Social Sector Urged to Implement ‘Trauma-Informed’ Approach to Service Delivery
9 April 2018 at 4:41 pm
Social sector service providers need to implement a “trauma-informed” approach when dealing with childhood trauma victims, according to a new report.
The Blue Knot Foundation released its Talking About Trauma report on Saturday to coincide with World Health Day, as a new guide for services to improve their engagement with survivors of childhood trauma.
The report said all services, including police, legal and health professionals, could improve their understanding, interactions and supports for those who have experienced trauma in childhood.
Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, the president of Blue Knot Foundation, said the report was critical to improve the services received by Australian childhood trauma survivors.
“Around five million adult Australians have experienced childhood trauma alone, and many experience further trauma in seeking justice and support, due to a basic lack of understanding,” Kezelman said.
“This paper will help legal and health professionals have safe conversations with survivors, and better understand and support them, including as they share their experiences – moreover, it will help survivors receive the support they need and the justice they deserve.”
Co-author of the report and Blue Knot Foundation’s head of research Pam Stavropoulos, told Pro Bono News that first and foremost services needed to ensure they were “trauma-informed”.
“All services, whether it’s health, whether it’s Centrelink or whether it’s a police department, need to be trauma-informed. It is not about clinical treatment, but it’s knowing how to relate to and engage with people who may have underlying trauma,” Stavropoulos said.
The report outlines the key principles of trauma-informed practice, including prioritising the foundational principle of “do no harm”, understating the effects of stress on the brain and body and remaining sensitive to client comfort levels and the way in which a service is delivered (not just what the service is).
Stavropoulos said there were a number of ways services in the social sector could ensure they implemented a trauma-informed approach.
“The main thing around that is acting according to the basic trauma-informed principles which are five-fold. These are safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment,” she said.
“All conversations with clients should be informed by these principles.
“So if there’s a safe environment, it’s a collaborative approach and people engage in a way that helps them to feel empowered, then that is a trauma-informed way of relating and it will minimise the risk of any underlying trauma being compounded and minimise the risk of re-traumatisation.”
Stavropoulos said there were “often major” consequences for victims of abuse when services were not trauma-informed.
“We know that people who have experienced trauma have [been] let down. There’s been a lot of violations of trust and a lot of anxiety about relating to other people,” she said.
“So if they present to a service and they’re treated in a non trauma-informed way, this can really be decisive and it could determine whether they continue to engage with the service at all.
“If they feel cut off or not heard or patronised or interrupted or unsafe in any way, they’re more likely to be triggered if they have trauma and to disengage from the service. So it’s very high stakes.”
She said organisations that were trauma-informed would provide benefits not only for their clients but for their staff as well.
“It will certainly benefit trauma survivors themselves who hopefully will feel more confident about engaging with services and reaching out, secure in the knowledge that they’ll be treated with respect,” Stavropoulos said.
“But also for all of us in the sector, trauma-informed approaches are good for us too because they minimise everybody’s stress level. They lead to smoother interactions. So we’re saying it’s really a win-win to treat all clients in a trauma-informed manner.”
Stavropoulos added that the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse had shed light on the wide-ranging prevalence of trauma and the significant toll it took on victims.
“I think as a result of the royal commission, so many more people are aware of just how prevalent trauma is. Prior to the royal commission, often people thought ‘oh this is terrible but it’s just a few people’,” she said.
“Now we know the impacts of trauma are society-wide. The danger is that people know about it but feel uncomfortable to engage with people thinking ‘I can’t talk about it, I might upset the person, I should keep quiet’.
“So that’s why we’re releasing these publications talking about trauma, to assist all of us just to feel more comfortable about engaging around potential trauma.”