Risk Factors for Newcomer Trauma

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Approximately one quarter of the young people in U.S. schools have endured some type of significant trauma.  Trauma can occur as a singular paralyzing event or as a period of intense ongoing stress.  We can define significant trauma as distress that is impactful enough to overwhelm an individual’s ability to produce and manage healthy responses to upheaval. 

Trauma and shock are complex issues, especially with respect to students’ academic participation.  It is important to bear in mind that trauma is often multi-layered and can be influenced by a broad range of factors.  This helps us to better understand why two individuals who may have experienced very similar profound-stress life events may rationalize that information in vastly different ways.  Underlying risk factors can have dedicated implications for both the impact of trauma and the viability of resilience.

 Refugee newcomer students are vulnerable to additional risk factors that may impair or restrict an individual's ability to access emotional coping resources.  For example, the age at which the trauma occurred can influence the degree of affectedness (preschool and early adolescence are especially critical periods).  In The Newcomer Student, we read:

“The degree to which our Newcomer students are impacted by stress can be notably profound. We can assume that most Newcomers will have endured episodes of prolonged stress, as an organic byproduct of abrupt flight. Of course, affectedness presents itself in individualized ways, and it is intensely codependent upon the length and gradation of stressful experience, as well as a string of alternative variables.” 

What are those variables?

We can explore some of the most common trauma impact risk factors for refugee Newcomer students in the info-chart below.  We can use this resource to increase our own educator awareness around our students’ vulnerabilities.  This understanding can be integrated into a whole child approach to trauma prevention and mitigation in the school setting.  

By increasing our own awareness into trauma, we are also expanding the breadth and depth to which we are able to service our students.  We can commit to meeting our learners where they are now; setting high expectations for their socio-academic achievement; and celebrating with them critical milestones along the way.  

Let's embrace this cognizance that episodes of trauma may manifest in our students, but focus our sights looking forward- to our students' overwhelming, captivating resilience.  Our learners have a story to tell, but that's not the whole journey.  It's just the beginning.