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LL: Trauma Informed v. Trauma Competent

*This is a part of our series, "Lessons Learned", where we're reflecting on what we've experienced over the last 9 years of ministry! For the rest of the series, you can check the main post: Introduction


Experiencing trauma is really common, it happens constantly in our world, but within our work of serving youth transitioning out of the foster care system we often find that there is prolonged, unresolved trauma being experienced. As an organization, it has been pivotal to develop our programs around this reality and adapt to the needs we see. This has led to our pursuit of trauma informed care and best practices for this population. What we've found is that we have to work through the differences between "Trauma Informed" as opposed to "Trauma Competent" - this is a difficult lesson, and one that we consider to be still growing within our society, but it's really important:


Trauma informed care is not simply having an understanding that trauma is present in our client's history.


Trauma informed care is the thoughtful application of tools and resources within our work that reflects an understanding of the affect trauma has had on our client's lives.


Trauma informed care is the alleviation of unnecessary obstacles and burdens within our practices that specific clients may find more difficult to overcome due to past trauma.


Trauma informed care is a conscious choice to always be willing learn and grow to better serve those in our circles.


Trauma informed care is the understanding that we cannot assume who has or has not endured a traumatic history, and making every effort to be a strengthening resource rather than a new obstacle on their journey.


Why is differentiation between the two important? A trauma informed service will acknowledge that trauma is impacting their interactions with the client, whereas a trauma competend service will keep an active record of strategies and tools to help someone overcome the effects of trauma on their receipt of services.


Where to Start / Resources:


  1. Know the resources already available. through Show Hope's "Hope for the Journey" training we have been introduced to the key elements of Trust Based Relational Intervention by the Karyn Purvis Institute of Childhood Development, and that has been enormously helpful in our pursuit of best practices.

  2. Talk with others already doing this work and watch them work. Our collaborations with SaySoInc have been some of the most influential on the development of best practices for our organization - because they've been doing similar work for 26 years. Trauma competence is an accumulation of understanding, so take every opportunity to learn from others doing the work well.

  3. Make it personal. Each person is different and the processing of trauma is not linear or clean. Each client will have different triggers and needs - to serve everyone well we need to know the individual.

  4. Accept the slow pace of steady process. Being trauma competent will slow things down, because it's intentional. Allow it to be. Allow your organization to learn, have each employee trained, take the time to know each client, and adapt to the needs you see consistently. This might look like phone calls instead of emails, this might look like in person meetings instead of Zoom meetings, it may be one lesson becoming three - whatever trauma competency looks like, it's going to be worth it.



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