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Leona O'Neill: Trauma awareness training for educators is a necessary lesson

The global pandemic has had a major impact on young people's mental health, particularly those who were already struggling with trauma. Trauma awareness training for educators can help to ensure that school is a safe, welcoming place for all students to thrive in, writes Leona O'Neill...

Trauma Informed Practice training will help educators better understand trauma and its impact on young people

I WAS heartened to hear a new training programme focusing on raising awareness of trauma and its potential impact on children being announced last week.

The training will allow the entire education sector workforce – some 20,000 teachers and 40,000 support staff in Northern Ireland – to widen their understanding of trauma and support students who live with the impact of it.

The pandemic has done nothing to help with our young people's mental health – particularly those struggling with trauma – and with many services operating completely differently to normal, some of our young people have had to carry the burden of this by themselves.

I hope that many educators will take up the opportunity for this training which will move even more to ensure that school is a safe, welcoming and inclusive place where all students can thrive and where our teachers have all the support, training and resources to help them be the very best version of themselves.

Speaking last week, education minister Michelle McIlveen welcomed the development of Trauma Informed Practice training which will help educators better understand trauma and the long lasting impact it can have on our young people.

"As education minister I want to ensure that we provide the best support we can to our children and young people," she told the media.

"Adverse childhood experiences can come in many forms and may result in a multitude of impacts which can make positive engagement with education a huge challenge for some children."

The Level One Trauma Informed Practice training was developed by the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland and will be made available to all education sector staff by the Education Authority. Level two training will also be made available to School Leaders and Pastoral care staff to further enhance and support awareness of trauma.

Back in 2019, Oakgrove Integrated College became the first school in Northern Ireland to take part in the innovative 'Trauma Informed Compassionate Schools Initiative' – a programme designed to help educators better understand how and why adverse childhood experiences can impact a child's development.

Trauma informed learning is becoming more and more prevalent as educators realise that previous negative experiences can have a huge impact on how children learn and indeed how they behave in the classroom.

Supporting students who suffer childhood trauma is a school-wide effort that involves all staff. From the grim personal reality of Covid to violence in the home, poverty, abuse and addiction, children in Northern Ireland are experiencing traumatic events that can shape their lives forever, as well as their educational journey.

Research has found that children who experience adverse childhood experiences are more likely to exhibit negative behaviours at school, develop risky behaviours and indeed face a host of negative health outcomes over their lifetimes.

Educators, trained in tackling some of these issues can make a real impact on those lives, on those children. With the right intervention, negative cycles can be broken.

I'm so glad that moves have been made to create safe havens for every student who needs it. Awareness of trauma and its impact on young minds will ensure students are healthy, safe, engaged and supported so that they are ready and able to learn.

Schools fully supporting those children who have faced the most awful of circumstances in their young lives will enable them to come to school ready and confident to meet the academic and social challenges they are faced with as well as helping them engage positively with adults and their peers.

When schools become trauma sensitive, they move to ensure all students are getting all the support they need to thrive in life. I can think of nothing better.

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