United States

Teacher Training on Issues of Psychological Trauma in Children Update

September 30, 2006

Lauren Brenner-Katz


  1. The daily stress of hunger, financial need, and an unsafe social environment puts thousands of children in the Skid Row area at increased risk for life-long physical and emotional illness. Many are physically and sexually abused, and all are exposed to violence, crime, and drug abuse on the streets where they live.
  2. The teachers in their schools are mandated by law to report any cases of abuse or other emotional trauma. This reporting would result in the children receiving care or treatment from outside agencies and professionals, and is often the only hope they have for a safer, healthier life.
  3. However, teachers and school staff receive no training in how to identify psycho-trauma in children, how to encourage children to open up and share their experiences, and how to offer supportive assistance and guidance. This huge gap in teacher training means thousands of children continue to live in a state of daily trauma, when in fact assistance is available that can literally save their lives.
  4. The Real Medicine Project L.A. was developed to fill this gap and provide teachers with the professional psycho-trauma training they need to support the emotional health of their students and themselves.

The Real Medicine Foundation is a Los Angeles-based, international organization with a cutting-edge approach to humanitarian relief. As the name suggests, “real medicine” aims for real and long-term solutions rather than quick fixes. Our “whole person” approach addresses physical, emotional, economic, and social needs in order to heal, give hope, and rebuild lives affected by disaster, war, or poverty.

Real Medicine is now applying its global expertise to a very local tragedy: The relentless, daily trauma experienced by vast numbers of children living in poverty and homelessness – right here in one of the most affluent cities in the world. At any given time, Los Angeles has an estimated 16,000 homeless children and 8,200 homeless families, led mostly by single mothers.

Unlike victims of a one-time natural disaster, children living on the streets and in conditions of poverty have no safe, emotional refuge. Exposure to violence, hunger, illness, drug abuse, and crime puts children at an increased risk of costly physical and emotional illness throughout their entire lives. A joint CDC/Kaiser-Permanente study of Adverse Childhood Events (ACE Study) clearly outlined the increased lifelong physical and emotional effects for these children, including higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, alcoholism, suicide and other major killers.

Hope is in the hands of educators and caregivers.

For most of these children, school is their only safe haven. Their teachers are among the only consistent, reliable adults they know, and the only adults with the potential to protect and guide them to a better way of life. In fact, teachers in California are required by law to report suspected cases of trauma, including domestic violence, sexual abuse, and other crimes, so the children can receive appropriate support from local agencies.

However, there is currently no mandated training to support teachers in their efforts with these children. With no training or support, educators are left on their own to identify and help victimized children. This tragic gap in training leaves teachers feeling overwhelmed and helpless, and children who might be helped continue to suffer, physically, emotionally, and academically.

A study at the University of California at Los Angeles concludes: “The vast majority (78%) of homeless children suffer from either depression, a behavioral problem, or severe academic delay. Among children having a problem, only one third of the parents were aware of any problem, and few of those children (15%) had ever received mental health care or special education. Programs targeted at sheltered homeless school-age children are needed to close this gap.”

Real Medicine Project L.A.

Under the direction of Dr. Kevin Becker of Harvard University, Real Medicine has provided trauma training and interventions around the world following such devastating tragedies as the South Asian tsunami, September 11th, and the Pakistan earthquake. After hurricane Katrina, Real Medicine provided training to educators in the Memphis Catholic school system working with displaced children evacuated from New Orleans and surrounding areas. The Real Medicine program was received with great excitement, and follow-up surveys indicate an ongoing change in teachers’ confidence and skill helping at-risk children in need.

Now Real Medicine is introducing a program to give local educators the same life-changing yet simple psycho-trauma tools previously used in global disaster relief.

Real Medicine Project L.A. will train teachers and child care workers to recognize the signs and symptoms of children in need, so the children can receive the services they need to lead healthier and safer lives.

Teachers and staff will spend two days with trainers from The Real Medicine Foundation Psycho-Trauma Team, learning the principles and techniques that will help them support some of Los Angeles’ most troubled children. Several programs have been chosen to receive the specialized training, beginning with the Para Los Ninos Charter School in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles.

In keeping with the highly-personal approach of Real Medicine, every school served will be individually accessed, to provide a customized program. Real Medicine believes it is important to understand the needs, culture, and resources of the communities being served, and does not employ an “off the shelf” program.


  1. An increase in the knowledge and skill base of educators and child care workers regarding their ability to identify children suffering from the negative effects of adverse experiences and traumatic events.
  2. An increase in the number of children referred for supportive services (internally and externally) related to the negative impact of traumatic events and adverse experiences.
  3. An increased number of referrals to identified local health providers for appropriate support services related to training topics.

Training Topics

  • The Trauma Response (in Children & Adults)
  • Coping Strategies and resilience
  • Developmental Influences in the impact of traumatic experiences
  • Skills Development for teachers and child care workers
  • Understanding dissociation in traumatized children
  • Care for the Caregivers
  • Skill Development for working with traumatized children and parents
  • The role of safety, predictability, and control in working with trauma victims
  • A bio-psychosocial model of trauma impact
  • Psychological support for traumatized children
  • Overview of treatment models for trauma survivors