Lionhearted – What Does it Mean to be Trauma-Informed?
Volume 4 • Issue 7 • January 2020
Uplift Family Services is a trauma-informed agency, providing whole person care through resilience-oriented, data-driven, culturally sensitive services. We believe in the power of staff investment, advocacy and collaboration as we partner with individuals, families, and communities to heal from the widespread impact of trauma.
What does it mean to be trauma-informed?
Since 2017, Uplift Family Services has been working on multiple fronts to become a trauma-informed organization. So, what exactly does that mean?
The phrase trauma-informed (TI) is used in different ways. Trauma-informed principles describe to the values and behavior of individual staff, programs, departments, and the agency as a whole. SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) lists six TI principles:
- Trustworthiness and transparency
- Peer support
- Collaboration and mutuality
- Empowerment and choice
- Cultural, historic and gender issues
Of course, documenting these principles on a poster (or in a newsletter) is one thing. Bringing them to life across an agency takes leadership, resources and a sustained effort at all levels.
Another common term is trauma-informed care (TIC). This is about applying a TI perspective (sometimes called a trauma-informed lens) to the care of customers as well as the staff who serve them. According to SAMHSA’s “Four R’s” of trauma-informed care:
- Staff have a realization – that is, an awareness and understanding – of trauma;
- Staff recognize the signs of trauma as they engage and partner with customers;
- Staff respond to trauma with both TI principles and treatments designed for trauma; and
- The program resists re-traumatization of customers and secondary trauma of staff.
And then we come to the broadest term, the trauma-informed organization (TIO), which includes not only TIC but every imaginable aspect of the agency. The leaders of a TIO encourage TI efforts. The work culture employs TI principles. Offices and common areas feel both physically and emotionally safe. Policies and trainings incorporate TI language. The agency applies TI principles toward other organizations in the community. (And the list goes on! For details, see SAMHSA’s Concept for Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach.)
About two years ago, Uplift Family Services committed to becoming a TI Organization. We had several reasons for doing so.
- Working with trauma is both our heritage (our roots go back to caring for orphaned and exploited children in the 19th century) and our future.
- Research has now shown that trauma causes persistent changes in the brain and in the endocrine and immune systems. As a result, early life trauma raises not only the risk of social and mental health problems in childhood but of behavioral, psychological and physical health problems throughout adulthood.
- Trauma is widespread and often multi-generational, so that treating it in one generation may prevent it in the next.
- Our staff members deserve a supportive, collaborative, learning environment, as well as an agency identity that aligns with their passion.
At what point can an agency authentically claim to be TI? There is no measurable standard, no certification, no magic moment. Also, as far as we can tell, the task of becoming TI is never done. Uplift Family Services has a century and a half of experience with trauma. Our TI goal is not to talk the talk, but to walk the walk: to be TI to the core and be a leader in TI service and advocacy. We are rapidly becoming a true TI organization – and we will tell you how in the next issue of Lionhearted.
Uplift Family Services Trauma-Informed Project
Business Owners: Mark Edelstein & Elena Judd
Project Manager: Laurel Mechling
Sponsor: Craig Wolfe