By Christy Lawton
If you are working in or around any child welfare agency in the country right now, you’ve likely heard mention, in one degree or the other, the need for our practice and services to be more “trauma informed.” The discussion around childhood trauma as it relates specifically to child welfare is being driven by many factors that include cutting-edge research and data that is truly compelling. It is also a top federal priority that has translated into specific new mandates with which all child welfare agencies must comply.
The mandates are based on the knowledge that children entering the child welfare system have most likely endured repeated and chronic exposure to trauma, as opposed to other children or adults in the population that may experience “an isolated traumatic event” during their lifetime. The way chronic trauma effects an individual’s development, functioning, and mental health varies, but we know that children are exceptionally vulnerable to the negative long-term consequence of trauma due to the fact their brains are still developing.
In addition to the brain development still in process, children’s entire foundation of who they are, their future ability to maintain healthy relationship or function in a school or work setting, is still very much being developed and configured, which is often largely based on the positive or adverse experiences they face in childhood.
It is important for everyone who touches the life of a child in foster care to understand and be sensitive to the impact that trauma has had on the child so we can treat and serve the child accordingly. Developing a system that is “trauma informed” means that all the pieces, parts and people that support, treat, and serve our children and families recognize the role of trauma and take the appropriate steps to help them recover.
Our job in child welfare is to try and help parents increase their protective capacities, eliminate or reduce the threats to child safety, and reunify the family as quickly and safely as possible. If we’ve done our jobs right, those families will leave stronger and with the ability to keep their children safe. To maintain their progress we must ensure families have the tools, resources, and access to ongoing assistance that allows them to remain a healthy, functioning family that has the means to continue to heal from the trauma they experienced.
In order to achieve this goal, OCS needs all of you and the expertise and resources you offer our families to join us in this undertaking. In the coming year we will be implementing a plan to create an agency that is well informed about trauma and embeds that knowledge within the context of how we work with families every day. We will be creating opportunities for joint training to include our partners, providers, and for you to assist us as we assess our practice and policies with an eye to how they support or detract from our goal. This is not a new “initiative”; this is an opportunity to advance and enhance our practice to be on the cutting edge of what is best for kids and their families. If you would like to learn more, check out The National Child Traumatic Stress Network via this link: www.nctsnet.org/.