DHSS becoming a ‘trauma-informed’ system
By Christy Lawton
In September's Pipeline I spoke about trauma-informed care. This issue continues to be on the forefront, so you are likely to keep hearing about it, not only from within the world of child welfare but in many other venues as well. Being trauma-informed is the one of the top priorities being identified and discussed across the country, as well as in Alaska. It is a coined phrase seeking to describe a philosophy or understanding that guides an agency's policy or a practitioner's approach to assessing and decision-making for working with those who have experienced trauma.
The phrase represents a broad framework used often and sometimes interchangeably with other terminology that is at times both simple in concept and overwhelming in scope. In 2011 the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act required child welfare programs to develop a plan to screen and treat the emotional trauma for children in foster care. Being trauma-informed enables the system to more accurately tailor treatment, placement, and other individualized service based on our understanding of the trauma children have experienced.
OCS, as well as the entire Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), is working on efforts to become a trauma-informed system. That will require going beyond basic training and screening. It requires that the foundation from which we serve families be based in a philosophy and level of understanding that is embedded at every level of the programs, policies, and the array of services provided.
It is essential that the entire system operates from the assumption that virtually everyone we serve has suffered trauma and that - regardless of which door they enter - our services are aligned to screen for it and be sensitive to it. That goes beyond asking someone what's wrong with them, but instead focuses on finding out what happened to them.
Sadly, Alaska's rates of violence when it comes to child maltreatment, sexual assault and domestic or interpersonal violence are off the charts when compared to other states. So, whether you've personally been a victim of violence, or been an observer to a violent or traumatic event, or are even touched by seeing news report one after the other of the horrific events occurring every day, there is hardly anyone who has not experienced varying degrees of trauma. Some of this may not seem new, as we've certainly known that people suffer because of the terrible events they experience. But what's new is what science and research can tell us that we may have only intuitively known before - how strongly correlated those experiences are to contributing to a higher risk of negative long-term outcomes. The results of the Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACE) clearly show that the higher the number of adverse experiences an individual has increases the likelihood of experiencing negative social, health, and relationship challenges later as they go through life.
So what's the good news? The earlier in life the impacts of trauma are appropriately identified and treated - and the individual is supported to recover - can and does reduce the risk related to its impact on their future health and success in life. For the children served by OCS the significance is huge, because the reality is that not only do they come to us having already experienced the trauma of maltreatment, but the system can then cause more traumas by default as a result of being disrupted from the only security they know - their homes, schools, and communities.
Our goal is to do everything we can to avoid revictimization and to ensure that our knowledge of the trauma they endured is used to inform our decision-making and the services they receive. People can and do recover from even the most devastating events. However, our hope is that by becoming a "trauma-informed" agency, we can facilitate healing and improve the likelihood for a healthier future.
For more information on the ACE Study or trauma-informed care, check out the links below: