At Lakeside, we are often asked to create a strategy for trauma-informed training and practice in different types of communities.
It is a responsibility, a call for help, and a sign of trust we take seriously
It is a significant challenge to assess what a community may need. Assessing a community requires an understanding about what is going on in the lives of families, professionals and systems of care.
There are many types of communities.
Some communities are strictly urban, some are suburban and some are rural. There are some communities that have a blend of each.
As we look at some of the root causes of trauma, we can attribute the condition to many things.
• There may be a prominence of family legacies of abuse or neglect.
• There could be violence, poverty, human trafficking, mental health issues and significant drug and alcohol addiction.
• Some communities have had a major traumatic event like a flood or earthquake from which they have never recovered.
• Also, there may have been a significant financial crisis where services have been reduced or even completely eliminated to the point that there is little or no help for trauma-impacted individuals.
• There are also economic stressors in areas where jobs have been lost where there is little hope for a financial future.
• There also could be a major medical epidemic which has caused sickness or death on a large scale.
These are just some of the issues that can impact how a community can be identified as a traumatized community of individuals.
Any approach taken toward serving the community needs first to ascertain what these issues are within it.
Also, as we plan an approach, there must be sensitivity to race, gender, religion, nationality, and cultural issues specific to each community. If we do not take into consideration cultural differences, we could easily miss the very context that created the trauma in the first place.
Another factor is the condition of the organizations that will be providing the care for trauma-impacted individuals.
I have listened to many stories of how organizations have been under so much toxic stress that the leadership and staff have suffered consequences that contribute to the trauma within a community.
There is no simple formula when approaching a community that needs trauma-informed care. Healing and recovery from trauma can be quite complex. In truth, we must understand all of the factors (like those listed above) and approach the community with sensitivity and intentionality that will maximize both the impact of the care.
So, the first approach to cultivating a community for trauma-informed care is to simply listen and learn from those who can speak for the community.
I have one example of the value of listening.
It wasn’t too long ago that Lakeside approached the individuals in an urban environment who were leaders in the Head Start Program. We were given the opportunity to work with 600 parents in a very violent community.
We were asked to teach these parents about the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), research which basically shows that the more adverse childhood experiences you have experienced the more relational, emotional and health deficits you will face in your life.
We wanted to engage the leadership with a trial run; so, we taught the ACE’s research, stated the consequences and then proceeded to talk about regulation techniques. Though it may have begun as a very basic training, it ended with individuals becoming upset.
The participants begged us not to identify the problems and then leave the families in their community.
Many in the audience had a high ACE score. In fact, it was devastating to hear what the potential consequences could be to them. Since they represented the community, it was clear that our intended trial run, or abbreviated training approach, would have been re-traumatizing.
So we revised the program to better suit the community.
We simply talked about toxic stress and what it does to families. We helped parents find a safety plan for them and for their children when toxic stress arose in their family and community.
The program became a huge success. But if we had not listened to these community leaders, we would have re-traumatized parents and worsened the situation for them.
Adapting the program was a response to listening to the community. It was a great reminder of how sensitive and intentional we needed to be in our approach to trauma-impacted families.
There are so many significant issues to listen to in a trauma-impacted community.
It takes a great deal of sensitivity, adaptability, humility, and nurture to launch any program that attempts to address such a pervasive and complex set of circumstances that a traumatized community faces.
Each community must share its experiences authentically. Consequently, those of us who are attempting to provide training and/or care must structure an approach that avoids re-traumatizing the community while setting a path towards healing and hope.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside