Mental health – October 8 2021

When we understand trauma, we can learn how to deal with it

Children who have faced physical or emotional abuse and neglect by the people that should have cared for them and protected them often suffer trauma. If trauma is addressed at an early age, children can learn mechanisms that will enable them to heal and support their development. However, caregivers and others working with children often lack training in trauma-informed practices. The project “Safe Places, Thriving Children” seeks to close this gap by training child and youth care practitioners and raising awareness of trauma.

According to a study in the UK, over half of children and young people in alternative care experienced neglect in their lives, 37 per cent faced domestic violence in their families of origin, and a third were exposed to a parent who abused substances.

“Children and young people growing up in alternative care face a specific type of trauma that we call complex trauma. It is caused by repeated adverse experiences. If this happens during childhood, it can cause vulnerability and influence the development of the child,” explains Lubos Tibensky, a psychologist working as programme advisor for SOS Children’s Villages in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Using the latest trauma research and practical expertise, trauma-informed practice enables professionals including caregivers to recognize trauma, learn how to respond appropriately and create the nurturing relationships children and young people need to heal and grow.

“When we understand what trauma is and how it can affect our life, it is easier to develop our own mechanisms to deal with it and to approach a traumatic topic,” says Ivan, a 20-year-old young man from Croatia who grew up in alternative care. Child and youth care professionals trained in trauma-informed practices can make a difference in children’s lives. “It can help children and young people to open up to caregivers when they see that caregivers are educated about trauma,” he explains.

“Safe Places, Thriving Children – Embedding Trauma-Informed Practices into Alternative Care Settings,” a project co-funded by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship (REC) Programme of the European Union and run by SOS Children’s Villages International and its member associations in Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary and Serbia in collaboration with CELCIS, aims to give child and youth care practitioners the tools and knowledge required to understand trauma and address the needs of children and young people affected by it.

 

The project provides in-depth trauma training to professionals who directly work with children and young people in alternative care, enabling them to use trauma-informed practices in their work.

“Alternative care, rather than just giving you a place to live, should also be about your mental health. It is easier to deal with trauma at a young age as part of the process of growing up than to survive adulthood with all these issues,” says Ioanna, a 26-year-old young woman from Greece who has experienced alternative care.

“It doesn’t stop there! To make a change in the lives of children, all people that support them need to be on board, including teachers, judges and doctors,” adds Lubos Tibensky, who has also been part of the European Expert Group supporting the project.

In addition to face-to-face trainings, the project focuses on raising awareness through an e-learning programme, which seeks to equip professionals from the social, educational, health and justice sectors to better understand and identify adverse childhood experiences and their impact on children’s development. The course will be available in all the project countries’ languages as of 10 October 2021, coinciding with World Mental Health Day.

Currently in its second year, the project develops policy recommendations to encourage public authorities to commit to supporting and implementing trauma-informed care practices on a national level, thus ensuring widespread adoption of the practices and a lasting impact on children’s well-being.

Organizational development workshops will start in November to embed trauma-informed care practices in 18 selected organizations, which provide alternative care to approximately 1,000 children. 

“We are all working towards the goal of supporting children and young people in becoming autonomous and independent adults that live their life according to their wishes. Unresolved trauma and mental health difficulties can, for example, lead to school dropout, challenges on the job market, and substance abuse. Therefore, being trauma-informed contributes to young people having the future we all wish for them to have,” concludes Lubos Tibensky.

 

Learn more:

“Safe Places, Thriving Children” web page: https://www.sos-childrensvillages.org/trauma-informed-practices

“Safe Places, Thriving Children” Practice Guidance, available here