Secluding, restraining and excluding children in schools can exacerbate behavioural difficulties in children who have experienced trauma, the Centre for Mental Health has warned.
Using restrictive interventions in schools can make the problems staff are trying to resolve worse and create a vicious circle of trauma, challenging behaviour, restriction and psychological harm, the centre warns in a review of literature on the impact of seclusion, restraint and psychological harm on children's mental health.
Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said: “The government’s election manifesto promised to take action to improve behaviour in schools, including greater use of exclusion. Our evidence review finds that we need a different approach to make schools safer and healthier places in which to learn and grow."
Thousands of children are subject to restrictive interventions in schools every year, putting their mental health at risk whether they have suffered traumas or not, the centre adds. However, young people showing challenging behaviour in school are more likely to have experienced past traumas. Once subjected to seclusion, restraint or exclusion, the experience can mirror the traumatic events that happened to them. This therefore increases the likelihood of further challenging behaviour and an escalation of the cycle.
One-third of children are exposed to traumatic events before the age of 18, and a quarter of them will later develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
The review finds that alternative approaches are less likely to cause or exacerbate childhood trauma or distress. These approaches include positive behavioural support and creating trauma-informed schools, which have wider benefits to all children and staff. Being trauma-informed may help to prevent challenging behaviour by creating a safe environment where children are taught about their mental health and are helped to manage their emotions, the centre adds.
Sarah Hughes said: “Attempts to improve school discipline through restrictive interventions and exclusions will not work. For some of the most vulnerable and marginalised children they will entrench behavioural problems with lifelong consequences for them and their families. Helping schools to become trauma-informed is much more promising. As part of a ‘whole school approach’ to mental health it has the potential to benefit everyone, to make all children feel valued and understood and prevent exclusions and their devastating consequences.
“Our school years have profound and lasting effects on our mental health. The government has recognised this by investing in new mental health teams to go into schools and putting the subject on the curriculum. It must now take the next step and help schools to boost children’s mental health in the ways they manage behaviour and create a safe and consistent learning environment for all," Sarah Hughes concluded.
Trauma, challenging behaviour and restrictive interventions in schools