Current Psychiatry Reports

, 21:82 | Cite as

Promoting Student Success: How Do We Best Support Child and Youth Survivors of Catastrophic Events?

  • Leslie K. TaylorEmail author
  • Melissa G. Goldberg
  • Minh-Hao D. Tran
Child and Family Disaster Psychiatry (B Pfefferbaum, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Child and Family Disaster Psychiatry


Purpose of Review

School mental health services have achieved recognition for increased access to care and intervention completion rates. While best practice recommendations include connection of school mental health programming to multi-tiered systems of support that promote early identification and intervention, many schools struggle to operationalize student screening for trauma exposure, trauma symptoms, and service identification. Relatedly, progress monitoring for trauma symptoms, and the effect of trauma on school functioning in the context of catastrophic events, can also be difficult to systematically collect.

Recent Findings

Research regarding the effects of catastrophic events, such as exposure to natural disasters, terrorist attacks, war, or the journey to refugee status on children and youths school functioning, indicates salient age and gender differences among student responses. In addition, school professionals have been identified as sources of social support for students and as potential brokers to school linked intervention resources for children, youth, and their families.


Based on our review, we outline recommendations for school professionals, including potential changes to school policies and procedures, and delineate future research questions.


School mental health Disaster Childhood trauma Multi-tiered systems of support 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

