Overcoming adverse childhood experiences in Irish schools
: a pilot trial of whole-school trauma-informed approaches

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Objective: In educating students with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) it is
acknowledged that school personnel play a key role in supporting student’s learning and emotional needs, however, teachers are often unprepared and lacking in appropriate training to support students affected by trauma. Phase one attempted a conceptual expansion of the ACE checklist. Phase two determined whether professional development training in trauma-informed practice would lead to changes in school personnel attitudes towards trauma-
informed care and other well-being outcomes. Additionally, this phase explored teachers’ emerging perspectives following participation in training. Phase three determined whether a mindfulness-based intervention improved student and teacher mental health.

Method: Phase one utilised secondary cross-sectional data recruited from four post-primary schools in N.I. (n=864). Phase two utilised quasi-experimental waitlist-control pre-post data recruited from three post-primary schools (n=216), in addition to two focus group interviews (n=17). Phase three utilised controlled pre-post data recruited from one post-primary school (students, n=36; teachers, n=10).

Results: Phase one showed those at risk of adolescent psychopathology had the highest probability of encountering interpersonal relationship issues. Phase two demonstrated school personnel became more trauma-informed and had more favourable attitudes towards trauma-impacted students and consequently less likely to experience burnout, as well as experiencing a positive shift in perspectives, attitudes, and behaviours following training. Phase three
showed no significant findings.

Conclusion: This thesis contributes to the small but growing body of research promoting more trauma-informed attitudes thus improving staff and student wellness in schools.
Date of AwardJul 2022
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsVice Chanchellor's Research Scholarship
SupervisorKaren Kirby (Supervisor), John Mallett (Supervisor) & Paula McFadden (Supervisor)


  • Toxic stress
  • Chronic stress
  • Adolescents
  • Psychopathology
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Executive functions
  • Mindfulness
  • Professional development
  • Education
  • Dose-response
  • Compassionate schools

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