Trauma-Sensitive Schools and Social Justice: A Critical Analysis

  • 51 Accesses


The creation of trauma-sensitive schools has become an increasingly central focus of school reform and urban school reform in particular. While these initiatives have been framed as social justice imperatives, this framing warrants critique. This critical analysis surveys the history, models, and documented outcomes of trauma-sensitive approaches in K-12 education. Special attention is given to gaps in existing frameworks which lead to a decontextualized understanding of disproportionality, an apolitical conception of schools, and a deficit orientation toward families and communities. The authors advocate for the integration of social justice education into frameworks for trauma-sensitive schools as an initial step toward addressing these issues.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.


  1. Aber, L., Brown, J. L., Jones, S. M., Berg, J., & Torrente, C. (2011). School-based strategies to prevent violence, trauma, and psychopathology: The challenges of going to scale. Development and Psychopathology,23, 411–421.

  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

  3. Andersen, J. P., & Blosnich, J. (2013). Disparities in adverse childhood experiences among sexual minority and heterosexual adults: Results from a multi-state probability-based sample. PLoS ONE,8(1), e54691.

  4. Anyon, J. (1980). Social class and the hidden curriculum of work. Journal of Education,162(1), 67–92.

  5. Anyon, J. (1997). Ghetto schooling: A political economy of urban educational reform. New York: Teachers College Press.

  6. Anyon, J. (2014). Radical possibilities: Public policy, urban education, and a new social movement. New York: Routledge.

  7. Ayers, W., Quinn, T. M., & Stovall, D. (Eds.). (2009). Handbook of social justice in education. New York: Routledge.

  8. Baglivio, M. T., Wolff, K. T., Piquero, A. R., & Epps, N. (2015). The relationship between adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and juvenile offending trajectories in a juvenile offender sample. Journal of Criminal Justice,43(3), 229–241.

  9. Becker-Blease, K. A. (2017). As the world becomes trauma-informed, work to do. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation,18(2), 131–138.

  10. Bell, L. A. (2016). Theoretical foundations for social justice education. In M. Adams & L. A. Bell (Eds.), Teaching for diversity and social justice (pp. 21–44). New York: Routledge.

  11. Bisonette, T., & Shebby, S. (2017). Trauma-informed school practices: The value of culture and community in efforts to reduce the effects of generational trauma. CYF News. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

  12. Blitz, L. V., Anderson, E. M., & Saastamoinen, M. (2016a). Assessing perceptions of culture and trauma in an elementary school: Informing a model for culturally responsive trauma-informed schools. The Urban Review,48(4), 520–542.

  13. Blitz, L. V., Yull, D., & Clauhs, M. (2016b). Bringing sanctuary to school: Assessing school climate as a foundation for culturally responsive trauma-informed approaches for urban schools. Urban Education.

  14. Bloom, S. L., & Farragher, B. (2013). Restoring sanctuary: A new operating system for trauma-informed systems of care. New York: Oxford University Press.

  15. Bloom, S. L., & Sreedhar, S. Y. (2008). The sanctuary model of trauma-informed organizational change. Reclaiming Children and Youth,17(3), 48–53.

  16. Bombay, A., Matheson, K., & Anisman, H. (2014). The intergenerational effects of Indian Residential Schools: Implications for the concept of historical trauma. Transcultural Psychiatry,51(3), 320–338.

  17. Booshehri, L. G., Dugan, J., Patel, F., Bloom, S., & Chilton, M. (2018). Trauma-informed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): A randomized controlled trial with a two-generation impact. Journal of Child and Family Studies,27(5), 1594–1604.

  18. Brave Heart, M. Y. H. (1998). The return to the sacred path: Healing the historical trauma and historical unresolved grief response among the Lakota through a psychoeducational group intervention. Smith College Studies in Social Work,68(3), 287–305.

  19. Brave Heart, M. Y. H., Chase, J., Elkins, J., & Altschul, D. B. (2011). Historical trauma among indigenous peoples of the Americas: Concepts, research, and clinical considerations. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs,43(4), 282–290.

  20. Brown, T. N. (2008). Race, racism, and mental health: Elaboration of critical race theory’s contribution to the sociology of mental health. Contemporary Justice Review,11(1), 53–62.

  21. Brown, S. M., Baker, C. N., & Wilcox, P. (2012). Risking connection trauma training: A pathway toward trauma-informed care in child congregate care settings. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy,4(5), 507.

