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Building Resilient Communities: Embracing Trauma-Informed Care


Most adults have been exposed to some type of trauma, and about half have been the victim of personal assault at some time in their life. 1

While many people are very resilient, people can experience difficulties in response to trauma, including nightmares, flashbacks, problems focusing, depression or anxiety. Trauma exposure can also result in physical health challenges such as sleep difficulties, headaches, stomachaches and fatigue. Children, teenagers, and young adults can be more vulnerable to the effects of trauma.


Trauma-informed care is an approach to helping people that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of trauma on a person’s well-being and behavior. It emphasizes physical and emotional safety and helps survivors rebuild a sense of control and empowerment. A key to a trauma-informed approach is a focus on the question of “what happened to you?” instead of “what’s wrong with you?”.

Substantial research supports the effectiveness of trauma-informed care. For example, a recent study of bringing trauma-informed care into a psychiatric hospital found that the number of aggressive events by inpatients decreased significantly. Implementation of trauma-informed care was associated with a 72 percent reduction in aggressive incidents. 2

According to a new study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, when child welfare systems use trauma-informed care, kids fare better.

Coping After Disaster, Trauma

Disasters and traumatic events can have tremendous psychological impacts on individuals, even if they are not directly involved. People can experience a range of emotions, including anger, frustration and sadness, and can react in many different ways, including physical and psychological symptoms.

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In the Kansas City, Missouri area, a coalition of more than 90 social service agencies, behavioral health centers, philanthropies, institutions and individual providers is working to address the issue community-wide. Trauma Matters KC is working to raise awareness and build a trauma-informed, resilient community. For example, Trauma Matters KC has worked to facilitate trauma-sensitive practices and to build workforce resilience through partnerships with schools and law enforcement.

One of the key features of Trauma Matters KC is the “breadth of community involvement. At any monthly meeting, you might find a landscape architect whose designs promote resilience, a judge who runs a trauma-informed court, an author or journalist who wants to learn more, a sports coach concerned about the young people on his team, or a community planner considering implications for urban development.” 3

An effort to bring trauma-informed approach to schools in New Orleans was recently highlighted by NPR. In New Orleans, most schools are privately run charter schools and five charter schools are working to become more trauma-informed. They are addressing the social, emotional and behavioral needs of students and moving away from a strict disciplinary approach.


Children in New Orleans show symptoms of PTSD at more than three times the national average and up to half of all kids have dealt with homicide in some way. Children respond to trauma in a variety of ways. Some may become disruptive or aggressive while others may shut down and tune out.

At one of the five schools, elementary school Crocker College Prep, teachers are trained to recognize signs of trauma and two full-time social workers help the students, including holding group sessions and one-on-one sessions with students. “Kids who act up or shut down get extra support, not detention or suspension like they used to. The idea is to tend to life troubles at school, instead of sending kids home.” 4


  1. Kilpatrick, DG, et al. National Estimates of Exposure to Traumatic Events and PTSD Prevalence Using DSM-IV and DSM-5 Criteria. J Trauma Stress, 2013 Oct; 26(5): 537–547.
  2. Misquitta, L. 2017. Substantial Decline in Seclusion Episodes in an Academic Medical Center’s Acute Psychiatric Hospital Through Implementation of Trauma-Informed Care. Presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2017. Spotlight: Building Resilient and Trauma-informed communities, Kansa City. A Coalition in the Business of Compassion.
  4. NPR. May 30, 2017. When Schools Meet Trauma with Understanding, Not Discipline. Mallory Falk and Eve Troeh, heard on Morning Edition.


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