Stability at School

A Trauma-Informed Approach to Students in Foster Care


  • Kelly Zinn Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey


Children in foster care are a vulnerable population facing adversity in the form of trauma and attachment issues. This at-risk group may benefit from special consideration in school systems, as educational achievement— and lack thereof—is tied to life trajectories. School may be the only stable area in a foster child’s life, and school staff members have the potential to have a lasting positive impact on foster children. The author proposes a relational treatment approach, utilizing trauma-informed practices through an attachment theory framework, to address the needs of fostered students (fostered students referring to students who are residing in foster care placements) in the school setting. A trauma-informed approach may assist these students as they navigate their academic environments, and an attachment theory framework is vital to the therapeutic relationship with foster children. School-based mental health professionals have the opportunity to become a secure base for fostered students, as well as assist these children in the development of healthy relationships. The author posits that providing healthy and secure relationships for fostered children is a prerequisite for academic achievement, and without attention to the relational trauma foster children have experienced school personnel cannot expect academic growth. A trauma-informed approach puts the need for safe and stable relationships first and foremost. This paper includes a review of the literature and a case example to illustrate how this approach was utilized in an urban school.

Author Biography

Kelly Zinn, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Kelly Zinn is a Licensed Social Worker in New Jersey and New York, and a Certified School Social Worker in New Jersey.


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