by Ina Newton
What does it mean to be Trauma Informed? Generally, it means that all services are sensitive to the impact trauma may have on a person. Being Trauma Informed is an approach and a cultural change in the way our services are delivered. It is being victim centered and not assessing someone based on their intake sheet but instead looks at understanding, recognizing and responding to the effects of all types of trauma.
When families come to First Witness Child Advocacy Center, I can only assume how they might be feeling and want to make sure that their time here is comfortable and supported. While there is a lot of information and help that I can offer and questions I would like to ask, my first goal is to make a connection. I want the child and family to feel welcome, comfortable, heard and understood setting the foundation for a potential long term relationship. In my experience, if a family comes in and they are bombarded with information and paperwork, they end up leaving feeling more overwhelmed and lost in the process than before they entered. The likelihood that they will want to continue to receive support diminishes.
I had a mom bring her child for a forensic interview and it was evident that she was very emotional and upset. Once we were in a private area away from her child she broke down about her guilt for not noticing that her child was being sexually abused. I knew that we needed to schedule a medical exam for her daughter, get her involved in therapeutic services and have her connect with a social worker to set up a safety plan in the house. I also still needed to get her contact information. But at that moment that is not what she needed, she needed me to listen to her story and validate how she was feeling. Provide coffee, tissue and reassurance was the agenda not the task list that I had. Afterwards she thanked me for first, having a center that was comfortable and “not sterile” as she put it to begin her healing process and then thanked me for listening to her and not telling her what she needed to do, I was also the first person to ask her what she needed during this process and it liberated her at that moment to think about herself and her needs to support her child. When I followed up with her the next day she was thankful and ready to talk about services for her daughter.
It is always my goal to limit the possibility of re-traumatizing a child or caregiver. As an Advocate I look to recognize human vulnerability but at the same time seek the best approach to strengthen our families’ capacity for healing and recovery. Through listening and meeting them where they are at versus having an agenda and checklist of services and queued responses, I can better respond and provide appropriate referrals and avoid any inadvertent re-traumatization. That is what advocates do. We have been trauma-informed all along.