What is trauma-informed practice?


Within the world of out-of-home care you will often see reference to practice or a service being ‘trauma-informed’ but what does this really mean?

Over the last decade there has been an explosion in the field of neurobiology, (the science around the brain) in particular what is now known about developmental trauma and the detrimental impact on the brain. Developmental trauma is different to a one-off traumatic incident, development trauma is persistent neglect and abuse enduring over a period of time which is relationally-based (caused by a caregiver) leading to an overall and overwhelming experience of threat during infancy, childhood and/or adolescence. In short, developmental trauma impacts upon brain development, it causes the brain to focus its development on surviving and not thriving. This causes the brain to develop and function in a way that can create difficulties for the infant/child/adolescent, the actual brain architecture and chemistry is affected, and this in turn impacts upon how the body responds to stress and managing emotions.

This knowledge about the impact of developmental trauma upon brain development changes the way we practice and in turn the services we offer, hence the term ‘trauma-informed’. We now know often how a child or young person responds is due to their experience of development trauma, how their brain has been shaped, hard-wired. However, the good news is that the brain is not rigid, it is plastic or pliable, it is still shaping and developing into adulthood. The brain will change its structure and function in response to experience. It is relationships that harm children but it is relationships that heal them too.

Trauma-informed care helps a child or young person to move beyond functioning and focusing on survival (this is an unconscious process, the child or young person often does not realise this is what is happening) to thriving, being in a care environment which impacts positively upon the brain, is sensitive to the trauma experienced and focuses on helping with learning, developing and building relationships. These supportive, caring, empathic relationships are conduits for healing and growth, they help re-train the brain, learn new pathways, i.e.. new neurological wiring, circuits etc.

To do this and support children and young people in their journey of healing and healthy development, they need adults who understand trauma and behavioural reactions that are related to trauma provide environments to help the child or young person understand and process their trauma. They need to provide opportunities to discuss with the child or young person where they have been, who they are, where they want to be in the future, and the kind of help they need to get there. The child or young person needs to understand their feelings and emotions and how their brain works. There is lots of really easy to read material available to help adults help children explain what may seem hard to understand concepts, my personal favourite author is Dan Siegel, especially his books, The Whole Brain Child and Brainstorm.

If you would like to know more or borrow one of these books, please speak to one of the team on 02 9569 6933, comment below, or complete a request here. The whole team at SAF love to talk about how to help children process trauma, we have lots of tools and ideas, please feel free to ask.