. In keeping with this vision, the Association and its affiliates are actively engaged in finding ways for schools and educators to address the issue of trauma and its implications for learning, behavior, and school safety.


From school shootings that shock the nation with grim regularity to the daily toll of violence, poverty, abuse and addiction in our communities that rarely makes headlines, America’s students and their families often experience traumatic events that can shape their lives forever.

Decades of research and studies have established that children who experience adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) not only are more likely to exhibit negative behaviors at school, but are more likely to develop risky behaviors and face a host of negative health consequences over their lifetimes, including reduced life expectancy. Data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) showed that 46 percent of America’s children had experienced at least one adverse childhood experience with the number rising to 55 percent for children aged 12 to 17. One in five U.S. children had two or more ACEs.

Given the pervasiveness of ACEs across the population, most educators encounter trauma-affected students throughout their careers, whether they know it or not. Often these students exhibit a sudden change in behavior, from social withdrawal to violent outbursts or self-harm. When an educator frequently interrupts instruction to address disruptive behavior, teaching and learning for the entire class can suffer.

These outbursts and the punishments that often follow affect the psychological well-being and safety of both educators and students and, left unexamined, contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline that NEA is committed to eradicating.


Unions and districts in many places across the country are working together to address the epidemic of trauma in schools with the needs of students and educators in mind. They are collaborating to transform schools into "trauma-informed" or "trauma-sensitive" environments, taking deliberate steps to become safe havens for every student and safe working environments for every educator.

ACEs awareness and engagement on a national level is imperative to ensure students are healthy, safe, engaged and supported so that they are ready to learn. Trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed environments allow educators the opportunity to collaborate in a way that supports a student’s mental and physical health so that learning can occur. School communities that engage in paid professional development, practice and support for all school employees create a culture that builds resilience for all students. Trauma-sensitive focus on education fosters a school climate where students feel safe and confident in their ability to learn, can differentiate between trauma induced behavior and appropriate behavior, and connect with adults and peers in a positive manner.

NEA believes that supporting students needs around the issues of trauma will enable them to come to school ready to learn and to meet academic challenges that reinforce the development of life skills, mental stimulation and student learning. When schools become trauma sensitive, they are in essence making a decision to ensure that all students are receiving the supports they need to succeed.

ACEs and Trauma-Informed Schools 






NEA afilliates are cordially invited to join NEA in its initiative to engage educators and communities across the nation around the importance of being trauma informed. NEA, in partnership with the Illinois Education Association, is proud to offer NEA affiliates personalizable screening toolkits and planning guides for trauma-informed documentaries Paper Tigers and Resilience, The Movie.

Toolkits and planning guides include facilitator guides, moderator guides, slide decks, panel discussion guides, generic publicity fliers and sample press release and legislator invites.

Click here to request your toolkit and planning guides today!


Watch the trailers:

Paper Tigers (2 min.)

Resilience, The Movie (2 min.)