New Guide for Providing a Trauma-Informed Approach in Human Services

January 13, 2017

By Mark Greenberg, Acting Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families and Kana Enomoto, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
We’re very pleased to announce that the Administration for Children and Families, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Administration for Community Living and the Offices of the Assistant Secretary for Health and the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at HHS have developed a Guide to Trauma-Informed Human Services. The Guide is intended to provide an introduction to the topic of trauma, a discussion of why understanding and addressing trauma is important for human services programs, and a “road map” to find relevant resources.

Staff from our divisions have been working together for the last year to develop this guide. We did so because we know there is increasing recognition in human services programs about the importance of being “trauma-informed,” but there are often important questions about what it means to be trauma-informed, what such an approach implies for service delivery and staff training, and how the answers are similar and different across the array of human services programs. The Guide seeks to address these and related questions, and we hope it will be both immediately helpful and a “living” document to be updated over time as our knowledge and experience grow. Trauma is generally described as an especially stressful experience or event which results in physical or mental stress or pain. All of us may experience trauma at one time or another, and for many people, there may be few or no sustained effects, while for others, longer-term impacts and consequences result. This resulting physical or emotional harm could have lasting adverse effects on the individual’s physical, social or emotional well-being.

Research tells us that experiencing traumatic life events can affect the way people learn, plan, and interact with others. Providing human services to individuals who have experienced trauma calls for an approach that takes into consideration their trauma histories. This guide is designed for professional human services providers to help them decide if their services are trauma-informed and how best to deliver and design those services using evidence-based, evidence-informed, and innovative practices most relevant to their needs.

The guide is a web-linked compilation of resources from a range of HHS agencies, federal partners, and respected sources outside government. The site will contain both information and resources for human services leaders at the state, tribal, territorial, and local levels on recent advances in our understanding of trauma, toxic stress, and resiliency and specifically what these advances mean for program design and service delivery.

Some general trauma resources in the guide, which are applicable to all human services programs, include:

  • What is Trauma?
  • What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)? How are they different from trauma experienced at other times during the life course?
  • What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
  • How does exposure to trauma affect brain development?
  • What do we mean by trauma-informed services and why is such an approach important?

Other trauma resources for specific human services programs or populations include topics such as aging populations, child welfare agencies, domestic violence programs, victims of human trafficking and victims of abuse.

Becoming trauma-informed is one part of ensuring that human services programs are informed by emerging work linking traumatic experiences and physical, mental and emotional health and the underlying brain science. Our agencies welcome hearing from those involved in program administration and service delivery about the issues and experiences faced in efforts to become trauma-informed, and how our agencies can support these efforts and build the knowledge base for the future.

Access the Guide to Trauma-Informed Human Services.

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