Disaster Impacts on Students and Staff from a Specialist, Trauma-Informed Australian School


Children from disadvantaged backgrounds often experience high levels of traumatic stress, however, little is known about their experiences and the responses of their teachers following disasters. The aim of this study was to examine, from the perspective of teachers, the impact of a critical community-wide traumatic event on student and staff wellbeing, and student learning and teaching practices at a specialist school for disadvantaged and displaced youth in Australia. Eight school staff were interviewed, including administrative, teaching, and support personnel, with their responses interpreted using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Results focused largely on the impact of the event and the resultant relocation of the school on staff and student health, reduced opportunities for learning, changes to teaching and student engagement, and the strengths and limitations of the trauma-informed approach of the school. Implications for teacher education and school trauma-informed models are discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Alisic, E. (2012). Teachers’ perspectives on providing support to children after trauma: A qualitative study. School Psychology Quarterly, 27(1), 51–59. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0028590.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Alisic, E., Bus, M., Dulack, W., Pennings, L., & Splinter, J. (2012). Teachers’ experiences supporting children after traumatic exposure. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 25, 98–101. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.20709.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., Bremner, J. D., Walker, J. D., Whitfield, C., Perry, B. D., & Giles, W. H. (2006). The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 256(3), 174–186. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00406-005-0624-4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bride, B. E. (2007). Prevalence of secondary traumatic stress among social workers. Social Work, 52(1), 63–70. https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/52.1.63.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Costa, R., Hanse, T. C., Moore, M., Many, M., Osofsky, J., & Osofsky, H. (2015). Teachers and school personnel as first responders following disasters: Survivors and supporters. Journal of Traumatic Stress Disorders & Treatment, 4(4), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.4172/2324-8947.1000146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Costello, E. J., Erkanli, A., Fairbank, J. A., & Angold, A. (2002). The prevalence of potentially traumatic events in childhood and adolescence. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15(2), 99–112. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1014851823163.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Dyregrov, K. (2009). The important role of the school following suicide in Norway. What support do young people with that school could provide? Omega (Westerport), 59(2), 147–161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Dyregrov, A., Wikander Bie, A. M., & Vigerust, S. (1999). Sudden death of a classmate and friend: Adolescents’ perception of support from their school. School Psychology International, 20(20), 191–208. https://doi.org/10.1177/0143034399202003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Emmerson, K., Reisen, F., Luhar, A., Williamson, G., & Cope, M. (2016). Air quality modelling of smoke exposure from the Hazelwood mine fire. CSIRO, Australia. Retreived from: http://hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Hazelwood_AirQualityModelling_December2016_Final.pdf

  10. Frederick, J., & Goddard, C. (2007). Exploring the relationship between poverty, childhood adversity and child abuse from the perspective of adulthood. Child Abuse Review, 16(5), 323–341. https://doi.org/10.1002/car.971.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Guest, G., Bunce, A., & Johnson, L. (2006). How many interviews are enough? An experiment with data saturation and variability. Field Methods, 18(1), 59–82. https://doi.org/10.1177/1525822X05279903.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Hubbard, B. (2014). Victorian Government response: Report to the Victorian Government of the 2009 bushfire-affected communities – five year consultation. Retrieved from: https://www.rdv.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/1165161/Hubbard-Report-2014-Victorian-Government-Response.PDF