  22. Bryant-Davis, T. (2007). Healing requires recognition: The case for race-based traumatic stress. The Counseling Psychologist,35(1), 135–143.

  23. Bucci, M., Marques, S. S., Oh, D., & Burke Harris, N. (2016). Toxic stress in children and adolescents. Advances in Pediatrics,63, 403–428.

  24. Campbell, J. A., Walker, R. J., & Egede, L. E. (2016). Associations between adverse childhood experiences, high-risk behaviors, and morbidity in adulthood. American Journal of Preventive Medicine,50(3), 344–352.

  25. Case, M., & Davidson, K. (2018). Building trust, elevating voices, and sharing power in family partnership. Phi Delta Kappan,99(6), 49–53.

  26. Center on the Developing Child: Harvard University. (n.d.). Toxic stress. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

  27. Chafouleas, S. M., Johnson, A. H., Overstreet, S., & Santos, N. M. (2016). Toward a blueprint for trauma-informed service delivery in schools. School Mental Health,8(1), 144–162.

  28. Cole, S., Eisner, A., Gregory, M., & Ristuccia, J. (2013). Creating and advocating for trauma-sensitive schools. Boston, MA: Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Harvard Law School, Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

  29. Cole, S. F., O’Brien, J. G., Gadd, M. G., Ristruccia, J., Wallace, D. L., & Gregory, M. (2005). Helping traumatized children learn: Supportive school environments for children traumatized by family violence. Boston, MA: Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Harvard Law School, Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

  30. Craig, S. E. (2016). Trauma-sensitive schools: Learning communities transforming children’s lives, K 5. New York: Teachers College Press.

  31. Craig, S. E. (2017). Trauma-sensitive schools for the adolescent years: Promoting resiliency and healing, grades 6–12. New York: Teachers College Press.

  32. Cronholm, P. F., Forke, C. M., Wade, R., Bair-Merritt, M. H., Davis, M., Harkins-Schwarz, M., et al. (2015). Adverse childhood experiences: Expanding the concept of adversity. American Journal of Preventive Medicine,49(3), 354–361.

  33. Crosby, S. D., Howell, P., & Thomas, S. (2018). Social justice education through trauma-informed teaching. Middle School Journal,49(4), 15–23.

  34. Currie, J., & Widom, C. S. (2010). Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect on adult economic well-being. Child Maltreatment,15(2), 111–120.

  35. DeCastro-Ambrosetti, D., & Cho, G. (2005). Do parents value education? Teachers’ perceptions of minority parents. Multicultural Education,13(2), 44–46.

  36. Dorado, J. S., Martinez, M., McArthur, L. E., & Liebovitz, T. (2016). Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools (HEARTS): A school-based, multi-level comprehensive prevention and intervention program for creating trauma-informed, safe and supportive schools. School Mental Health.

  37. Epstein, J. (2018). School, family, and community partnerships, student economy edition: Preparing educators and improving schools. New York: Routledge.

  38. Every Student Succeeds Act. (2015). 114th Congress of the United States of America. § S. 1177.

  39. Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., et al. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine,14(4), 245–258.

  40. Finkelhor, D. (2005). The main problem is underreporting child abuse and neglect. In D. R. Loseke, R. J. Gelles, & M. M. Cavanaugh (Eds.), Current controversies on family violence (pp. 299–310). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

  41. Finkelhor, D., Turner, H. A., Shattuck, A., & Hamby, S. L. (2013). Violence, crime, and abuse exposure in a national sample of children and youth: An update. JAMA Pediatrics,167(7), 614.

  42. Finkelhor, D., Turner, H. A., Shattuck, A., & Hamby, S. L. (2015). Prevalence of childhood exposure to violence, crime, and abuse: Results from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence. JAMA Pediatrics,169(8), 746–754.

  43. Freire, P. (1973). Education for critical consciousness (Vol. 1). New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

  44. Gómez, J. M., Lewis, J. K., Noll, L. K., Smidt, A. M., & Birrell, P. J. (2016). Shifting the focus: Nonpathologizing approaches to healing from betrayal trauma through an emphasis on relational care. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation,17(2), 165–185.

  45. Goodwin-Glick, K. L. (2017). Impact of trauma-informed care professional development on school personnel perceptions of knowledge, dispositions, and behaviors toward traumatized students (Doctoral dissertation, Bowling Green State University). Retrieved January 13, 2020, from!etd.send_file?accession=bgsu1487245316067513&disposition=inline.

