Like the thousands of miles of mountain roads I drove on my 3-week trip in 2017 to visit trauma-informed communities in the Pacific Northwest and Canada (I drove a total of 3,011 miles, to be exact!), the road to develop a trauma-informed community has loops, twists and turns.
And as with any journey, there are bound to be wrong turns, dead ends, roadblocks, detours, and days when you just plain get lost.
Thankfully, there are increasing numbers of tour guides and roadmaps to help organizations and communities that are committed to becoming trauma-informed. The statewide initiative, Trauma-Informed Oregon, which I visited on Wednesday, has assembled a lot of them on their website.
Oregon has committed as a state to "promote prevention and to bring policies and practices into better alignment with the principles of trauma informed care." To carry out that commitment, Trauma Informed Oregon (TIO) was created in 2014 to serve as a centralized source of information, resources and training about trauma, resilience, brain science and related topics for child- and family-serving systems, healthcare, and adult-serving behavioral health systems.
Lee Ann Phillips, TIO Center Manager, and Mandy Davis, TIO Director, work with state agencies, human services agencies at the state and local levels, individual communities, family and youth organizations, and a variety of other stakeholder groups to provide training, consulting, and technical assistance. They also take an active role advocating for trauma-informed policies and practices within organizations and communities, as well as at the legislative level.
They have developed a "Roadmap to Trauma Informed Care" with detailed information and related resources and documents for each part of the journey. Here's their summary diagram of the process:
Lee Ann explains, "It starts with the community making a commitment. But how this looks in one community might be different than how it will look for another."
Some communities form a task force. Some make proclamations or create Memorandums of Understanding for partnering organizations who are willing to become "trauma-informed." Lee Ann describes one county where all of the partnering organizations agreed to chip in a certain amount of funding for the initiative, and in return, their staff got free training.
"At a minimum," Lee Ann says, "organizations within the community come together and share information about what each agency is doing."
Mandy adds that it's important to have someone in a paid position who is going to run the initiative and be responsible for moving it forward. She also says that saying your community is going to become trauma informed is different than individual agencies or organizations being trauma-informed. It's important to define what you mean by "community" if you're pursuing becoming a "trauma-informed community."
Training is one of the first steps, but the training needs to prompt organizational and culture change, Mandy explains. Sharing trainings with people from different agencies, systems and sectors in the community, is really helpful. It's also important, she says, to reduce competition and redundancies, and share resources across organizations.
For individual organizations that want to become trauma-informed, the TIO website offers a huge set of organizational resources from initial organizational assessments and strategic planning to environmental scans, examples of relevant HR and other policies, as well as workforce wellness and staff self-care resources (addressing vicarious trauma and fostering self-care and resilience for staff should be central components of any organization's efforts to become trauma-informed).
Sometimes resistance pops up when people go back to their organizations after taking initial training. They may think, "This will take too much time. It will cost too much." And of course, it requires people to talk about really difficult and painful subjects: the trauma of physical abuse, sexual abuse, violence, racism, poverty and so many other things we'd rather not have to talk about.
The TIO website offers this link to a video from Laura Porter, co-founder of Ace Interface, that offers some strategies for overcoming resistance and creating buy-in.
Trauma Informed Oregon has also developed a set of "Standards of Practice for Trauma Informed Care."
"The road to becoming trauma-informed is going to be messy," Mandy cautions. "It isn’t a simple matter of A+B=C."
Luckily, there are organizations like Trauma-Informed Oregon that provide clear and helpful maps and directions. Best of all, their resources are all free and available to anyone in or outside of Oregon who wants to use them!