Chronic Childhood Trauma, Mental Health, Academic Achievement, and School-Based Health Center Mental Health Services

J Sch Health. 2017 Sep;87(9):675-686. doi: 10.1111/josh.12541.


Background: Children and adolescents exposed to chronic trauma have a greater risk for mental health disorders and school failure. Children and adolescents of minority racial/ethnic groups and those living in poverty are at greater risk of exposure to trauma and less likely to have access to mental health services. School-based health centers (SBHCs) may be one strategy to decrease health disparities.

Methods: Empirical studies between 2003 and 2013 of US pediatric populations and of US SBHCs were included if research was related to childhood trauma's effects, mental health care disparities, SBHC mental health services, or SBHC impact on academic achievement.

Results: Eight studies show a significant risk of mental health disorders and poor academic achievement when exposed to childhood trauma. Seven studies found significant disparities in pediatric mental health care in the US. Nine studies reviewed SBHC mental health service access, utilization, quality, funding, and impact on school achievement.

Conclusion: Exposure to chronic childhood trauma negatively impacts school achievement when mediated by mental health disorders. Disparities are common in pediatric mental health care in the United States. SBHC mental health services have some showed evidence of their ability to reduce, though not eradicate, mental health care disparities.

Keywords: academic achievement; child mental health; chronic trauma; pediatric health care; school-based health centers.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Success*
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / prevention & control*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration
  • Minority Groups / psychology
  • School Health Services
  • Students / psychology*
  • Students / statistics & numerical data
  • United States