COVID-19 further highlights the importance of trauma-informed education and care
When we think about COVID-19, the word ‘trauma’ might not be the first thing that springs to mind, but this pandemic is challenging us in ways we never could have imagined. We often consider the impact on the global economy and international relations, but children’s mental health should be at the forefront of our minds.
What is trauma?
Trauma can be difficult for us to conceptualise. Often, when we think of traumatic events, we picture a car accident or a natural disaster, but it can be much more subtle. A potentially traumatising event is something that overwhelms our capacity to cope, and it can be either a single event or ongoing in nature (like a pandemic).
Research demonstrates that exposure to trauma during the early years can have significant impact on the child’s developmental trajectory, causing neurobiological changes and subsequent impacts on brain function, social and academic difficulties and increasing the likelihood of challenging behaviours.
Trauma in early learning settings
Early learning settings provide children with an opportunity to develop both academic and social skills, whilst inspiring a lifelong love of learning. They also offer a powerful intervention opportunity as educators are some of the most consistent adults in children’s lives. However, for children who have experienced trauma, ECEC settings can be the source of further harm if educators do not have access to formal education on the impact of trauma.
It is important to acknowledge that educators are often doing the best they can with the knowledge and skills they have. Educators within the early learning sector are expected to support children from diverse backgrounds, including those who have experienced complex trauma, in some cases, with limited formal education on the topic. Given that traumatised children are underrepresented in educational research, as compared to other demographics, there is limited access to professional development on trauma-informed practice.
As such, ‘traditional’ behaviour guidance strategies often do not reflect trauma-informed practice and can potentially be harmful, such as the use of rewards and punishments. Given that early learning environments are one of the first social contexts children experience, it is necessary for them to be inclusive and responsive to their needs.
Due to the disproportionate number of children exposed to trauma over the past few years, due to Covid-19, it is imperative that educators be supported to develop the knowledge and skills to support traumatised children appropriately.
Trauma informed education
‘Trauma-informed education’ has become a bit of a buzz word in recent years. It’s great that it’s becoming increasingly recognised in the sector, but what exactly is it?
In an educational context, trauma-informed practice essentially provides frameworks and methods for educators to conceptualise children’s lives and the impact adverse experiences may have on their behaviour within the early learning setting. Using a trauma-informed approach to learning, educators are supported to view behaviour as communication and respond accordingly.
Trauma-informed education settings recognise the benefit of supporting children to feel physically and emotionally safe by prioritising connection over correction; ensuring routines and transitions and predictable and consistent, as well as providing prior warning for upcoming changes and events.
Trauma-informed practice also recommends incorporating regulatory activity in regular programming, to support children to remain regulated, as well as providing access to a calm corner which incorporates appropriate sensory stimulation.
The opportunity presented by COVID-19
Due to the effects of COVID-19, there is significant opportunity for trauma-informed practice to be included in formal education programs as this perspective shift will enable educators to understand the importance of providing trauma-informed education and care.
Ensuring that all educators have access to professional development on trauma-informed practice could ensure that all children are appropriately supported within the early learning setting to grow and thrive.
For more information on trauma-informed education and care, please see:
Kerra-Lee Wescombe is the Director of Connect.Ed, a service which provides training, mentoring and consultation on trauma-informed education and care. To learn more about Connect.Ed please visit their website, here.
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