Trauma-Informed Car, children who are exposed to traumatic life events are at significant risk for developing serious and long-lasting problems across multiple areas of development. However, children are far more likely to exhibit resilience to childhood trauma when child-serving programs, institutions, and service systems understand the impact of childhood trauma, share common ways to talk and think about trauma, and thoroughly integrate effective practices and policies to address it—an approach often referred to as trauma-informed care (TIC). The context in which children live, learn, and grow shapes both their immediate and long-term well-being. Accordingly, children who experience trauma are more likely to exhibit resilience when their environments are responsive to their specific needs. Families, schools, community- based programs and services, and the individuals caring for children can increase the chances of resilience following childhood trauma when they become aware of the impact of childhood trauma, provide a sense of safety and predictability, protect children from further adversity,
and offer pathways for their recovery. In other words, children benefit when these entities provide them with trauma-informed care (TIC). Despite its focus on trauma, TIC is inherently a strengths-based perspective that emphasizes resilience instead of pathology. TIC has been defined and implemented in a number of ways, but the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has identified four key elements—the Four Rs
Applying TIC to real-world settings begins with a child’s first contact with a program, institution, or service system. It requires a comprehensive and multi-pronged effort involving the many adults in children’s lives. For example, in a school or afterschool program, TIC means increasing trauma-related knowledge and skills among program facilitators, school administrators, bus drivers, food service workers, classroom assistants, administrative staff, volunteers, teachers, leadership, special education professionals, school social workers and psychologists, families, and anyone else who comes into contact with children. However, increasing trauma knowledge is only one aspect of TIC, which also means that the individuals who care for children must be able to:
1. Realize the widespread nature of childhood trauma and how it impacts the child’s emotional, social, behavioral, cognitive, brain, and physical development, as well as their mental health. In addition, adults must be aware of the influence of trauma on family members, first responders, service providers, and others who may experience
secondary stress (trauma-related reactions to exposure to another person’s traumatic experience). In some instances, adults endure the same traumatic events or circumstances as the child (e.g., a natural disaster, community violence, death of a community member) and may benefit from similar supports.
2. Recognize the symptoms of trauma, including how trauma reactions (i.e., symptoms of posttraumatic stress) vary by gender, age, type of trauma, or setting. In addition, the adults in children’s lives must understand that a child’s challenging behaviors are normal, self-protective, and adaptive reactions to highly stressful situations, rather than viewing that child as intentionally misbehaving. Children’s trauma reactions are understood to be adaptive efforts to protect themselves in response to traumatic events. For example, a child may be hypervigilant to an adult’s anger or disapproval because, in the past, he or she experienced physical abuse by a parent. Or, a child may disassociate or daydream as a learned response that enables them to avoid feeling or thinking about a traumatic experience. In addition, TIC means recognizing that trauma may influence a child’s engagement in activities and services, interactions with peers and adults, and responsiveness to rules and guidelines.
3. Respond by making necessary adjustments, in their own language and behavior, to the child’s environment; and to policies, procedures, and practices to support the child’s recovery and resilience to trauma.
4. Resist re-traumatization by actively shaping children’s environments to avoid triggers (sounds, sights, smells, objects, places, or people that remind an individual of the original trauma) and protect children from further trauma, which can exacerbate the negative impacts of trauma and interfere with the healing process.
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