Feeling understood and valued at school with trauma informed training

Written by Julia, Youth Council Member

For children and young people navigating the twists and turns of the out-of-home care system, where despair and instability are all too familiar, education can be an escape.

Julia CYC

When I reflect on my time in care, memories come flooding back—some intentionally pushed away, but it's clear that my education was my lifeline, a real escape from the chaos.

Being a part of the Commission for Children and Young People’s Youth Council has opened my eyes to the harsh realities many kids face in care. Connecting with peers who share similar stories, hearing their experiences, and sharing our struggles fuelled our collective journey, leading to  the Commission’s Let us learn inquiry. Tabled in Parliament last year, the report dives deep into education as a crucial aspect of every young life.

In this inquiry, I take pride in knowing that voices like mine, alongside many others, had the chance to shape a narrative that pushes for positive change. Our contribution reached beyond personal stories, to shape the findings and recommendations that aim to make a difference.

A standout discovery from our inquiry hit close to home. Schools, we found, often lack trauma-informed approaches, leaving students in care without the understanding and support they desperately need. For many, school is a refuge, offering stability amid stressful home lives. But it's disheartening to realise that, despite its importance, schools often fall short in providing the necessary support.

I was a shy student growing up, often too scared to ask for help while my teacher was busy helping other students. I was often supported with the assistance of a teacher's aide, although I did not qualify for one. I found this extra support to be incredibly valuable. Without it, I might have fallen through the gaps, potentially leading to a decline in my grades and not meeting the necessary requirements of my year level. It was pretty close to that at times.

For me, school wasn't just about learning, it was a safe space where my curiosity found its home, and where I felt a sense of support amid life's challenges.

The expression ‘You never know what someone is going through behind closed doors’ holds a lot of truth, especially for kids in the care system. When my family situation changed, it had a significant impact on my mental health. While facing a difficult time, I somehow mustered the strength to wear a brave face at school, hiding my struggles from friends and peers out of a fear of judgment. However, my teachers, alerted by child protection, knew what I was facing and tried to grasp the reality of my challenges.

Reflecting on my experience, I consider myself fortunate to have had supportive teachers who genuinely cared. However, it became evident that they lacked specific training to navigate the complexities of trauma. When I opened up about my struggles, they listened with empathy and offered sympathy, but they couldn't really understand the depth of what I was dealing with. I recognised that it was tough for them to hear and comprehend the full extent of my challenges.

In hindsight, I believe that if my teachers had received trauma-informed training, my experience could have been significantly improved. This specialised training could have equipped them with the tools to not only comprehend but also effectively respond to the unique needs of students like me who were dealing with trauma. One of the recommendations in this report is to adopt a 'whole school' approach to trauma.

Had such training been in place, my teachers might have been better prepared to create a more supportive environment. They could have incorporated trauma-informed practices into the daily school routine, fostering an atmosphere where students in similar situations feel understood and valued.

The lack of specialised training for my teachers was a limitation in providing comprehensive support. With the suggested recommendations, the educational journey for students facing similar circumstances could be transformed. It's about creating a school environment where understanding and responding to the unique needs of students dealing with trauma is not just a possibility but a fundamental aspect of education.

Find out more

Read more about the Let us learn inquiry.

Let us learn is a systemic inquiry into the educational experiences of children and young people in out-of-home care which was tabled in the Victorian Parliament on Thursday 16 November 2023.