  1. 1.
    Merikangas KR, He J, Burstein M, Swanson SA, Avenevoli S, Cui L, et al. Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010;49:980–9. Scholar
  2. 2.
    Costello EJ, Foley DL, Angold A. 10-year research update review: the epidemiology of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders. II. Developmental epidemiology. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2006;45:8–25. Scholar
  3. 3.
    Green JG, McLaughlin KA, Alegría M, Costello EJ, Gruber MJ, Hoagwood K, et al. School mental health resources and adolescent mental health service use. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2013;52:501–10. Scholar
  4. 4.
    Kessler RC, Avenevoli S, Costello EJ, Georgiades K, Green JG, Gruber MJ, et al. Prevalence, persistence, and sociodemographic correlates of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2012;69:372–80. Scholar
  5. 5.
    Weist MD, Bruns EJ, Whitaker K, Wei Y, Kutcher S, Larsen T, et al. School mental health promotion and intervention: experiences from four nations. Sch Psychol Int. 2017;38:343–62. Scholar
  6. 6.
    Pullmann MD, Weathers ES, Hensley S, Bruns EJ. Academic outcomes of an elementary school-based family support programme. Adv School Ment Health Promot. 2013;6:231–46. Scholar
  7. 7.
    Pullmann MD, VanHooser S, Hoffman C, Heflinger CA. Barriers to and supports of family participation in a rural system of care for children with serious emotional problems. Community Ment Health J. 2010;46:211–20. Scholar
  8. 8.
    Durlak JA, Weissberg RP, Dymnicki AB, Taylor RD, Schellinger KB. The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: a meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Dev. 2011;82:405–32. Scholar
  9. 9.
    Walker SC, Kerns SEU, Lyon AR, Bruns EJ, Cosgrove TJ. Impact of school-based health center use on academic outcomes. J Adolesc Health. 2010;46:251–7. Scholar
  10. 10.
    • Barrett S, Eber L, Weist MD. Advancing education effectiveness: an interconnected systems framework for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and school mental health. Center for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (funded by the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education). Eugene: University of Oregon Press; 2013. This reference describes and operationalizes the Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) which joins Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and School Mental Health (SMH) systems to improve educational outcomes for all children and youth, particularly for those at risk of developing mental health challenges. Examples from three different states are highlighted to provide guidance for this work at school building, district, and state levels. Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Fazel M, Hoagwood K, Stephan S, Ford T. Mental health interventions in schools in high-income countries. Lancet Psychiatry. 2014;1:377–87. Scholar
  12. 12.
    Stephan SH, Sugai G, Lever N, Connors E. Strategies for integrating mental health into schools via a multitiered system of support. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2015;24:211–31. Scholar
  13. 13.
    • Weist MD, Eber L, Horner R, Splett J, Putnam R, Barrett S, et al. Improving multitiered systems of support for students with “internalizing” emotional/behavioral problems. J Posit Behav Interv. 2018;20:172–84. This reference provides case examples for improving screening and connection to intervention for depressed, anxious, and trauma-exposed students through application of the Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) and includes detailed approaches for identification of students, selection of interventions, and data-based decision-making. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Weist MD, Myers CP, Hastings E, Ghuman H, Han YL. Psychosocial functioning of youth receiving mental health services in the schools versus community mental health. Community Ment Health J. 1999;35:69–81. Scholar
  15. 15.
    •• Chafouleas S, Johnson A, Overstreet S, Santos N. Toward a blueprint for trauma-informed service delivery in schools. Sch Ment Heal. 2016;8:144–62. This reference provides recommendations for developing trauma-informed schools with emphasis on high-quality implementation, implications for professional development, and methods for evaluating impact. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    •• Eklund K, Rossen E. Guidance for trauma screening in schools. Delmar: National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice; 2016. This reference illuminates logistical issues relative to trauma screening in schools, such as obtaining parental consent, conducting universal versus selected screenings, time commitment, and referral mechanisms for screening, and the need for understanding what to detect when screening (e.g., trauma exposure; symptoms of trauma exposure). Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Saigh PA, Mroueh M, Bremner JD. Scholastic impairments among traumatized adolescents. Behav Res Ther. 1997;35:429–36. Scholar
  18. 18.
    Weems CF, Scott BG, Taylor LK, Cannon MF, Romano DM, Perry AM. A theoretical model of continuity in anxiety and links to academic achievement in disaster-exposed school children. Dev Psychopathol. 2013;25:729–37. Scholar
