To be trauma-informed is to be aware of how ACEs and other traumatic experiences can affect the brain. A professional trained in trauma-informed approaches would also have the knowledge, training and tools to better respond to and support people who have experienced trauma. They can be implemented in any type of service, setting or organisation.

As you will have seen in our section on what success will look like [hyperlink], this approach has enormous potential for reducing the incidence and severity of a wide range of social and personal issues.

Definition of trauma-informed

According to the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a trauma-informed approach is one that incorporates the 4 R’s:

  1. Realises the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  2. Recognises the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatisation.

The organisation also says that rather than being a prescribed set of practices or procedures, a trauma-informed approach should reflect the following six principles:

1. Safety
2. Trustworthiness and Transparency
3. Peer support
4. Collaboration and mutuality
5. Empowerment, voice and choice
6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

Levels of trauma-informed knowledge

As with all specialisms, there are varying degrees to which a person can be trauma-informed. The Scottish National Trauma Training Framework (which at the time of writing is currently under development) provides the following structure from least to most knowledgeable:

  • Trauma informed practice
  • Trauma skilled practice
  • Trauma enhanced practice
  • Trauma specialist practice

Terms such as trauma-aware and ACE-aware are also used to describe having a basic level of knowledge about the topic. These terms are mostly used when describing attempts to make this knowledge commonplace among entire communities and regions (for instance, a recent conference in Scotland was set up with the aim of becoming the world’s first ACE-aware nation).


Trauma-informed communities

A trauma-informed community is a whole community where this knowledge of how adverse, traumatic experiences can affect the brain – and how best to respond – is commonplace. It's an area where all key local services integrate this knowledge into the way they interact with people every day; and where residents across communities form links and work together to not only help mitigate (or overcome) the effects of trauma for the current generation (and themselves), but to also prevent it as far as they can for future generations.


Benefits of trauma-informed approaches and communities

This approach has shown excellent results in various services, including for teachers when dealing with disruptive or inattentive students; police officers when dealing with recently traumatised victims and persistent young offenders; prisons when attempting to rehabilitate a person by getting to the psychological roots of their behaviour; and many more.

It could also be highly beneficial in many sectors beyond those mentioned already, including mental health and counselling, housing, youth clubs, health visiting (and other early years services), children’s social services, emergency services (police, fire rescue, ambulance) and more.

WAVE recommends that:

  • Such approaches should primarily be integrated into all key frontline public services (including schools and criminal justice).
  • Such approaches should also be used by all other public frontline services and many other community functions too, for instance church groups, scouts/ guides, fire and rescue teams and so on.
  • Local authorities, locally-based third sector organisations, community groups and grassroots activists should pool resources and co-ordinate their efforts towards the goal of creating trauma-informed communities. This is a worthwhile endeavour for all areas of the UK and beyond, with the ultimate aim being trauma-informed countries.