This is a big issue in schools everywhere. Some schools have a greater share of this problem than others. And schools deal with this issue in many ways.
First, it's important that the school is a safety zone for these children--a place where they feel welcomed, nurtured, and engaged. It's important to reach out a little more to these children to check in, smile, and ask what you can do to help. This can sometimes be challenging because the extra effort these children need often compromises a lesson, takes more time, and pulls at a teachers' emotional strings too, but in thinking about this, it's right to make that time--children need to know you care.
Next it's important to connect these children to the guidance services available. When these issues become complex, it's important that an educator does not go it alone, but instead works with a team of educators to best support the child. It's also important to reach out to family members. In most cases like this, a child's family is doing all they can to help too, but circumstances are just too big to deal with at the moment. Several years ago, one of my sons was gravely ill. All I could do was be at his side in the hospital. In response, many teachers, family members, friends, and parents pitched in and helped my other children during this time. I was so grateful to their care. Fortunately my son survived the illness, and we quickly got back on track, but at that time, like any family facing a sudden, tragic turn in the road, I was unable to be there for my other children, and community members at school, in my neighborhood, and from my family came to my rescue.
After that you have to refrain from judgement. When children are going through hard times, sometimes you want to blame someone because you hate seeing the child suffer and you don't like what it's doing to the child or the class in general. But, you can't judge. That's not our job as educators, and we never know the whole story. As one wise leader told me, "Let's focus on what we can do here at school to make a difference, and let's not focus on how or why this happened." Yes, some analysis helps and sometimes you and/or the school have to contact outside agencies when situations are severe, but in general our job needs to focus on what we can do during the school day to make sure that child has a positive experience.
Finally, you need to continue to encourage a child to invest in his/her learning. Learning something new and doing a good job will build confidence and capacity. A child going through hard times needs to continue to develop their skill set and focus on doing a good job. This will help them to feel good and to move forward with strength. You have to find the right way to bridge the struggle with the opportunity to learn with strength. Some educators do this better than others, and some do it at some times better than other times. No matter, the goals is to do it well.
Teachers are often called to be "everyman or everywoman." Sometimes it's difficult to sift out the most important priorities and actions amidst that complexity, but we have to make time for those children whose emotional backpacks are heavy and impeding who they are or what they can do or b. A little extra support and care will go a long way. I'll seek to follow my own advice this week as I move down the teaching/learning path. Onward.