  46. Green, J. G., McLaughlin, K. A., Berglund, P. A., Gruber, M. J., Sampson, N. A., Zaslavsky, A. M., et al. (2010). Childhood adversities and adult psychiatric disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication I: Associations with first onset of DSM-IV disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry,67(2), 113–123.

  47. Green, B. L., Saunders, P. A., Power, E., Dass-Brailsford, P., Schelbert, K. B., Giller, E., et al. (2015). Trauma-informed medical care: A CME communication training for primary care providers. Family Medicine,47, 7.

  48. Gross, J. M. S., Haines, S. J., Hill, C., Francis, G. L., Blue-Banning, M., & Turnbull, A. P. (2015). Strong school-community partnerships in inclusive schools are “Part of the fabric of the school… we count on them”. School Community Journal,25(2), 9–34.

  49. Harper, K., & Temkin, D. (2019). Responding to trauma through policies to create supportive learning environments. Bethesda, MD: Child Trends. Publication 2019-15. Retrieved from

  50. Hatch, S. L., & Dohrenwend, B. P. (2007). Distribution of traumatic and other stressful life events by race/ethnicity, gender, SES and age: A review of the research. American Journal of Community Psychology,40(3–4), 313–332.

  51. Heard-Garris, N. J., Cale, M., Camaj, L., Hamati, M. C., & Dominguez, T. P. (2018). Transmitting Trauma: A systematic review of vicarious racism and child health. Social Science and Medicine,199, 230–240.

  52. Henfield, M., Washington, A. R., Bersevic, Z., & De La Rue, L. (2019). Introduction to trauma-informed practices for mental health and wellness in urban schools and communities. The Urban Review, 51(4), 537–539.

  53. Henry, C. S., Sheffield Morris, A., & Harrist, A. W. (2015). Family resilience: Moving into the third wave. Family Relations,64(1), 22–43.

  54. Hoffman, S. (2014). Zero benefit: Estimating the effect of zero tolerance discipline polices on racial disparities in school discipline. Educational Policy,28(1), 69–95.

  55. Huber, L. P., Johnson, R. N., & Kohli, R. (2006). Naming racism: A conceptual look at internalized racism in US schools. Chicano-Latino Law Review,26, 183.

  56. Jaycox, L. H., Stein, B. D., & Amaya-Jackson, L. (2009). School-based treatment for children and adolescents. In E. B. Foa, T. M. Keane, M. J. Friedman, & J. A. Cohen (Eds.), Effective treatments for PTSD: Practice guidelines from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (pp. 327–345). New York: Guilford Press.

  57. Jernigan, M. M., & Daniel, J. H. (2011). Racial trauma in the lives of black children and adolescents: Challenges and clinical implications. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma,4(2), 123–141.

  58. Jiang, Y., Granja, M. R., & Koball, H. (2017). Basic facts about low-income children: Children under 3 years, 2015. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

  59. *Kataoka, S., Jaycox, L. H., Wong, M., Nadeem, E., Langley, A., Tang, L., et al. (2011). Effects on school outcomes in low-income minority youth: Preliminary findings from a community-partnered study of a school trauma intervention. Ethnicity and Disease,21(301), S1.

  60. Kessler, R. C., Davis, C. G., & Kendler, K. S. (1997). Childhood adversity and adult psychiatric disorder in the US National Comorbidity Survey. Psychological Medicine,27(5), 1101–1119.

  61. Labaree, D. F. (2008). The winning ways of a losing strategy: Educationalizing social problems in the United States. Educational Theory,58(4), 447–460.

  62. Lietz, C. A. (2006). Uncovering stories of family resilience: A mixed methods study of resilient families, part 1. Families in Society,87(4), 575–582.

  63. Masten, A. S., & Monn, A. R. (2015). Child and family resilience: A call for integrated science, practice, and professional training. Family Relations,64(1), 5–21.

  64. McGee, E. O., & Stovall, D. (2015). Reimagining critical race theory in education: Mental health, healing, and the pathway to liberatory praxis. Educational Theory,65(5), 491–511.

  65. Mendelson, T., Tandon, S. D., O’Brennan, L., Leaf, P. J., & Ialongo, N. S. (2015). Brief report: Moving prevention into schools: The impact of a trauma-informed school-based intervention. Journal of Adolescence,43, 142–147.

  66. Merrick, M. T., Ford, D. C., Ports, K. A., & Guinn, A. S. (2018). Prevalence of adverse childhood experiences from the 2011–2014 behavioral risk factor surveillance system in 23 states. JAMA Pediatrics,172(11), 1038–1044.

