The Importance of Anti-Racism in Trauma-Informed Family Engagement

Kaitlin N. Piper, Amy Elder, Tiffaney Renfro, Allison Iwan, Marizen Ramirez, Briana Woods-Jaeger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Students of color are disproportionately affected by exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), racial trauma, and traumatic stress. Trauma-informed interventions in schools can promote healing among ACE-impacted students of color. These interventions require collaboration with family members to decide upon services and referrals; however, educators commonly face challenges with engaging families. The study purpose is to understand barriers and facilitators to engaging families in trauma-informed mental health interventions for ACE-impacted students of color. As part of a larger school-based trauma-informed trial (Link for Equity), 6 focus groups were conducted with parents/guardians of color and school staff (n = 39) across 3 Midwestern school districts. Participants were asked open-ended questions about trauma, discrimination, school supports, and family engagement. Transcripts were coded by two team members, and thematic analysis was used to identify barriers/facilitators to family involvement. Results indicated that families of ACE-impacted students of color commonly experienced racism including microaggressions and stereotypes from the school community, which deterred engagement and prevented trusting relationships between families and school staff. Parents highlighted feeling excluded from decisions related to their child’s education and that their voices were not heard or understood. Participants discussed the need for schools to consider how family obstacles (such as mental health and trauma) may prevent families from engaging with staff, and they recommended structural changes, such as anti-racism trainings for educators. Findings highlight the need for anti-racist work that addresses interpersonal and structural racism in schools, in order to promote family engagement in trauma-informed mental health interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-138
Number of pages14
JournalAdministration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (R01MD013801).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Family engagement
  • Racism
  • School
  • Trauma-informed care

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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