Trauma-Aware to Trauma-Informed

As a provider, chances are you encounter people every day who have witnessed or endured traumatic events. This program profile describes how one housing program made the decision to learn about traumatic stress, its impact, and strategies for developing trauma-informed services. (Authors)

In 1990, Humility of Mary Housing, Inc. (HMHI) opened its doors with one house that was home to four young mothers and their babies. The program had one staff person and a director’s office in the basement. Today, HMHI is a transitional and permanent supportive housing program that provides single parent families experiencing homelessness with opportunities for growth and development. Over the past 18 years, the program has leased, purchased, and/or rehabilitated 47 scattered-site affordable housing units in Davenport, Iowa. They have developed a model program that provides a way out of poverty for single parents and their children.

In recognition of the trauma that many families in the program have experienced throughout their lives and while homeless, HMHI co-director, Julie K. Williams, was interested in training staff about trauma. With grant support from the Daniel’s Fund, the National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH) partnered with HMHI in November 2007 to provide training and consultation about the impact of trauma, what it means to provide “trauma-informed” care, and how to sustain the organizational change necessary to support these efforts.

All 11 HMHI staff participated in the initial trauma training and completed the “Trauma-Informed Organizational Self-Assessment.” This tool was created by NCFH and is used to evaluate daily practice. HMHI therapist and co-director, Sandy Walters, noted that the assessment process “brought more of an awareness of things that we could do better and an opportunity to develop a more concrete plan and be sure that we are all understanding things in the same way.”

Based on the results of the Self-Assessment, HMHI developed a strategic plan for 2008-2009. Under this plan, the program created a multidisciplinary “trauma workgroup" comprised of all staff members - from agency administrators to maintenance staff. HMHI’s strategic plan included internally-driven goals such as “add psycho-education session(s) about the impact of trauma on adults and children to regular group meeting curriculum” and “during weekly meetings, discuss/check in on staff self-care, including helping understand stress reactions.” Other goals included learning more about trauma and its impact, reactions to trauma, and the relationship between culture and trauma.

The trauma workgroup began regular consultation sessions with NCFH in January 2008. These sessions were designed to address program-specific issues about how to engage families in trauma-sensitive ways. Topics included vicarious traumatization, staff self-care, trauma and memory, culture, and complex trauma, along with case presentations designed to increase trauma knowledge, and develop a more trauma-informed organization. As the sessions have continued, Williams has noted that staff “use their trauma knowledge regularly, refer participants for additional help to manage triggers, and are talking about potential trauma among their participants more than ever before.”

Next steps with this program include an on-site visit by NCFH during HMHI’s quarterly staff retreat and discussions about ways to bring HMHI’s new knowledge and practice to the broader community.

Publication Date: 
Newton Centre, MA, USA