“We Need to Address the Trauma”: School Social Workers′ Views About Student and Staff Mental Health During COVID-19

Kate R. Watson, Gordon Capp, Ron Avi Astor, Michael S. Kelly, Rami Benbenishty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school disruptions shined a spotlight on the mental health needs of young people, and the importance of schools and school social workers (SSWs) in attending to those needs. This study sought to understand SSWs’ views about mental health and trauma in relation to the pandemic and schools reopening. Data came from written responses to open-ended questions on a national survey of SSWs during June–July 2020 (Kelly et al., 2021; Watson et al., 2022). In the national survey, 450 SSWs responded to open-ended questions, providing 115 single-spaced pages of detailed qualitative comments. A unified conceptual model for a trauma-informed school was created by integrating components suggested within the literature. This conceptual model was then used to generate a theory-based coding schema. Responses mapped well onto the conceptual model. Major themes included recognition of COVID-19 and 2020 social unrest as a unique period and potentially traumatic experience; the need for a trauma-informed school response; the challenges of addressing all facets of safety during the pandemic; and the essentiality and difficulty of maintaining school-based relationships during school closures and remote learning. Results demonstrated that SSWs used and discussed key components of a trauma-informed approach. Respondents offered several recommendations for implementing trauma-informed approaches during and after the pandemic, many of which required collaboration from other school staff. Findings provide empirical support for a unified school model that integrates components of a trauma-informed approach found in the literature. We make recommendations for interpersonal, organizational, and policy adaptations schools can take to become more trauma informed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)902-917
Number of pages16
JournalSchool Mental Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Mental health
  • Schools
  • Social work
  • Trauma-informed

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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