Trauma-Informed Care: A Cornerstone of Addressing Women’s Homelessness
Trauma-informed care is a service approach which acknowledges the widespread, long-term impacts of trauma, understands signs and symptoms of trauma, and responds by integrating knowledge about trauma into all policies and practices.
Put simply, this method is rooted in asking an individual, “What happened to you?” rather than, “What is wrong with you?” A simple approach with substantial benefits, trauma-informed care improves both emergency and permanent services, reducing costs and leading to stronger short- and long-term outcomes.
A trauma-informed approach to service provision is particularly effective for women experiencing homelessness, given their higher likelihood to have also survived personal violence. More than 90% of women surveyed in the 2016 Downtown Women’s Needs Assessment reported they have survived physical or sexual violence at some point during their lifetimes, experiences that are compounded by the trauma of homelessness.
The Four “R’s” of Trauma-Informed Care:*
- Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for healing.
- Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system.
- Respondsby fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices.
- Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.
At DWC, we know Trauma-Informed Care is a necessary standard in ensuring women’s unique service needs are met in both women-specific and mixed-gender settings. In addition to practicing this approach across all our programs and services, DWC provides trauma-informed care trainings to other service providers and key public departments that interface with individuals experiencing homelessness, such as the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Library, and Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks.
Guiding Principles of Trauma-Informed Care
- Safety – Throughout the organization, staff and the people they serve feel physically and psychologically safe.
- Trustworthiness and transparency – Organizational operations and decisions are conducted with transparency and the goal of building and maintaining trust among staff, clients, and family members of those receiving services.
- Peer support and mutual self-help – These are integral to the organizational and service delivery approach and are understood as a key vehicle for building trust, establishing safety, and empowerment.
- Collaboration and mutuality – There is true partnering and leveling of power differences between staff and clients and among organizational staff from direct care staff to administrators. There is recognition that healing happens in relationships and in the meaningful sharing of power and decision-making. The organization recognizes that everyone has a role to play in a trauma-informed approach. One does not have to be a therapist to be therapeutic.
- Empowerment, voice, and choice – Throughout the organization and among the clients served, individuals’ strengths are recognized, built on, and validated and new skills developed as necessary.
- Cultural, historical, and gender issues – The organization actively moves past cultural stereotypes and biases, offers gender responsive services, leverages the healing value of traditional cultural connections, and recognizes and addresses historical trauma.
*h/t Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)