Insight Into Trauma Informed


The awareness of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the impact of developmental trauma on both children and adults has begun to spread across Oklahoma.  Since Oklahoma’s statistics rank this state as one of the nation’s highest in need of trauma training, this awareness is a vital initial step.  As the awareness spreads and many people begin to talk about trauma and how we as people, agencies, and a state respond, our communication and understanding must be consistent with other states and the nation.

One of the most important terms to be defined and understood at the onset of this work is Trauma Informed.  This phrase reaches beyond the definition of the two-word combination; it is not simply that we are informed and have knowledge regarding trauma.  In fact, if we follow the four-stage Trauma Continuum (known as the Missouri Model and adopted by other states leading our country in trauma initiatives) being informed and having knowledge regarding trauma is in fact Trauma Aware. Unfortunately, the term Trauma Informed has been frequently used to describe an agency that is utilizing specific, new strategies in isolation or only beginning to offer basic training for staff.

As our state moves forward, our knowledge of the Trauma Continuum should be shared as extensively and as accurately as ACEs information.  The four Trauma Continuum terms include Trauma Aware, Trauma Sensitive, Trauma Responsive and Trauma Informed as stages in a long-term process.  They are not necessarily sequential stages, and agencies may find different departments or teams at different stages through the process.

Trauma Aware is learning about ACEs and developmental trauma and the impact such stresses have on brain development, behavior and health outcomes, and the ability to interface with daily life when triggers or new stressors arise.  During this stage, conversations regarding the impact of ACEs begin to increase between staff, agencies, and the public.  In Oklahoma, some examples of this stage are the frequent movie showings of Resilience by The Potts Family Foundation, United Way, and other agencies, community meetings to discuss ACES and resilience, and the Tulsa World eight-part article series printed in July. 

Trauma Sensitive is the beginning of building knowledge regarding response to people with histories of trauma, preparing agencies for change, and the formation of teams to support those changes both within and between agencies.  Changing our thoughts from “What is wrong with this person?” to “What has happened to this person?” represents a change that occurs during this stage.  Agencies begin self-assessments including discovering available resources and how to work as a community to better serve all people.  Agencies begin to increase the education of staff to include skills that create an emotional and physically safe environment.

Trauma Responsive occurs when the agency as a whole has “bought into” the concept of becoming Trauma Informed.  Trauma responsive concepts and strategies have been learned by staff and are being successfully applied in specific settings.  Individuals are using the new knowledge to build trusting relationships with others, create routines that increase the safety, and address the necessity to have spaces and skills to modulate energy when needed. People associated with the agency are sharing success stories to build enthusiasm for change.  In a school setting during this stage, we would see staff teaching and reinforcing social emotional skills, implementing whole class regulation as part of a daily routine, and responding to emotional outbursts in a way that allows the student to feel heard and to have a space and time to calm before problem solving. 

Trauma Informed is achieved when the strategies and concepts from the Trauma Responsive stage are being used throughout the entire agency between staff, leadership, administration and clients.  The agency adopts policies and procedures to ensure a safe environment with established routines, to build trusting relationships, to allow time and space for energy modulation, and to create an atmosphere of collaboration and teamwork. The process of becoming Trauma Informed requires long term commitment often taking years to attain sustainability.  In fact, Trauma Informed is an integrated, systemic process that changes the culture and operating systems of the entire organization by utilizing the knowledge and skills of the previous three stages with all people in all settings. 

A school or organization should not claim trauma-informed until it has been living under a trauma-responsive framework that is fundamentally changing who staff are as people and as a collective.” 1

Oklahoma has embraced the need to respond to ACEs and trauma with the ultimate goal of becoming Trauma Informed.  With accurate, consistent communication and an increased knowledge of sustainable skills and concepts, we will be able to combine our efforts and increase resilience in our communities.


Written by Cheryl Step, MS, LPC, NCC

Trainer/Consultant for Creating Resilience, LLC


1 Excerpt from:


The following links will provide more information regarding information shared in this blog.

Oklahoma’s ACEs data:

 The Missouri Model:

 Information regarding trauma and the Missouri Model including data:

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