  19. 19.
    Sims A, Boasso A, Burch B, Naser S, Overstreet S. School dissatisfaction in a post-disaster environment: the mediating role of posttraumatic stress symptoms. Child Youth Care Forum. 2015;44:583–95. Scholar
  20. 20.
    Bridgeland JM, Dilulio JJ, Morison KB. The silent epidemic: perspectives of high school dropouts. Civic Enterprises; 2006. Retrieved from Accessed 9 Jul 2019.
  21. 21.
    •• McNeely CA, Morland L, Doty SB, Meschke LL, Awad S, Husain A, et al. How schools can promote healthy development for newly arrived immigrant and refugee adolescents: Research priorities. J Sch Health. 2017;87:121–32. Key stakeholders in education were convened for identification of topic areas in need of additional exploration. These included evaluating newcomer programs (mean = 4.44, SD = .55), identifying how family and community stressors affect newly arrived immigrant and refugee adolescents' functioning in school, identifying teachers' major stressors in working with this population, and how to engage immigrant and refugee families in their children's education. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Stene LE, Schultz JH, Dyb G. Returning to school after a terror attack: a longitudinal study of school functioning and health in terror-exposed youth. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2019;28:319–28. Scholar
  23. 23.
    Petkova EP, Martinez S, Schlegelmilch J, Redlener I. Schools and terrorism: global trends, impacts, and lessons for resilience. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. 2017;40:701–11. Scholar
  24. 24.
    Strøm IF, Schultz J, Larsen T, Dyb G. School performance after experiencing trauma: a longitudinal study of school functioning in survivors of the Utøya shootings in 2011. Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2016;7:1. Scholar
  25. 25.
    Shechory Bitton M, Laufer A. Children’s emotional and behavioral problems in the shadow of terrorism: the case of Israel. Child Youth Serv Rev. 2018;86:302–7. Scholar
  26. 26.
    Seery MD, Holman EA, Silver RC. Whatever does not kill us: cumulative lifetime adversity, vulnerability, and resilience. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2010;99:1025–41. Scholar
  27. 27.
    Gargano L, Dechen T, Cone J, Stellman SD, Brackbill RM. Psychological distress in parents and school-functioning of adolescents: results from the world trade center registry. J Urban Health. 2017;94:597–605. Scholar
  28. 28.
    Breslau J, Lane M, Sampson N, Kessler RC. Mental disorders and subsequent educational attainment in a US national sample. J Psychiatr Res. 2008;42:708–16. Scholar
  29. 29.
    Glad KA, Kilmer RP, Dyb G, Hafstad GS. Caregiver-reported positive changes in young survivors of a terrorist attack. J Child Fam Stud. 2019;28:704–19. Scholar
  30. 30.
    Goodenow C. Classroom belonging among early adolescent students: relationships to motivation and achievement. J Early Adolesc. 1993;13:21–43. Scholar
  31. 31.
    Moscardino U, Scrimin S, Capello F, Altoe G. Brief report: self-blame and PTSD symptoms in adolescents exposed to terrorism: is school connectedness a mediator? J Adolesc. 2014;37:47–52. Scholar
  32. 32.
    Rosenberg H, Ophir Y, Asterhan CSC. A virtual safe zone: teachers supporting teenage student resilience through social media in times of war. Teach Teach Educ. 2018;73:35–42. Scholar
  33. 33.
    Ophir Y, Rosenberg H, Asterhan C, Schwarz B. In times of war, adolescents do not fall silent: teacher-student social network communication in wartime. J Adolesc. 2016;46:98–106. Scholar
  34. 34.
    Werner EE. Children and war: risk, resilience, and recovery. Dev Psychopathol. 2012;24:553–8. Scholar
  35. 35.
    United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Convention and protocol relating to the status of refugees. Geneva: Author; 1951.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Statistical yearbook 2010, 10th edition: trends in displacement, protection and solutions. Geneva: Author; 2010.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Bronstein I, Montgomery P. Psychological distress in refugee children: a systematic review. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2011;14:44–56. Scholar
  38. 38.
    Fazel M, Stein A. The mental health of refugee children. Arch Dis Child. 2002;87:366–70. Scholar
  39. 39.
    Dutton J, Hek R, Hoggart L, Kohli R, Sales R. Supporting refugees in the inner city: an examination of the work of social services in meeting the settlement needs of refugees. London: Middlesex University and London Borough of Haringey; 2000.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Candappa M, Egharevba I. ’Extraordinary Childhoods’: the social lives of refugee children. Children 5–16 Research Briefing Number 5. Swindon: Economic and Social Research Council; 2000.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Beehler S, Birman D, Campbell R. The effectiveness of cultural adjustment and trauma services (CATS): generating practice-based evidence on a comprehensive, school-based mental health intervention for immigrant youth. Am J Community Psychol. 2012;50:15–68. Scholar
  42. 42.
