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Invisible Backpack

Covid-19 may have stopped a lot of normality within the world as we know it and may have impacted our freedom and normal life routine like nothing witnessed in the UK before. However, it has not prevented children and young people from experiencing trauma.

As a member of staff working within education supporting children and young people on a daily basis, this will come as no surprise to you. Due to the relationships built within education, young people may feel safe enough to discuss their personal lives and open up about the impact this is having on them. Some children and young people may not be in a position to communicate this, but may still view school as a safe place to come on a regular basis.

Education services being closed across the country for a period of time in 2020 was unprecedented and as a result, this safe place for children and young people was no longer accessible. The vulnerable young people within your education setting may have been at home for a prolonged period of time in an environment that was inflicting trauma upon them.

When the schools reopened to support children and young people, most walking through the door would have arrived with a physical backpack on their body, packed with stationery and items in preparation for learning within the “new normal”. However, all children and young people also carry with them an invisible backpack only felt by them. This bag is much heavier than the other one, as it carries all their emotions, worries and trauma in the one place.

This backpack could harbour feelings of hunger due to living within poverty and not being fed the day before, or feelings of anger due to the deprivation they face at home. This backpack could have painful memories of sexual abuse that impact how they navigate their school day. It could host real issues with sleep deprivation due to the shouting, screaming and physical violence they witness daily at home. The bag could be ready to burst with the anxiety and worry they have about meeting peers who are bullying and harassing them on a daily basis, in-person and online. The bag could have a host of worries within it, including a plan for them to complete suicide in the future or their worries about a family member who is struggling with addiction. The bag could be filled with worries about their younger siblings that they care for, making them late every day; it could be heavy with the emotions around the loss of a loved one during the pandemic that they haven’t had the opportunity to grieve for properly, leaving them detached from others and struggling with class work.

Every young person carries their own invisible backpack around your education setting and you may be the person they decide to open up the bag with. For these young people, school is not just a place for them to come and learn. It is an environment in which they can be fed, where they are cared for, feel warmth in relationships, feel valued and, most of all, feel safe.

Useful Worksheets:

"I need you to..." Stepping into the shoes of a young person who has experienced trauma, loss & change:

Compensate for my Brain State - Dr Bruce Perry’s Arousal Continuum:

6 Steps of Trauma-Sensitive Connection:

Supporting the Return to School with Hobfoll’s Five Principles of Recovery:

The Learning Triangle: A Model of Attachment & Learning by Heather Geddes:

“What if?” Using a trauma-informed lens to reframe behaviour:

The Trauma-informed Classroom - Providing a Safe Base:

Treating Trauma with Hope and Optimism:

Applying the 4 Rs of Trauma-Informed approaches in the return to school:


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