Skip main navigation

What is the impact of trauma on students?

There are two types of trauma — simple trauma (type 1) and complex trauma (type 2) – and there are clear differences between them

It’s important for everyone working in or with schools to understand the impact of trauma on the functioning and wellbeing of their students.

There are two types of trauma — simple trauma (type 1) and complex trauma (type 2) – and there are clear differences between them.

1 Simple trauma

Simple trauma involves a time-limited but awful event that usually involves intense emotions and a period of suffering. Such events could involve:

  • The death of a loved one
  • Being in a car accident
  • Parents separating or divorcing

I’m sure you can think of other events that your students, or even you or your loved ones, have experienced that fit the definition of simple trauma. It happens to us all.

2 Complex trauma

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) provides a very helpful definition of complex trauma.

First, complex trauma involves early exposure to ongoing and repeated traumatic experience that includes factors such as physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, significant neglect and/or violence.

This type of trauma is interpersonal. That means that the source of the child’s trauma is a person or persons who should be there to care for, nurture and protect them, but who are instead the source of their terror or harm.

Second, complex trauma involves the wide-ranging and long-term impact of this traumatic experience. This is so very important for people working in schools to understand.

This longer-term impact often becomes evident during the school years and can make working with these children and adolescents quite complex and challenging.

This is a particular concern for students who are receiving child protection services and who have experienced a number of unsuccessful out-of-home care placements in foster, kinship, or residential care.

Lifelong impact of complex trauma

Because they have far less chance of achieving the same developmental milestones as their peers, these students will be far less likely to:

  • Graduate with a passing grade
  • Go on to further study
  • Find and keep a job
  • Have a supportive and safe network of close friends
  • Engage in a safe and caring intimate relationship
  • Eventually parent in a safe and adaptive manner.

What can I do?

By becoming aware of the impact of trauma and implementing trauma-informed practices in schools, we will be able to help our students minimise the longer-term impact of complex trauma.

This article is from the free online

Teaching Students Who Have Suffered Complex Trauma

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education