The Traumatic Stress Institute fosters the transformation of organizations and service systems to trauma-informed care (TIC) through the delivery of whole-system consultation, professional training, coaching, and research.
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Tips for Starting Trauma-Informed Care Now

May 7, 2020 / by Patricia D. Wilcox, LCSW

Looking to begin your program's transformation to trauma-informed care but don't know where to start? Or don't have the funding to invest in a whole-system change initiative right now? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Every time you talk about something a child has done, review the child’s history.
  2. Any time someone wants to know what punishment you should apply to a given action, ask: how do we understand why he did that action?
  3. Clinicians- think of a treatment theme for each child you are working with--a brief statement of the central focus of your work--such as "learning to trust adults" or "learning to handle disappointment without making things worse", or "learning to recognize emotions". Communicate this to the team.
  4. Develop an individual crisis management plan with each child, noting what tends to upset them, how they show they are starting to get upset, what helps, what doesn’t help. Make these living documents, available to the whole team, used by all, and constantly revised.
  5. Discuss with both staff and kids what about your program makes them feel safe, what about the program makes them feel unsafe. What can you improve?
  6. Start some Youth Leadership activities- a student council, a unit group to decide unit activities, youth-to-youth mentoring, older kids teaching younger, etc.
  7. Use sensory interventions, such as rocking chairs, weighted garments, blankets and fur, soft music, or aromatherapy. What is comforting for one client may have the opposite effect for another.
  8. Add yoga and meditation to your offerings.
  9. Institute a program where the kids engage in some social action to help others, such as collecting food for a food bank, or volunteering at a Senior Center.
  10. Start a discussion among staff about how people are feeling about the job and how the work is affecting them.
  11. Buy night lights for all kids who want them.
  12. Have a staff retreat including all disciplines during which you have fun and do team building activities.

It's best to remember that new habits take time to form and change doesn't happen overnight. Consider which of these options would be small and doable without much effort, then build momentum from there. It's also important to put a frame to your intent; let staff know the goal is for a better working relationship with clients and a better workplace for them.

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Patricia D. Wilcox, LCSW

Written by Patricia D. Wilcox, LCSW

Patricia D. Wilcox, LCSW, is Vice President of Strategic Development at Klingberg Family Centers and specializes in treatment of traumatized children and their families. She created the Restorative Approach™ , a trauma- and relationship-based treatment method. She is also a Faculty Trainer for Risking Connection® and an Adjunct Faculty at both the University of CT School of Social Work and St. Joseph’s University. She travels nationally to train treaters on trauma-informed care, specializing in improving the daily life of treatment programs.