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Trauma informed practice in children’s services and beyond

Due to its unfamiliarity and unpredictability, the pandemic is clearly a stressful and traumatic event. Although the full impact of our shared Covid-19 experience on both individuals and society remains to be seen, we know that far greater numbers of children and young people will have been exposed to repeated and extended trauma, including bereavement and family breakdown, by the time this is all over. Many more will have felt scared or confused by how radically their lives can change with little or no notice.

Although there is hope on the horizon, vaccines alone won’t help us fully recover from this experience. Beyond the economy, emotional health and mental wellbeing must be firmly on the national recovery agenda. People of all ages will need reliable, long-term support to come to terms with losses and an altered future that is different than they imagined.

The Covid-19 pandemic is an event like no other in living memory, so there is no direct template to follow for recovery. In the wake of previous epidemics, higher prevalences of psychological problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological distress, depression and anxiety were recorded amongst the general population. This certainly chimes with the outcome of recent research and health surveys plus children and young people regularly cite emotional health as one of their top concerns at this time. Covid-19 has clearly intensified the challenges many children and families face and its impact is now evident at the front door of children’s early help and social care, in the rising number of benefit claims, increased homelessness, hunger and greater demand for mental health support.

There are lessons for us to draw from disaster recovery too. Here the need for targeted support to mitigate longer term impacts on children’s wellbeing and development is underlined as well as a universal component emphasising wellness and resilience, typically via schools. A public health style approach to recovery could accelerate the use of trauma informed and restorative ways of working via the incorporation of these principles into policy and practice across the spectrum of public services. It’s easy to see the benefits of building strong, trusting relationships between learners, their families and school staff, for example. The clear line of sight school leaders now have into their pupil’s family life is a strong foundation for this shift coupled with the strengthened relationships between schools, local authorities plus the voluntary and community sectors.

The pandemic has impacted on almost every aspect of our work with children, young people and families. The longer it persists, the greater the risk of physical, mental and emotional fatigue and exposure to secondary trauma on our staff and communities. There are many challenges as well as opportunities for us as employers too. A trauma informed response acknowledges difficult experiences and focuses on what is needed for recovery. It will require a commitment to cultural and organisational change as well as investment at both a local and national level.

Jenny Coles is ADCS President and Director of Children’s Services in Hertfordshire.

This article firsst appearaed in CYP Now in February 2021 -

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