  67. Mersky, J. P., Janczewski, C. E., & Topitzes, J. (2017). Rethinking the measurement of adversity: Moving toward second-generation research on adverse childhood experiences. Child Maltreatment,22(1), 58–68.

  68. Metzler, M., Merrick, M. T., Klevens, J., Ports, K. A., & Ford, D. C. (2017). Adverse childhood experiences and life opportunities: Shifting the narrative. Children and Youth Services Review,72, 141–149.

  69. Milwaukee Public Schools. (2015). Trauma & mental health. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

  70. Morgan, A., Pendergast, D., Brown, R., & Heck, D. (2015). Relational ways of being an educator: Trauma-informed practice supporting disenfranchised young people. International Journal of Inclusive Education,19(10), 1037–1051.

  71. Muskett, C. (2014). Trauma-informed care in inpatient mental health settings: A review of the literature. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing,23(1), 51–59.

  72. Nadeem, E., & Ringle, V. A. (2016). De-adoption of an evidence-based trauma intervention in schools: A retrospective report from an urban school district. School Mental Health,8(1), 132–143.

  73. Ngo, V., Langley, A., Kataoka, S. H., Nadeem, E., Escudero, P., & Stein, B. D. (2008). Providing evidence-based practice to ethnically diverse youths: Examples from the Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS) Program. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,47(8), 858–862.

  74. Nikulina, V., Widom, C. S., & Czaja, S. (2011). The role of childhood neglect and childhood poverty in predicting mental health, academic achievement and crime in adulthood. American Journal of Community Psychology,48(3–4), 309–321.

  75. Oh, D. L., Jerman, P., Marques, S. S., Koita, K., Boparai, S. K. P., Burke Harris, N., et al. (2018). Systematic review of pediatric health outcomes associated with childhood adversity. BMC Pediatrics.

  76. Oral, R., Ramirez, M., Coohey, C., Nakada, S., Walz, A., Kuntz, A., et al. (2016). Adverse childhood experiences and trauma informed care: The future of healthcare. Pediatric Research,79(1–2), 227.

  77. Overstreet, S., & Chafouleas, S. M. (2016). Trauma-informed schools: Introduction to the special issue. School Mental Health,8(1), 1–6.

  78. Payne, E., & Smith, M. (2013). LGBTQ kids, school safety, and missing the big picture: How the dominant bullying discourse prevents school professionals from thinking about systemic marginalization or… why we need to rethink LGBTQ bullying. QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking,Fall 2013, 1–36.

  79. Perfect, M., Turley, M., Carlson, J. S., Yohannan, J., & Gilles, M. S. (2016). School-related outcomes of traumatic event exposure and traumatic stress symptoms in students: A systematic review of research from 1990 to 2015. School Mental Health.

  80. Plumb, J. L., Bush, K. A., & Kersevich, S. E. (2016). Trauma-sensitive schools: An evidence-based approach. School Social Work Journal,40(2), 37–60.

  81. Porche, M. V., Costello, D. M., & Rosen-Reynoso, M. (2016). Adverse family experiences, child mental health, and educational outcomes for a national sample of students. School Mental Health,8(1), 44–60.

  82. Porche, M. V., Fortuna, L. R., Lin, J., & Alegria, M. (2011). Childhood trauma and psychiatric disorders as correlates of school dropout in a national sample of young adults. Child Development,82(3), 982–998.

  83. Poverty USA. (2018). The population of Poverty USA. Retrieved from

  84. Quiros, L., & Berger, R. (2015). Responding to the sociopolitical complexity of trauma: An integration of theory and practice. Journal of Loss and Trauma,20(2), 149–159.

  85. Reeves, R., Rodrigue, E., & Kneebone, E. (2016). Five evils: Multidimensional poverty and race in America. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

  86. Ridgard, T. J., Laracy, S. D., Dupaul, G. J., Shapiro, E. S., & Power, T. J. (2015). Trauma-informed care in schools: A social justice imperative (cover story). Communique (0164775X),44(2), 1–15.

  87. Rivard, J. C., Bloom, S. L., McCorkle, D., & Abramovitz, R. (2005). Preliminary results of a study examining the implementation and effects of a trauma recovery framework for youths in residential treatment. Therapeutic Community: The International Journal for Therapeutic and Supportive Organizations,26(1), 83–96.