    Pumariega A, Rogers K, Rothe E. Culturally competent systems of care for children’s mental health: advances and challenges. Community Ment Health J. 2005;41:539–56. Scholar
  43. 43.
    Thomas WP, Collier VP. A national study of school effectiveness for language minority students’ long-term academic achievement. Santa Cruz: Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence, University of California-Santa Cruz; 2002. Retrieved from: Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Short DJ, Boyson BA. Helping newcomer students succeed in secondary schools and beyond. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics; 2012. Retrieved from: Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Crosnoe R, Lopez Turley RN. K-12 educational outcomes of immigrant youth. Futur Child. 2011;21:129–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Skiba RJ, Horner RH, Chung CG, Rausch MK, May SL, Tobin T. Race is not neutral: a national investigation of African American and Latino disproportionality in school discipline. Sch Psychol Rev. 2011;40:85–107.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Swain-Bradway J, Loman SL, Vincent CG. Systematically addressing discipline disproportionality through the application of a school-wide framework. Multiple voices for ethnically diverse exceptional learners. Wilder Res. 2014;14:3–17. Scholar
  48. 48.
    Cohen JA, Mannarino AP, Murray LA. Trauma-focused CBT for youth who experience ongoing trauma. Child Abuse Negl. 2011;35:637–46. Scholar
  49. 49.
    Sullivan AL, Simonson GR. A systematic review of school-based social-emotional interventions for refugee and war-traumatized youth. Rev Educ Res. 2016;86:503–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Isakson BL, Legerski JP, Layne CM. Adapting and implementing evidence-based interventions for trauma-exposed refugee youth and families. J Contemp Psychother. 2015;45:245–53. Scholar
  51. 51.
    • Betancourt TS, Newnham EA, Birman D, Lee R, Ellis BH, Layne CM. Comparing trauma exposure, mental health needs, and service utilization across clinical samples of refugee, immigrant, and U.S.-origin children. J Trauma Stress. 2017;30:209–18. To better understand and develop mental health services for trauma-exposed refugee children and adolescents, the authors assessed levels of trauma exposure, psychological distress, and mental health service utilization among refugee-origin, immigrant origin, and U.S.-origin children and youth. Compared with U.S.-origin youth, refugee youth had higher rates of community violence exposure, dissociative symptoms, traumatic grief, somatization, and phobic disorder. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Trentacosta CJ, McLear CM, Ziadni MS, Lumley MA, Arfken CL. Potentially traumatic events and mental health problems among children of Iraqi refugees: the roles of relationships with parents and feelings about school. Am J Orthop. 2016;86:384–92. Scholar
  53. 53.
    •• Franco D. Trauma without borders: the necessity for school-based interventions in treating unaccompanied refugee minors. Child Adolesc Soc Work J. 2018;35:551–65. This article describes migration trauma among Mexican and Central American unaccompanied refugee minors (URM), describing potential pre-migration, in-journey, and post-migration traumas. Clinical implications of culturally responsive and trauma-informed treatment of URM, a case example of clinical intervention, and the importance of bridging the gap between research and culturally responsive, trauma-informed interventions for URM in schools are discussed. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Tienda M, Hawkins R. Immigrant children: introducing the issue. Futur Child. 2011;21:3–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Legacy of disasters: the impact of climate change on children; save the children; 2007. Accessed 9 Jul 2019.
  56. 56.
    Lamb J, Gross S, Lewis M. The Hurricane Katrina effect on mathematics achievement in Mississippi. Sch Sci Math. 2013;113:80–93. Scholar
  57. 57.
    Ward ME, Shelley K, Kaase K, Pane JF. Hurricane Katrina: a longitudinal study of the achievement and behavior of displaced students. J Educ Stud Placed Risk. 2008;13(2–3):297–317. Scholar
  58. 58.
    Scott BG, Lapré GE, Marsee MA, Weems CF. Aggressive behavior and its associations with posttraumatic stress and academic achievement following a natural disaster. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2014;43:43–50. Scholar
  59. 59.
    Marsee MA. Reactive aggression and posttraumatic stress in adolescents affected by Hurricane Katrina. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2008;37:519–29. Scholar
  60. 60.
    Hansel TC, Osofsky JD, Osofsky HJ, Friedrich P. The effect of long-term relocation on child and adolescent survivors of hurricane Katrina. J Trauma Stress. 2013;26:613–20. Scholar
  61. 61.
    Weems CF, Russell JD, Banks DM, Graham RA, Neill EL, Scott BG. Memories of traumatic events in childhood fade after experiencing similar less stressful events: results from two natural experiments. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014;143:2046–55. Scholar
  62. 62.
    Masten AS, Osofsky JD. Disasters and their impact on child development: introduction to the special section. Child Dev. 2010;81:1029–39. Scholar
