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Putting “Trauma-Informed Care” into Practice with Older Youth and Teens

Updated: Jul 27


In child welfare and juvenile justice, the word “trauma” is frequently heard. Almost so often, in fact, that we’ve desensitized ourselves to the concept. We often hear claims of “trauma-informed” with little evidence in practice to support the assertion. So, what does it mean to truly be trauma-informed, not just in our response to crisis, but at the intersection of every process, procedure and service? What can we do to move beyond merely understanding that a person’s traumatic experiences can have an impact on their health and well-being? What can we do to put the principles of trauma-informed care into practice? What can we do to help youth and teens heal?


In a recent session of Athens CASA’s summer training series, “Working with Teens: Brain-Based Advocacy,” we discussed and actionized several key elements of trauma-informed best practices with youth which we have compiled and shared here. While these principles may serve as guideposts, a truly trauma-informed practitioner in any discipline must engage in continuous and thoughtful learning in order to make ongoing adjustments to practice, policy and procedure.


According to the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, there are five key elements of trauma-informed practice when planning with youth:

  • Practitioners should understand trauma including an appreciation of its prevalence and consequences among youth in foster care.

  • Practitioners should assist the youth to reduce the impact of overwhelming emotions.

  • Practitioners should reinforce the young person’s sense of trust.

  • Practitioners should make consistent and deliberate efforts to individualize the young person.

  • Practitioners should adhere to providing strengths-based services.

During our summer training series, we reviewed and cultivated a list of practical strategies to put these elements into action. These examples are shared below:

  • Talk about and honor past relationships while recognizing those who will continue to provide support.

  • Understand the role of historical and intergenerational trauma due to racism.

  • Introduce activities and practices that are particularly useful to help young people begin to heal from their trauma and loss through such practices as mindfulness meditation, restorative yoga and self-guided sports like swimming and running.

  • Some youth may feel that prayer or other spiritual activities are useful for healing. Encourage young people to discuss their faith and cultural traditions; provide opportunities for them to continue to participate in ways and with people meaningful to them.

  • Listen to and respect that a young person’s truth may not align with your beliefs or experiences.

  • Have conversations with youth about their hopes and dreams for the future. Talk about goals and your expectations for the young person's future. Let them know that you believe in them.

  • Plan as far in advance as possible with young people about upcoming changes and transitions, including changes in caseworkers placements and providers. Be open about case planning. Let them know what to expect and what resources they will have.

This content has been adapted from the “Integrating Adolescent Brain Development Into Child Welfare Practice with Older Youth” training curriculum based on research funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the National Association of Social Workers Foundation. This curriculum was adapted into a 12-part training series by the Athens CASA/GAL Program, partially funded by the Ohio CASA Association and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.


To further your learning, we recommend reading "The Road to Adulthood: Aligning Child Welfare Practice with Adolescent Brain Development."


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Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2017). The road to adulthood: Aligning child welfare practice with adolescent brain development. www.aecf.org/resources/the-road-to-adulthood


Jaffe, J., Seagall, J. & Dumke, L.F. (2005). Emotional and psychological trauma: Causes, symptoms, effects and treatment. Retrieved from http://www. dhhs.tas.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/38434/ Trauma.pdf


Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. (2012). Trauma-informed Practice with Young People in Foster Care. Issue Brief #5. Retrieved from http://www.aecf.org/resources/trauma-informed-practice-with-young-people-in-foster-care/


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