Moving Towards Trauma Informed Care

Preparing Staff for Organizational Shifts

In previous months, The National Network to End Family Homelessness sent out information on trauma and its mental health consequences. Over the next few months, we will share tools and tips for responding to trauma and strategies for moving our programs and organizations towards trauma-informed practices.

Becoming a trauma-informed service provider requires significant organizational and attitudinal shifts. In addition to reviewing assessment tools, programs and policies, governance, decision-making processes, and the physical environment, organizations must ensure all staff have the knowledge and skills to implement trauma-informed practices in their roles. This often requires a cultural shift in the organization and a leveling of power differentials between staff and clients that is reflected by shared decision making.

How do we create staff buy-in?

There are many reasons staff support an organizational shift towards trauma-informed care. Those leading the process can help each staff person identify how the principles and practices of trauma-informed care can improve their work experience. Without understanding how trauma impacts functioning, staff may misunderstand a client’s behavioral responses that are often linked to early experiences of trauma and at that time were adaptive. In such a situation, the client doesn’t receive the services they need to heal and staff can also be harmed in the process. With appropriate training, staff can create safer environments by providing trauma-informed services, identifying when behavior is rooted in experiences of trauma, and knowing how to respond effectively. This improves how services are provided, program outcomes, and staff’s work experiences.

Organization-wide trauma training and professional development
For an organization to be trauma-informed, all staff must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to incorporate trauma-informed principles into all aspects of their work. Trauma-informed organizations must provide ongoing opportunities for staff to learn about trauma and discuss how they can use trauma-informed practices in their daily interactions with both clients and colleagues. Regular discussion and training sessions can be set up and should explore issues related to the following questions:

  • What is trauma?
  • What is the prevalence of trauma among the populations we serve and what does this mean for our programming?
  • How does trauma impact cognitive and behavioral functioning?
  • What does it look like when someone is having a response to past trauma (i.e. being “triggered”) and how can we respond effectively?
  • What do people with significant trauma histories need to heal and be supported?
  • What is my role in these efforts?
  • How do we accurately and sensitively capture the trauma histories of our clients so we can better serve them?
  • How can I be sensitive to trauma-histories in my informal interactions with residents and clients?
  • What tools can I use during case management and during more structured service provision?
  • What organizational shifts need to happen in order for our organization to meet these needs?
  • Why are confidentiality, informed consent, and professional boundaries important?
  • How does shared decision-making fit in?
  • How can we encourage clients to have a voice in their own care and in organizational policies and practices?
Any organizational change can create anxiety, and it is important for staff to have opportunities to express concerns and identify areas where they need support. Some of these conversations may be appropriate for large group trainings while others should be explored during individual supervision. Staff who identify areas where they are struggling and need additional support should be offered opportunities for ongoing training and professional development. To ensure staff are encouraged to invest their time in developing these skills, organizations require a certain number of hours of trauma training per year that provide the foundation for excellent service provision, and if possible offer financial assistance or paid time-off for staff to attend external training sessions.

Responding to vicarious or secondary trauma among staff

Trauma may also be experienced by people who witness traumatic events first hand or who hear about the traumatic experiences of others. Case workers and others serving families experiencing homelessness are asked to listen and respond to the traumatic experiences of those they serve. Vicarious traumatization—also referred to as compassion fatigue or secondary trauma – speaks to this reality: by bearing witness to the trauma of others and offering our support, we are opening ourselves up to uncomfortable feelings, overwhelming and frightening experiences and potential secondary trauma. Trauma trainings should incorporate self-care tools, ways to build self-awareness around our own trauma and triggers, and tips about how to create appropriate boundaries. Organizations can alleviate the harmful effects of secondary trauma by encouraging staff to prioritize self-care. For example, staff should be encouraged to take breaks, use their vacation time, and discuss challenges they are having with their supervisors.


To learn more about how your organization can support staff in moving towards trauma informed care, see the following resources:

  • Hopper EK, Bassuk EL, Olivet J: (2010). Shelter from the storm. Trauma informed care in homeless service settings. The Open Health Services and Policy Journal. 3. 80-100.
  • Guarino, K., Soares, P., Konnath, K., Clervil, R., and Bassuk, E. (2009). Trauma-informed organizational toolkit: Section I- trauma-informed organizational self-assessment. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Daniels Fund, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
  • Bassuk EL, Unick J, Paquette K et al. (2016) Developing an instrument to measure
  • organizational trauma-informed care in human services: The Ticometer. Psychology of Violence.
  • J. Ford. (2017). Emotion Regulation and Skills Based Interventions. APA Handbook of Trauma Psychology. Vol 2. Trauma Practice, SN Gold (Editor-In- chief), pp. 227-252.