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  • Writer's pictureHelen Haydock

Supporting the Inclusion of Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

When we think about barriers to inclusion we often think about disability, developmental delays, medical or mental health issues but we can often forget the impact complex childhood trauma can have on inclusion.

Recent research from the Australian Child Maltreatment Study reports that about 62% of the Australian public reported that they have experienced at least one form of maltreatment prior to the age of 18.

Many children across Australia have experienced trauma yet those working or volunteering with children often lack the training and resources to support them, leading to children falling through the gaps and under resourced staff experiencing distress or burnout.

Female grabbing at head appearing distressed
Female grabbing at head appearing distressed

Trauma’s impact on behaviour

When I have gone into schools, early childhood settings and other settings to deliver training around childhood trauma I often start by asking what they have seen in their settings that make them think children may have experienced trauma. I find that usually staff describe children engaging in challenging behaviours, tantrums, power struggles, arguments, struggling to make friends and generally been disruptive. Staff will sometimes say things like “theyre just different to the other children”, “their behaviours are bigger, louder, more frequent and more extreme”. They will often quickly acknowledge that they feel overwhelmed trying to support these children.

Quite often staff will report trying to speak with families or reporting concerns to child protection but that nothing changes. “We have to try manage the child’s behaviour whilst also teaching the rest of the class”. In this situation it is also not unusual for schools to take disciplinary action, especially against older children, as an attempt to stop or manage disruptive behaviour and keep other students safe.

When I’ve worked with families, seeking support for children as they heal from trauma, they will often express concerns that their child is “struggling” both in formal settings and with peer relationships. Some report that the situation is so bad they know other parents don’t want children befriending their child. In some cases, schools report other parents insisting children be removed or expelled.

Supporting children who have experienced trauma

There are some key things that we need to consider when thinking about how we support children who have experienced trauma.


Understanding the impact of childhood trauma

One of the simple ideas we discuss in workshops is that children who have experienced trauma can easily become dysregulated (put very simply find themselves in fight, flight or freeze) or can remain dysregulated for longer periods of time. We have all experienced dysregulation at some time or other and when we are in that state, our ability to engage, pay attention, make good decisions, show empathy, follow instructions, consider consequences and focus can be impacted. Therefore when we are supporting children who have experienced trauma we need to take these things into consideration. We can start to recognise signs a child is becoming dysregulated and support them through co-regulation.

Identify what, if any, other services are involved

We know that children who have experienced trauma can often have multiple professionals involved in their lives. Understanding the different roles and sharing information across care teams (with consent of course) can:

-reduce the risk of people doing different things, which can lead to confusion for the child

-increase information sharing across services, identifying problems early but also identifying strategies that help

-link services together so they are not feeling like they're working alone


Predictable Routines and Boundaries

Child holding ball with words "just because I am safe doesn't mean I feel safe" written across image.
Child holding ball

Its important to understand that whilst you may believe the child is safe in your care, they may not feel safe. Additionally physical, psychological and neurological trauma responses can linger long after a child has been removed from harm. Having predictable routines and boundaries can help a child feel safe. It can also be helpful to have a plan for times when routines get disrupted. Think about objects, places or people that help to make the child feel safe.


Focus on strengths

A strengths based approach is important. It can be really easy when supporting children who have experienced trauma and who may be displaying challenging behaviour to only focus on what is going wrong, but in doing this you can miss opportunities and loose sight of what might be working.


These are only a few of the strategies we discuss in the trauma focussed workshops. If this is something that you would like further training and support with please contact us today to discuss how we can help.

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