  63. 63.
    Weems CF, Osofsky JD, Osofsky HJ, King LS, Hansel TC, Russell JD. Three-year longitudinal study of perceptions of competence and well-being among youth exposed to disasters. Appl Dev Sci. 2018;22:29–42. Scholar
  64. 64.
    Weems CF, Graham RA. Resilience and trajectories of posttraumatic stress among youth exposed to disaster. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2014;24:2–8. Scholar
  65. 65.
    Jaycox LH, Cohen JA, Mannarino AP, Walker DW, Langley AK, Gegenheimer KL, et al. Children’s mental health care following Hurricane Katrina: a field trial of trauma-focused psychotherapies. J Trauma Stress. 2010;23:223–31. Scholar
  66. 66.
    UN-General Assembly. Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. In: Proceedings of the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, Sendai, Japan, 14–18 March 2015.Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Jaycox LH, Langley AK, Stein BD, Wong M, Sharma P, Scott M, et al. Support for students exposed to trauma: a pilot study. Sch Ment Heal. 2009;1:49–60. Scholar
  68. 68.
    Langley AK, Gonzalez A, Sugar CA, Solis D, Jaycox L. Bounce back: effectiveness of an elementary school-based intervention for multicultural children exposed to traumatic events. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2015;83:853–65. Scholar
  69. 69.
    Powell T, Holleran-Steiker L. Supporting children after a disaster: a case study of a psychosocial school-based intervention. Clin Soc Work J. 2017;45:176–88. Scholar
  70. 70.
    Dods J. Bringing trauma to school: sharing the educational experience of three youths. Exceptionality Education International. 2015;25:111–35.Google Scholar
  71. 71.
    •• Bruns EJ, Duong MT, Lyon AR, Pullmann MD, Cook CR, Cheney D, et al. Fostering SMART partnerships to develop an effective continuum of behavioral health services and supports in schools. Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2016;86:156–70. The authors illustrate the value of MTSS through review of how these structures can facilitate access to mental health services, increase the effectiveness of mental health services, and provide empirical support for school-based mental health interventions at each tier. The authors also operationalize this work though description of an effective community-academic partnership and present a set of recommendations relative to research and practice improvement efforts for addressing mental, emotional, and behavioral problems through effective school mental health programming. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. 72.
    Shemesh E, Newcorn JH, Rockmore L, Shneider BL, Emre S, Gelb BD, et al. Comparison of parent and child reports of emotional trauma symptoms in pediatric outpatient settings. Pediatrics. 2005;115:e582–9. Scholar
  73. 73.
    Stover CS, Hahn H, Im JYJ, Berkowitz S. Agreement of parent and child reports of trauma exposure and symptoms in the early aftermath of a traumatic event. Psychol Trauma. 2010;2:159–68. Scholar
  74. 74.
    Langley AK, Cohen JA, Mannarino AP, Jaycox LH, Schonlau M, Scott M, et al. Trauma exposure and mental health problems among school children 15 months post-Hurricane Katrina. J Child Adolesc Trauma. 2013;6:143–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. 75.
    • Vona P, Meyer A, Hoover S, Cicchetti C. A tool for creating safe supportive and trauma responsive schools; 2017: retrieved from:'s-Trauma-Responsiveness-%E2%80%93-Introducing-a-Free,-Online-Trauma-Responsive-School-Self-Assessment.pdf. This reference provides illustrative examples of trauma-responsive practices and intervention programming within MTSS frameworks as well as implications for assessing program effectiveness.
  76. 76.
    Distel LML, Torres SA, Ros AM, Brewer SK, Raviv T, Coyne C, et al. Evaluating the implementation of Bounce Back: clinicians’ perspectives on a school-based trauma intervention, Evidence-based practice in child and adolescent mental health; 2019. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. 77.
    Post-Harvey, Houston teachers learn to respond to trauma. Retrieved from: Accessed 9 Jul 2019.
  78. 78.
    Markle RS, Splett JW, Maras MA, Weston KJ. Effective school teams: Benefits, barriers, and best practices. In: Weist MD, Lever NA, Bradshaw CP, Sarno Owens J, editors. Issues in clinical child psychology. Handbook of school mental health: research, training, practice, and policy. New York: Springer Science + Business Media; 2014. p. 59–73. Scholar
  79. 79.
    Crone DA, Hawken LS, Horner RH. Responding to problem behavior in schools, second edition: the behavior education program. New York: Guilford Press; 2010.Google Scholar
  80. 80.
    Kourea L, Lo Y-Y, Owens T. Using parental input to blend cultural responsiveness and teaching of classroom expectations for at-risk Black kindergarteners in a SWPBS school. Behav Disord. 2016;41:226–40. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leslie K. Taylor
    • 1
    Email author
  • Melissa G. Goldberg
    • 1
  • Minh-Hao D. Tran
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, McGovern Medical SchoolUniversity of Texas Health Science CenterHoustonUSA

Personalised recommendations