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18 Jun. 2020

Research Identifies Core Components of Trauma-Informed Care

Orygen is a not-for-profit charity and research institute located in Victoria with a focus on specialist youth mental health assessment and treatment to 15–24 year olds.

Trauma-informed care requires implementation at both a service level and within direct clinical practice for it to be effective, Orygen research has found.

The lead author of the research, Associate Professor Sarah Bendall, said the systematic review of trauma-informed care practices in outpatient and counselling youth health settings had identified 10 core components to trauma-informed care.

The results have been published in Child Maltreatment.

Trauma-informed care provides young people who have experienced trauma with a service environment that accommodates their specific needs.

The core components of trauma-informed care identified by the review span both service-level initiatives and therapeutic interventions, including interagency collaboration; service provider training; leadership, governance and agency processes; screening and assessment; and psychoeducation.

“Trauma-informed care is an important part of any youth mental health service’s delivery. But there is a lack of clarity on what to do and how to do it,” Associate Professor Bendall said. “Because of this, we’re not only seeing inconsistencies in the delivery of trauma-informed care, but we’re also seeing service providers and practitioners reinventing the wheel.

“Service providers and practitioners want to deliver trauma-informed care. But they don’t know where to begin. Identifying these core components can break down barriers to delivery.”

Young people accessing youth mental health services have often been exposed to traumas such a physical and emotional abuse. If left unaddressed, traumatic experiences can increase young people’s risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self-harm and suicide.

“If a young person comes to a mental health service and their trauma is not acknowledged, they can disengage from that service and lose that opportunity to address the problems or symptoms caused by their trauma,” Associate Professor Bendall said.

However, with the right support and interventions, it is possible to recover from trauma-related mental ill-health, she said.

“Our research shows that trauma-informed care in youth mental health services really needs to operate at two different levels to be effective. At a service level, there needs to be policies and process in place to equip clinicians with the skills they need to address trauma. At the clinical level, interventions such as universal screening of young people coming into services need to be implemented to identify and then address trauma.

“We need to be asking every young person whether they’ve experienced trauma and we need to be equipping clinicians with the skills to address trauma in a safe way.

“Providing a young person who has experienced trauma with facts and information about what they’re experiencing is incredibly powerful. It leads to greater autonomy and control over one’s life – and that’s what trauma-informed care is all about.”

Associate Professor Sarah Bendall is supported by a grant from the McCusker Charitable Foundation.