SKIDS: Traumatized Kids and the School System

I recently saw a really interesting documentary called SKIDS, which focuses on kids attending Vanguard Secondary, an alternative school in Langley, B.C., Canada, that uses a trauma-informed approach

Vanguard‘s model recognizes that trauma is at the root of the significant challenges that have kept their students from succeeding in regular schools. Their model is informed by biopsychosocial systems theory, neuroplasticity, and the effects of trauma on the autonomic nervous system.

Vanguard Secondary’s model

The school has therapeutic groups, and each student has an individual education plan, a safety plan developed by the school counsellor, and a youth and family support caseworker. There are also Aboriginal support workers, a drug and alcohol counsellor, and clinicians who are able to provide EMDR therapy. In-school suspensions are available in recognition that there may not be a safe environment outside of school. Students get referred when other schools in the district find them too difficult to manage; Vanguard is the final option when all other options fail.

From what’s shown in SKIDS, it looks like the teachers genuinely cared, and truly bought into the model. The students that were involved had been through some pretty awful stuff, and they were still able to thrive. They actually felt respected and listened to, which helped them feel comfortable opening up. According to staff, both students and parents were really receptive to the idea of a disrupted nervous system that can be brought back into balance with appropriate interventions.


I’m familiar with trauma-informed care in the context of psychiatry, but this is the first time I’ve come across trauma-informed education. It makes a lot of sense, though. Basically, trauma-informed means recognizing that many people have a history of trauma, which affects their interaction with others and their environment. The focus is on promoting safety as a foundation for doing other work.

I wonder how many schools incorporate some degree of awareness around trauma. I’m guessing not a whole lot.

Stepping away from judgments

My dad is a retired special education teacher. I grew up in a small town, so there was only one high school, which meant that I went to the school where he taught. And while he had no problems with the disabled kids that he worked with, I remember him talking fairly regularly about the “losers” – the exact same kinds of kids that end up at Vanguard.

Now, I know my dad is judgmental; he’s a fat-shamer, too. But I don’t think he’s alone in that in the teaching world, especially in the older age bracket. Given how common judgementality is in general, the teaching profession can’t be all that different.

So, coming back to being trauma-informed. Thinking in the back of their mind that a kid is a “loser” is probably going to point a teacher in the exact opposite direction from trauma-informed.

Preventing traumatized kids from becoming antisocial adults

And that matters, because somewhere along that path from childhood to adulthood, a segment of people who’ve been abused as kids go on to become antisocial, abusive adults. Chances are pretty good that the trauma is happening at home, so the home environment can’t be relied upon to derail the antisocial track.

That leaves schools—schools that are likely under-resourced. Schools with teachers like my dad who write off “bad kids” as a lost cause. But maybe if more schools were trauma-informed, and more school districts had well-resourced trauma-informed options, more traumatized kids would have a chance to turn their lives in a more constructive direction.

SKIDS is only 38 minutes, and it’s well worth a watch. You can find it on Youtube.

24 thoughts on “SKIDS: Traumatized Kids and the School System”

  1. Such an approach would really have helped some friend of mine back in the days.
    Teenagers can be so powerful, open minded and enthusiastic when given the right tools. There is so much potential but people need help sometimes and when it’s not provided at home, where do they have to turn?
    I do understand the teachers point of view too, they are ought to solve-all sometimes, when that is just not possible.
    A structured approach with many resources could offer a way out. I hope such projects will appear in many more places.

  2. I can’t say school was anything other than an additional source of trauma for me. Which is weird, because I actually didn’t have behavioral issues, I internalized everything instead of acting outwards, and I got the grades that eventually made getting away from the 9th Circle of Hell via elite school possible. I feel like teachers should have focused a lot more on those things instead of whatever neurodiversity markers made them keep insisting I wasn’t “really” smart, just compensating. But, knowing how even being what I feel *should* have been a “dream” child to work with makes me very sympathetic to those “bad” kids. If all you ever get for trying is more pain, why bother? I believed I had education as a viable option, but if you are also low-income, of color, and from a neighborhood where college seems totally out of reach, what stops you from seeking any escape, from substances to the streets to self-harm? I love the idea of trauma-informed education. A lot more places claim to be trauma-informed than actually live it. But, when it is done right, that approach I think can be life changing for all kinds of trauma in all kinds of situations, with all kinds of vulnerable populations. But there absolutely is a difference between just talking the talk and walking the walk. Every school and dentist and generic social services org in the U.S. seems to want to use “trade-informed” as a buzzword. The vast majority are anything but, as even a cursory glance at U.S. outcome along…well any…public health or equity access suggests. But, done right, it really is life-changing.

    1. I agree. “Trauma-informed” has been the flavour of the month for a while, but hypocrisy is far more common than actually implementing it.

      Education probably only looks like a way out of hell if something or someone has shown a kid that it can be. And far too many kids aren’t shown that, or at least not as a realistic option.

  3. Wow! Skids sounds like an amazing school, one I’d loved to have attended, and one that my youngest son would have loved to be a teacher at.

    He finally gave up being Head of Science at the ripe old age of 26 when he realised that the schools he worked in weren’t able to provide effective care and attention to the “bad kids” or the “losers” as some were called.

  4. Reminds me of N’s school in Norway really. I really hope more schools can become like this. I faced abuse from teachers and bullying from peers, and didn’t do well academically. I was withdrawn and quiet while my PerpBro externalised his trauma for sure.

        1. I would think motivation makes a difference – whether it’s because it’s something that sounds/looks good, or whether it’s coming from a place of actually wanting to do better at supporting people.

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