What is Trauma-Informed Care?

Early childhood care and education is essential to the health, development and future success of San Diego children and the regional economy.
Early childhood care and education is essential to the health, development and future success of San Diego children and the regional economy.

It’s difficult to witness or experience traumatic events that affect members of our family or community. It’s especially hard for children and young people. Unfortunately, trauma at any scale can have cascading effects throughout a person’s lifetime if not addressed.

One of the ways to address trauma properly is by providing trauma-informed care. Trauma-informed care is care in which mental healthcare providers, such as counselors, implement an effective treatment process, such as talk therapy, without re-traumatization.

Defining Trauma

Trauma is widely defined as exposure to actual or threatened events involving death, serious injury or sexual violation. It can be an event that is directly experienced, witnessed, learned or repeatedly exposed to over time.

Trauma results from events that seriously threaten or violate the safety of a person or a person’s loved ones – examples include car accidents, natural disasters, mass casualty events or sexual assault.

According to an ongoing study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente called the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study, many children have experienced trauma. In fact, a staggering 46 million children witness the trauma of violence, crime, physical and psychological abuse every year in the United States (Listenbee et al., 2012). That trauma can have wide-ranging and serious detrimental impacts, including depression, drug or alcohol abuse, and chronic illnesses such as heart disease.

As children and young adults receive mental health care, counselors should be sensitive to the patient’s history. The health provider should take extra care not to further traumatize the patient during treatment. That’s a primary goal of trauma-informed care.

Trauma-informed Care

In a recent post by educators at William & Mary School of Education, the importance of taking special care not to further traumatize the patient during treatment was emphasized: “Trauma-informed care requires understanding that the trauma people experience in the past can negatively impact their current life.”  

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHS), which specializes in trauma-informed care in behavior health services, lists four characteristics as essential to a trauma-informed program or system:

  • Realize the impact of trauma and understand the potential for recovery
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma
  • Respond by integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures and practices
  • Actively resist re-traumatization

In alignment with LiveWell San Diego, The San Diego Foundation has adopted a Trauma Informed Code of Conduct that was facilitated by Clinton Health Matters Initiative, and developed by young adults from Project A.W.A.R.E., Just in Time for Foster Youth, and Youth Empowerment. It is a statement of their expectation about how children, youth and families should be treated by government agencies and communities of support who interact with them.

As written, organizations must commit to apply trauma-informed care practices to ensure that their interactions, behaviors, services and communities of support are accountable to avoid worsening the effects of trauma. This commitment supports youth in building resilience, and being balanced, healthy and empowered.

The Need for Trauma-Informed Care

With millions of children witnessing the trauma of violence, crime and abuse every year in this country, the need for trauma-informed care by skilled and compassionate professionals continues to rise. Research has shown that trauma significantly increases the possibility of mental health problems, affects social relationships and school learning.

The American School Counselor Association understands the need for establishing a supportive school environment. Their studies have revealed that positive school environments have been linked to increased academic achievement and improved social and emotional coping skills, such as reducing bullying, harassment and excessive disciplinary problems. 

Creating a positive educational environment requires a dedicated staff and counselors trained in trauma-informed care. Fortunately, there are organizations supporting programs and providing the funding to ensure trauma-informed care is available to students and their families.

The Early Childhood Initiative

As part of its Early Childhood Initiative, The San Diego Foundation awarded $252,000 in grants in June to 11 nonprofit programs in San Diego County. These programs will prevent abuse, provide mental and behavioral health services, support early interventions, address trauma and increase health equity for young children, five and under, and their families. Trauma experienced by children, often referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) 

is recognized as an urgent public health crisis with wide-reaching health and societal impacts. The San Diego Foundation understands the issue that ACEs present to children, families and service providers in our communities. That’s why the grants given to organizations in San Diego County are so important.

As part of its Strategic Plan, The San Diego Foundation is committed to improving mental and behavioral health resources in the region to help build resilient communities.

Learn more about our Strategic Plan.