  88. Rolfsnes, E. S., & Idsoe, T. (2011). School-based intervention programs for PTSD symptoms: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Traumatic Stress,24(2), 155–165.

  89. Romano, E., Babchishin, L., Marquis, R., & Fréchette, S. (2015). Childhood maltreatment and educational outcomes. Trauma, Violence, & Stress,16(4), 418–437.

  90. Sacks, V., & Murphey, D. (2018). The prevalence of adverse childhood experiences, nationally, by state, and by race or ethnicity. Child trends. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

  91. Saunders, B. E., & Adams, Z. W. (2014). Epidemiology of traumatic experiences in childhood. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinics,23(2), 167–184.

  92. Sensoy, O., & DiAngelo, R. (2017). Preface. In O. Sensory & R. DiAngelo (Eds.), Is everyone really equal?: An introduction to key concepts in social justice education. New York: Teachers College Press.

  93. Shamblin, S., Graham, D., & Bianco, J. A. (2016). Creating trauma-informed schools for rural Appalachia: The partnerships program for enhancing resiliency, confidence and workforce development in early childhood education. School Mental Health,8(1), 189–200.

  94. Shonkoff, J. P., Garner, A. S., Siegel, B. S., Dobbins, M. I., Earls, M. F., McGuinn, L., et al. (2012). The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics,129(1), e232–e246.

  95. Skiba, R. J., Chung, C. G., Trachok, M., Baker, T. L., Sheya, A., & Hughes, R. L. (2014). Parsing disciplinary disproportionality: Contributions of infraction, student, and school characteristics to out-of-school suspension and expulsion. American Educational Research Journal,51(4), 640–670.

  96. Skiba, R. J., Horner, R. H., Chung, C.-G., Rausch, M. K., May, S. L., & Tobin, T. (2011). Race is not neutral: A national investigation of African American and Latino disproportionality in school discipline. School Psychology Review,40(1), 85.

  97. Skiba, R. J., Michael, R. S., Nardo, A. C., & Peterson, R. L. (2002). The color of discipline: Sources of racial and gender disproportionality in school punishment. The Urban Review,34(4), 317–342.

  98. Slade, E. P., & Wissow, L. S. (2007). The influence of childhood maltreatment on adolescents’ academic performance. Economics of Education Review,26(5), 604–614.

  99. Slopen, N., Shonkoff, J. P., Albert, M. A., Yoshikawa, H., Jacobs, A., Stoltz, R., et al. (2016). Racial disparities in child adversity in the U.S.: Interactions with family immigration history and income. American Journal of Preventive Medicine,50(1), 47–56.

  100. Stefanski, A., Valli, L., & Jacobson, R. (2016). Beyond involvement and engagement: The role of the family in school-community partnerships. School Community Journal,26(2), 135–160.

  101. Stevens, J. E. (2012). Lincoln high school in Walla Walla, WA tries new approach to school disciplineSuspensions drop 85%. ACEs Too High. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

  102. Stevens, J. E. (2013). There’s no such thing as a bad kid in these Spokane, WA, trauma-inform elementary schools. ACEs Too High. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

  103. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA]. (2014a). TIP 57: Trauma-informed care in behavioral health services. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

  104. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA]. (2014b). Concept of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

  105. Tate, W. R., Hamilton, C., Jones, B. D., Robertson, W. B., Macrander, A., Schultz, L., et al. (2014). Serving vulnerable children and youth in the urban context. In H. R. Milner & K. Lomotey (Eds.), Handbook of urban education (pp. 3–23). New York, NY: Routledge.

  106. Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative. (n.d.). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

  107. Turner, R. J., Brown, T. N., & Hale, W. B. (2017). Race, socioeconomic position, and physical health: A descriptive analysis. Journal of Health and Social Behavior,58(1), 23–36.

  108. van der Kolk, B. A. (2005). Developmental trauma disorder: Toward a rational diagnosis for children with complex trauma histories. Psychiatric Annals,35(5), 401–408.

  109. Whitson, M. L., & Kaufman, J. S. (2017). Parenting stress as a mediator of trauma exposure and mental health outcomes in young children. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry,87(5), 531.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Stacy A. Gherardi.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Gherardi, S.A., Flinn, R.E. & Jaure, V.B. Trauma-Sensitive Schools and Social Justice: A Critical Analysis. Urban Rev (2020).

Download citation


  • Trauma-sensitive schools
  • Trauma-informed schools
  • Trauma-informed care
  • Trauma
  • Social justice
  • Equity