Director Public Policy & Practice Development
Over the last two decades strong evidence has been established of the impacts of childhood trauma arising from exposure to maltreatment, abuse, neglect and violence on healthy human development, and the need for children and young people to receive effective support to heal and recover from trauma.
We know more about the way trauma affects brain development, the consequences for the capacity of children to form healthy relationships with secure attachments and the behavioural challenges that traumatised children and young people present within their families, their broader network of relationships and within service settings from maternal and child health, early learning and care services, schools and the out-of-home care system.
In more recent years child and family welfare service systems have sought to respond to this evidence by developing ‘trauma informed’ policy, program and practice initiatives to support children and young people to recover and heal from childhood trauma.
Across all jurisdictions Governments and many non-government agencies are seeking to attune their existing service and practice models of OOHC, family violence interventions, family support services, child protection practice and other programs with what we now know about the impacts of childhood trauma.
‘Therapeutic Care’, ‘Trauma Informed Practice’ and being a ‘Trauma Informed Organisation’ are terms in common use, often interchangeably, and often with no reference to evidence-informed frameworks of what constitutes working in a trauma informed way and what supports and constitutes effective trauma informed practice. This includes for specific service settings, and for particular cohorts of children and young people such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, intergenerational trauma and disconnection from culture overlay and compound any trauma arising from the other forms of harm and maltreatment, which may be experienced by any child.
Various models for ‘therapeutic care’ including therapeutic foster care and therapeutic residential care have also been developed in different states and territories and the language of being ‘trauma informed’ is used very commonly across child and family welfare service systems. Typically these models are accessible to a minority of children and young people placed in out-of-home care.
The increased focus on the impacts of childhood trauma is clearly a welcome development. However we are at risk of terms such as ‘Therapeutic Care’, ‘Trauma Informed Practice’ and being a ‘Trauma Informed Organisation’ being applied too broadly and too loosely to a diversity of practice interventions without there having been a rigorous, evidence-informed practice development process to ensure those interventions are genuinely trauma informed.
Berry Street’s response
Berry Street is the largest independent provider of out-of-home care and family violence programs in Victoria, and is also a registered mental health service to deliver the Take Two program: a therapeutic service for children and young people in child protection referred by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. Take Two has been operating for 11 years and is a partnership between the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, La Trobe University and Mindful Centre for Training and Research in Developmental Health.
Berry Street believes that an important priority for the next three year action plan, as part of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, should be the development of a national Trauma Informed Practice framework. This framework would identify the essential precursors, knowledge and practice elements for effective therapeutic care and trauma informed practice. Such a framework should include common elements for trauma informed practice and include particular elements for individual services and interventions including family support and out-of-home care, and for specific cohorts of children and families, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
The establishment of a national Trauma Informed Practice framework would be in the best interests of vulnerable children and families, including those at risk of child protection intervention and children in out-of-home care. It would support effective, evidence-informed, trauma informed practice. For governments and service providers it would create sufficient commonality regarding what constitutes trauma informed practice to ensure that services and interventions are capable of delivering client outcomes.
Berry Street has had positive feedback on the need to develop a national Trauma Informed Practice framework. We would welcome comment and feedback on this proposal.
Julian will be facilitating Being ‘Trauma Informed’: a residential conference in October 2015. This conference provides an opportunity to engage in discussion about what it means to be trauma informed. Findings from the conference could feed into the development of the proposed framework. Join in this conversation: find out more.