  13. Kenny, M. C. (2001). Child abuse reporting: Teachers’ perceived deterrents. Child Abuse & Neglect, 25, 81–92.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Kenny, M. C. (2004). Teachers’ attitudes toward and knowledge of child maltreatment. Child Abuse & Neglect, 28, 1311–1319.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Ko, S. J., Ford, J. D., Kassam-Adams, N., Berkowitz, S. J., Wilson, C., Wong, M., ... Layne, C. M. (2008). Creating trauma-informed systems: Child welfare, education, first responders, health care, juvenile justice. Professional Psychology-Research and Practice, 39(4), 396–404. doi:https://doi.org/10.1037/0735-7028.39.4.396.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. McFarlane, A. C. (1987). Family functioning and overprotection following a natural disaster: The longitudinal effects of post-traumatic morbidity. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 21(2), 210–218. https://doi.org/10.3109/00048678709160914.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. McFarlane, A. C., & Van Hooff, M. (2009). Impact of childhood exposure to a natural disorder on adult mental health: 20-year longitudinal follow-up study. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 195(2), 142–148. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.bp.108.054270.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. O’Toole, V. M., & Friesen, M. D. (2016). Teachers as first responders in tragedy: The role of emotion in teacher adjustment eighteen months post-earthquake. Teaching and Teacher Education, 59, 57–67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2016.05.012.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Oehlberg, B. (2008). Why schools need to be trauma informed. Trauma and Loss- Research and Interventions, 8(2), 1–4.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Papadatou, D., Metallinou, O., Hatzichristou, C., & Pavlidi, L. (2002). Supporting the bereaved child: Teacher’s perceptions and experiences in Greece. Mortality, 7(3), 324–339. https://doi.org/10.1080/1357627021000025478.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Peek, L., & Stough, L. M. (2010). Children with disabilities in the context of disasters: A social vulnerability perspective. Society for Research in Child Development, 81(4), 1260–1270.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Perfect, M. M., Turley, M. R., Carlson, J. S., Yohanna, J., & Saint Gilles, M. P. (2016). School-related outcomes of traumatic event exposure and traumatic stress symptoms in students: A systematic review of research from 1990 to 2015. School Mental Health, 8, 7–43. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-016-9175-2.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Rolfsnes, E. S., & Idsoe, T. (2011). School-based intervention programs for PTSD symptoms: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 24(2), 155–165. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.20622.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Salazar, A. M., Keller, T. E., Gowen, K. L., & Courtney, M. E. (2013). Trauma exposure and PTSD among older adolescents in foster care. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 48(4), 545–551. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-012-0563-0.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Smith Hatcher, S., Bride, B. E., Oh, H., Moultrie King, D., & Catrett, J. F. (2011). An assessment of secondary traumatic stress in juvenile justice education workers. Journal of Correctional Health Care, 17(3), 208–217. https://doi.org/10.1177/1078345811401509.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. Smith, J. A., Flower, P., & Larkin, M. (2009). Interpretive phenomenological analysis: Theory, method and research. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 6(4), 346–347. https://doi.org/10.1080/14780880903340091.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Stokes, H., & Turnbull, M. (2016). Evaluation of the Berry Street Education Model: Trauma informed positive education enacted in mainstream schools. Melbourne: University of Melbourne, Youth Research Centre Retrieved from: http://education.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/1962718/User_croftsj_Stokes_26_Turnbull_Final_Web_18-5-16.pdf.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Teague, B., Catford, J., & Petering, S. (2014). Hazelwood mine fire inquiry report. Retrived from: http://report.hazelwoodinquiry.vic.gov.au/introduction.html.

  29. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (2017). Terminology. Retrieved from: https://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/terminology#letter-d

  30. Victorian Council of Social Service. (2014). Disaster and disadvantage: Social vulnerability in emergency management. Retrieved from: http://vcoss.org.au/documents/2014/06/VCOSS_Disadvantage-and-disaster_2014.pdf

Download references


This study was funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. The paper presents the views of the authors and does not represent the views of the Department. The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of research students Rebecca Lindsay, Chloe Perry and Grace Slatter who, along with Dylan Harrison, conducted the interviews with school staff.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Emily Berger.

Ethics declarations

Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Research involving Human Participants and/or Animals

Details of the Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee approval and approval number are provided in the body of the article.

Informed Consent

We confirm that the ethical standard of informed consent was followed in all matters.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Berger, E., Carroll, M., Maybery, D. et al. Disaster Impacts on Students and Staff from a Specialist, Trauma-Informed Australian School. Journ Child Adol Trauma 11, 521–530 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40653-018-0228-6

Download citation


  • Disaster
  • Trauma
  • Disadvantage
  • Children
  • Teachers
  • School