What is
Child Welfare?

A trauma-informed child welfare system is one in which all parties involved recognize and respond to the impact of traumatic stress on those who have contact with the system including children, caregivers, and service providers. Programs and agencies within such a system infuse and sustain trauma awareness, knowledge, and skills into their organizational cultures, practices, and policies. They act in collaboration with all those who are involved with the child, using the best available science, to maximize physical and psychological safety, facilitate the recovery of the child and family, and support their ability to thrive.

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Essential Elements of a Trauma-Informed Child Welfare System

All staff (including administrators, supervisors, direct service staff, and support staff) have research-based knowledge of the effects that exposure to traumatic stress has on children, youth, and caregivers as well as strategies to promote resilience. Trauma-informed training for staff begins at the onset of employment and continues regularly, providing skills relevant to each individual’s role.
Staff may be at risk for directly experiencing trauma (primary trauma) or be exposed to traumatic material such as seeing the impacts of trauma on their clients and hearing or reading stories about trauma experienced by children, youth, or families (secondary trauma). Strategies to support workforce safety, effectiveness, and resilience are in place within the organization. Additionally, staff is supported to engage in individual strategies to build resilience
Child welfare practitioners actively engage and empower families, including resource parents and kinship caregivers, during case planning. Similarly, systems and agencies have formal mechanisms to gather and act upon feedback from children, youth, and families and utilize their lived expertise as service recipients on par with other professionals and stakeholders.
When the priorities, demands, and mandates of multiple systems compete with each other, they can exacerbate existing trauma and fail to provide the needed support to help the children and families heal. Trauma-informed cross-system partnership is demonstrated by collaboration, service coordination, and information sharing among professionals in the different systems working with children and families.
For children and families who have experienced trauma, creating physical and psychological safety is critical to helping them heal from trauma and engage in the daily functions of living. Physical safety involves being free from present and impending threats of danger and psychological safety is actually feeling safe and protected from threats. Strategies to support both physical and psychological safety of children, youth and families are in place in the organization.
Early identification of trauma exposure and related needs can significantly aid in interrupting the harmful effects of trauma across the lifespan. Child welfare practitioners routinely identify needs through both formal mechanisms, such as validated screening tools, and informal methods, such as observations and interviews. The screening results are used to make important linkages to in-depth assessments and appropriate interventions to ensure trauma-related needs are addressed.
Children and youth in the child welfare system have a high likelihood of experiencing traumatic stress responses that negatively impact their overall well-being. Services and supports, such as evidence-based mental health treatment, mentors, and faith-based connections, as well as involvement in sports and other activities can help build on existing strengths, reduce symptoms, and increase the ability to overcome future adversity.
Birth and resource families may find it difficult to be protective if they have also been affected by trauma. Child welfare agencies and practitioners work to identify their trauma-related needs and provide linkage to appropriate services and supports to increase their parenting capacities and natural strengths while improving their families’ overall well-being.
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