Despite the pervasive effect of stressful experiences — from mass school shootings to the opioid epidemic — on student performance, only 11 states encourage or require staff training on the effects of trauma. Half of states have policies on suicide prevention. And just one state, Vermont, requires a school nurse to be available daily at every school campus.
Those are among the key findings of a report released Thursday by the nonprofit Child Trends, which found that most states have failed to adopt a comprehensive set of policies to address student well-being.
Nearly half of America’s students have traumatic experiences, including divorce, substance abuse, and domestic violence, according to the Child Trends report, leading an increasing number of states to enact laws that aim to better equip schools to educate youth who experience trauma. But Child Trends researchers argue that a more comprehensive, “whole child” approach is key. Such an approach, which focuses on a range of factors from student health to school safety, is necessary because disparate school policies affect student welfare, said Kristen Harper, Child Trends’s director for policy development. Even as districts implement strategies to help students with adverse experiences, the report argues that other school policies, such as frequent suspensions, could further traumatize youth.
The report focuses on state policies addressing a wide range of factors that contribute to healthy school environments. Researchers utilized a framework created in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which identifies 10 key components. Among them are health education, nutrition services, counseling, schools’ physical environments, employee wellness, and family engagement. Laws in 10 states offered “deep coverage” of the framework, Child Trends found, with comprehensive policies on at least six of the policy areas.
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