A compassionate and trauma-informed approach begins with a realisation of the widespread and inequitable experience of adversity in the lives of children, young people and families and an understanding of the traumatic impact these adverse experiences can have. At its heart is a fundamental shift from thinking “What is wrong with you?” to considering “What happened to you?”
It is concerned with recognising that what you are seeing could be an outward sign of a survival response in an individual who has had to adapt to cope with difficult and frightening life experiences. These responses may have been helpful at the time the person felt in great danger, but they can become part of a pattern of behaviour that continues even after the danger has passed. This pattern can be very unhelpful for the person in the present, but also hard to stop or to change, as it had such an important role to play in keeping them safe in the past.
But it’s not just about realising, recognising and understanding. Crucially, it’s also about how we respond: what we do in practice and the part we can all play in helping to prevent adverse experiences that can harm or overcome their impact on our minds, bodies and relationships. This cannot be achieved through any single technique or checklist or service but rather is about awareness, sensitivity, compassion and empathy at every level and in every place. Compassionate and trauma-informed practice, a bit like restorative practice, is a “way of being” with other people. Even if you only meet someone once, for a very short time, you can have a really positive impact through the way you are with them.
Sometimes, unintentionally, the way we word something or do something, or the way our services respond to people can unintentionally cause further harm. So a trauma informed approach also involves thinking about the way we do things, with the aim of reducing the chance of causing further harmful or possibly traumatic experiences in the lives of the people we are seeking to help and support. By listening to the experiences and perspectives of children, young people and their family members and by stopping to reflect on how our words and actions might be experienced by others, we can adjust our approach and reduce or prevent the risk of further harm.
Trauma informed practice is not a therapy; it’s a way by which every one of us can understand and provide compassionate interactions to help others who may have experienced trauma.
For some people, getting help that focuses directly on their trauma response will be really important in helping them overcome the ongoing impact of difficult things they have experienced. Part of becoming a trauma informed city will involve creating easy and streamlined access for children, young people and families to joined-up, integrated trauma-focused expertise and therapeutic intervention when needed and wanted.
But alongside this, everyday interactions and relationships hold a huge significance. Not only therapy is therapeutic and by bringing a trauma-informed approach into all our interactions with everybody, we can magnify the power of every moment and interaction.
When we are working with people, we often don’t know what they have experienced or whether they are carrying the burden of trauma. And we don’t need to know before we bring a trauma informed approach into our practice.
This way of being will be helpful for everybody we work with, regardless of their life experiences. By making it part of our everyday approach with everyone we work with, we know we will be offering it to those who have experienced trauma.
This includes the young people and families we work with but also our colleagues and each other, across our different organisations in Leeds. We are all human and many of us have experienced adversity and the impact of trauma in our lives. This might have been when we were younger, in adulthood, in our personal lives and/or in our working lives. A trauma-informed approach can be helpful to us all.
Weaving a trauma-informed approach into our way of being with and working with others is not going to happen quickly or simply by watching a video or attending a training session. Becoming more knowledgeable about adverse experiences and the impact of trauma will be an important part of this, but the real key will be transferring this knowledge into everyday practice.
This is a multi-layered process of developing awareness, knowledge, sensitivity and compassionate ways to respond. We see it as an ongoing journey towards becoming trauma informed, for individuals, teams, organisations, communities and for Leeds as a city. Rather than thinking of “being” trauma-informed, we think it is more useful to think of “becoming” trauma-informed, seeing this as an ongoing process, with no final destination. In the same way that attending safeguarding training doesn’t automatically guarantee that everything you do is now “safe” so going on trauma informed training doesn’t mean everything you are doing is now trauma-informed: both need a commitment to continuous focus and improvement.
Two key actions in becoming trauma-informed include learning as much as you can about trauma responses and then reflecting on your work and on how these responses might be showing up in the behaviour and reactions of the people you are working with. If you are not a front-line practitioner, this could be thinking about the people you work with as part of recruitment, management, supervision, liaison and leadership.
Taking a trauma-informed approach widens our focus from “What’s wrong?” to “What’s strong?” A central part of this is paying attention to all the strengths, resources and assets that surround an individual, a family or community and helping to nurture and enhance these. How can you weave a greater focus on strengths and resources into your work?
To support this trauma-informed journey, this Hub will be one way to share learning and resources across all sectors of the children’s partnership. It will grow and change in response to feedback and new developments and will shine a light on some of the established and growing strengths in practice in Leeds so we can learn from and with each other, across sectors and services.
What are the trauma-informed practice principles?
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