Screening Students for Trauma Services

Joshua Kaufman (bio) comments on the process of identifying students to receive trauma-support services.

As we think about a trauma-informed school, one of the things that we have to factor in is how we are beginning to identify students that might be in need of more intensive services, beyond what's offered universally. And the primary way that we have identified to be able to do this is through a screening process. What we know about trauma is that while some of the manifestation is very external, a lot of it is very internal as well.

So in addition to those externalizing behaviors that we might typically see in a classroom, we also see an internalization of symptomatology, a sort of shutting down or a tuning out, which often gets missed. Certainly referrals are the number one way that most services are provided, however if a student is not rising to that level, is not getting noticed by a teacher, they're going to tend to sit in the back of the classroom and just sort of sail through; they won't necessarily rise to that level.

So through a screening process we're able to identify many more students who would benefit from the services than if we rely on referral alone. And when we think about referral, there are a couple of different ways to go. Certainly the gold standard is universal screening, which would mean an entire grade level or an entire classroom, et cetera. However, the downside to this is we need to have the resources in place to be able to meet the needs, and certainly when we're screening universally we're going to have large numbers of students who are meeting eligibility criteria for something like CBITS [Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools] or for another service that might be needed, particularly if other issues are coming to the fore through the screening process.

So if universal screening isn't feasible based on any number of factors, we need to look at more targeted approaches. That could involve looking at test scores or attendance or numbers of referrals to the dean's office, it could be as simple as identifying a single grade level or a single classroom to base it on. And/or, we can also screen off of a referral list.

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Excerpted from an interview at CBITS Summit 2013 in Santa Monica, CA.



More From Joshua Kaufman (bio)

  • A Trauma-Informed School

  • Supporting the Staff at a Trauma-Informed School