In 1998, the link between early trauma and adult health was poorly understood. The authors of the ACES (Adverse Childhood Experience Study) admitted that “comprehensive strategies are needed to identify and intervene with children and families who are at risk for these adverse experiences and their related outcomes.”[i] We now know that not all children experiencing trauma turn to drugs or alcohol, although many do. In the twenty-first century, research has been done that looks at why some children cope with trauma better than others and what factors explain these differences.
Although there are reasons to critique the 1998 ACEs study, it provided a new framework for thinking about the possibility that childhood trauma can have a lifelong impact on a person’s health. The research that has been done since then that built on those findings offers hope and important information about interventions that can be made while a child is experiencing trauma that can change the lifelong outcome for them. Teachers and administrators can’t remove trauma from the lives of their students. But they can be trusted adults for those students: grownups who present the same stable temperament every day, who have predictable reactions to situations, who consistently interact with each student in a friendly and caring way, who help students solve daily problems, and who want the best for every student who walks through the door of their school.
Research shows that just one trusted adult can have a profound effect on a child's life, influencing that young person toward positive growth, greater engagement in school and community activities, better overall health, and prevention of risky and threatening behaviors.
The school climate plays a pivotal role in shaping how both adults and students engage within the school community. A positive school climate, where everyone feels safe, valued, and respected, can greatly contribute to each student's sense of belonging. When every student feels like they belong, they become more engaged, motivated, and healthier individuals, ultimately leading to higher levels of academic achievement.
Moreover, because the school climate permeates every aspect of educators' and students' daily experiences, making efforts to cultivate a healthy climate is not merely "one more thing to do" or a distraction from academic development. In truth, it forms the very foundation upon which all school activities rest.
It is imperative for students to know that the adults in their educational journey care deeply about them, genuinely believe in their potential, and have their best interests at heart. Addressing the basic needs of students and staff, which include feeling good and feeling safe, creates a nurturing learning environment where everyone can thrive. In such an environment, teachers gain confidence and comfort in knowing that they are collectively working towards the best interests of each and every child.
[i] Felitti et al., “Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults,” 255.