Trauma-Informed Practice: What it is and why it matters

In recent years, the significant impact of trauma has become widely acknowledged. But what does trauma-informed practice look like, and how do we implement it?

The NGO and social services sector has identified that trauma-informed practice must be a central tenet of providing mindful, equitable, and impactful care and support. On Saturday, March 26, volunteers and staff members from WONDER Foundation and Baytree Centre attended a training on trauma-informed practice.

Facilitated by Solace Women’s Aid, the training aimed to provide further understanding of stress and trauma, and develop our capacity to meet the needs of the populations we work with.

 

What is trauma-informed practice?

Trauma-informed practice aims to “raise awareness among all staff about the wide impact of trauma and to prevent the re-traumatisation of clients in service settings that are meant to support and assist healing.” In essence, this practice requires service providers to center care, safety, and trust in their engagement with vulnerable individuals.


Saturday’s training emphasized that trauma is not always clear or visible; almost everyone has gone through some sort of trauma that has impacted their life whether or not outsiders can see these struggles. With this in mind, trauma-informed practice becomes an important baseline procedure in our engagement with everyone- not just as a reactionary response once trauma has been disclosed.


Understanding trauma

Trauma-informed practice comes from an understanding of trauma, and the ways that trauma impacts individuals and communities. Trauma can be defined as “the way that some distressing events are so extreme or intense that they overwhelm a person’s ability to cope, resulting in lasting negative impact,” according to the UK Trauma Council. While this broad categorization of trauma is useful, it is important to remember that there are various types and manifestations of trauma that all deserve equal consideration and care.


Different types of traumas women and girls may experience

  • Acute (Single-Incident) trauma: This is often what we initially think about when we hear the word “trauma.” Acute trauma results from a specific/single incident with a clear beginning, end, and context, which triggers an individual’s stress or danger response.
  • “Big T” versus “little “t” traumas: While “big T” trauma refers to an acute, explicit, or dramatic traumatic event, “little t” trauma, which deserves consideration as well, is usually the result of a smaller or less severe event or ongoing situation that causes discomfort, lack of control, or unhappiness in an individual and manifests itself with some of the similar lasting symptoms of “big T” trauma.
  • Complex trauma: Complex trauma happens when someone experiences “exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature”. Because of the nature of these experiences, the lasting impacts may be more wide-ranging and long-lasting than acute trauma, and can fundamentally impact an individual’s sense of relational safety and self.
  • Vicarious trauma: This can be defined as “a process of change resulting from empathetic engagement with trauma survivors,” according to the British Medical Association. Vicarious trauma is essential for service providers to understand, as it can greatly impact our ability to safely provide care for trauma survivors while maintaining our own wellbeing when working through an individual’s own traumatic experiences.

 

How WONDER implements trauma-informed practice

As an organisation supporting vulnerable women and girls, WONDER Foundation has a responsibility to engage with our partners in a way that reduces re-traumatization, prioritizes well-being, and promotes agency. To do this, we implement trauma-informed practice in our projects, programmes, and organisational operations.

Throughout WONDER Foundation’s 10 years of operation, we have engaged with our communities through a “relational approach,” which recognizes the uniqueness and importance of every woman and girl we encounter. We do this by consistently promoting safe, caring, and welcoming environments in our interactions with women, our relationships with partner organisations, and our project design.

A major part of our relational and whole-person approach is the one-on-one support we offer through mentoring alongside training workshops and classes to women and girls. This ensures that the worth and contributions of women are consistently prioritized.

 

In recent years, this relational approach has been reframed and built upon, and is now recognized as trauma-informed. WONDER Foundation works closely with many individuals and communities which have experienced diverse forms of trauma, including forced displacement, rape, violence, extreme poverty, parent separation and deaths among friends and family.

 

We work with women while intentionally and consistently centering the five main principles of trauma-informed practice: safety, trust, collaboration, empowerment, and choice. This shifts the focus from asking: ‘what is wrong with this person?’ to ‘what has happened to this person?’


How WONDER uses trauma-informed practice in our projects

Being and Belonging: This youth solidarity project in the UK encourages young people to engage with their peers on topics of migrant integration by reflecting about identity and belonging. We incorporate aspects of trauma-informed practice by explicitly creating a safe, trustworthy, and welcoming space for individuals to discuss their experiences and ideas. Additionally, we empower participants to take agency in making change by bolstering the voices of young migrants and UK nationals working together to address the challenges of migrant integration.


Supporting Ukrainian Refugees in Poland: Through our existing FATIMA Project, WONDER Foundation has been supporting Ukrainian migrant women and families in Poland since 2018. This work has become even more essential since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis.


By partnering with local staff and adapting our programming based on insights from migrant women, we prioritize collaboration and choice by acknowledging that working alongside women and acknowledging their unique situations is central to providing impactful support.


Additionally, we recognize the trauma that comes from migration, whether forced or elected, and are providing both mentorship and psychosocial support alongside to the migrants we support in Poland. This holistic approach facilitates a trauma-informed practice and allows us to address the logistical challenges of migration while focusing on the mental and social effects as well.


Trauma-informed practice offers organisations a framework for building on their community work in a mindful, welcoming, and safe way. Working with vulnerable populations requires a commitment to continuous learning and growing so that our work can remain positive and impactful in various contexts.

Corporate volunteering in London Team building
Volunteering

Corporate Volunteering at WONDER Foundation

WONDER Foundation hosts a variety of corporate volunteering days throughout the year, partnering with organisations and businesses that support our mission and goals.