Trauma Informed Practice – an introduction
We know that stressful events in childhood (Adverse Childhood Experiences) may cause immediate and long-term trauma.
When a child has no safe space or trusted adult, the biology in the brain changes. The continuous anticipation of danger triggers constant flight/fight/freeze responses and ramps up levels of stress hormones. For some children, this means their perceptions of reality are forever altered.
Trauma, especially when it goes unrecognised, untreated or treated inappropriately, has a long-term, wide-ranging and destructive impact on the adult’s life.
The impact central to our work is: How adults who were traumatised in childhood parent their own children and how we can support them to achieve the best long-term outcomes for their children and themselves.
“There is also evidence that ACEs are ‘transmitted’ across generations – so that the children of parents who experienced ACEs in their own childhood are also more likely to experience ACEs.”
“Positive parenting is likely to be passed down through generations and can break cycles of adversity.” (UCL 2015)
Trauma Informed Practice at St Michael’s
Trauma-informed care is defined in different ways and current practice varies widely across different settings. Here we explain St Michael’s position.
If parents are to reflect on their behaviour and parenting style, they first need to feel safe and trust staff working with them. For many parents, this is difficult. They may be reluctant to work with us because of their previous life experience. Parents may have had to tell their stories again and again to different professionals, an experience that may in itself be re-traumatising.
In our residential centres, the focus is on creating a safe environment and building trust so that staff can then explore parents’ perceptions of parenthood, child development, and what their child needs to be safe and nurtured. In our work in the community, our outreach team will initially focus on the most pressing needs of the family. These are often practical issues such as food, safety, housing, financial stability. From there, they can start to build a relationship based on trust, gradually exploring deeper issues that can also be a revelation to parents themselves.
The difference between asking ” What have you done to yourself?” and “What has happened to you?” is significant and just one example of how language can either support or retraumatise.
This can mean making sure parents have a voice in professional meetings, giving them the chance to speak and making sure their points are understood.
“And now you want to ask me questions about my personal life. In front of all these people that no one has told me about. I’ve not been told what I will be expected to say or how this meeting will go.’” Young father
Interventions may be indicated, such as Caring Dads which helps fathers look at their own parenting in the context of their own father or general, such as some of the creative courses we run with partners.
Working ‘in the moment’ is very important. A young mothers practitioner describes how, for a young parent completing an AQA with us, a deep, personal conversation may emerge quite naturally, for example. This is a chance to talk through traumatic events at a time and pace of the mother’s choosing.
The different groups we run for young parents at children’s and community centres are also important to our trauma informed approach.
There is some evidence that parents who maltreat their children are more isolated, more lonely and have less social support than those who don’t. This may be in part because social isolation increases stress, and those who are isolated have a lack of positive parenting role models, or a lack of pressure from others to conform to positive parenting behaviours.
Trauma Informed Staff
Staff receive external and internal training, and our reflective practice, teamwork and supervisions support further learning.
“We wouldn’t be able to do our work if we didn’t have an intense focus on relationship building. My view is that relationship building is central to trauma informed practice, although in the past we may not have made that fundamental connection.”
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Free Stronger Minds tool kit
Podcast Mini-series on parents with learning disabilities
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