SWPBIS is good service model for the trauma-informed school

In the trauma-informed school, educators substitute the unspoken question, “what’s wrong with you?” with “what happened to you?”

As more and more educators embrace the trauma-informed approach to working with students who have a history of Adverse Childhood Events (ACES), schools will need a roadmap or blueprint for moving beyond the “big ideas” to implementing service delivery.   What are the evidence-based practices of a trauma-informed school? How does the school identify students early? How is staff educated and trained?

A new study in School Mental Health proposes the multi-tiered framework for implementation of School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) as a good model for trauma-informed service delivery.

The prevention logic of SWPBIS is built on early identification of risk, varied levels of intervention support designed to teach skills and prevent more serious problems, and continual data-driven evaluation of response, the researchers write.

“Unlike academic issues in which identification of need and provision of assistance is relatively focused and non-controversial, a host of layered complexities (e.g., involvement of multiple systems of care, family privacy, school resource capacity) surround trauma-informed service delivery in schools.

“Thus, successful implementation of a trauma-informed approach to school-based service delivery is dependent on identification of these complexities and alignment with careful planning and decision making.”

Despite the increasing acceptance of the role of socio-emotional skills in student success, schools have been slow to provide school-based mental health services to their populations, the researchers note.

“In general, referrals for school-based mental health services have been shown to be more successful than referrals to community agencies and the trend appears to extend to trauma-specific interventions,” they write.


Now Available Online: The Trauma-informed School: The New Safety-Net Approach to Ending Serious Discipline Issues


A focus on the individual

Every experience of an adverse event is different, which is why the trauma-oriented school is focused on the individual. How the individual experiences an event is what determines whether it is a traumatic event.  Many internal and external influences, such as cultural beliefs, available social supports, and individual predispositions, influence how the individual experiences an event.

The intended outcomes of a trauma-informed approach are:

  • prevent adverse events and experiences from occurring
  • build self-regulation capacity in individuals
  • assist individuals exhibiting adverse effects in returning to prior functioning,  and
  • avoid re-traumatizing individuals who have experienced adverse events

Schools that wish to develop a trauma-oriented approach should reflect on the following 4 questions:

  • Why do we feel an urgency to become a trauma-sensitive school?
  • How do we know we are ready to create a trauma-sensitive school?
  • What actions will address staff priorities and help us become a trauma-sensitive school?
  • How do we know we are becoming a trauma-sensitive school?

“Toward a Blueprint for Trauma-Informed Service Delivery,” by Sandra Chafouleas et al., School Mental Health, 2016, Number 8, pp. 144-162.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 2014,  SAMHSA’s concept of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach (HHS Publication No. 14-4884)


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