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Trauma: Understanding the past for a better future


In developing this initiative, County department heads recognized that personal and intergenerational trauma play a significant role in outcomes for youth and their families. Understanding this, the initiative uses a trauma-informed approach and makes every effort to minimize stress, build social cohesion, avoid calling up trauma without providing appropriate supports, and accept and acknowledge structural, personal and historic trauma. 

Individual and Collective Trauma 

A growing body of research connects the early experiences of trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) with poor outcomes later in life. Repeated exposure to stressors such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse and neglect affects the developing brain, disrupting neurodevelopment and impairing social, emotional and cognitive functions. Without the buffering support of a reliable adult, childhood toxic stress exposure is correlated with chronic physical and mental health conditions, high risk behaviors and life outcomes like incarceration or unemployment. 

The concept of collective trauma acknowledges that trauma can occur on a community-wide scale as a result of pervasive violence, concentrated poverty, segregation, neglected infrastructure and structural racism.2  Community-level lack of trust, disengagement with civic processes, and an absent sense of community ownership are all outgrowths of historic and systemic community-wide trauma.

Trauma: Understanding the past for a better future

“When we talk about community trauma we aren’t just talking about an aggregate of individuals who have trauma in a community, we’re talking about the aspects and dynamics of community that have been impacted by historical trauma, by structural violence. We have to engage in strategies that help heal communities from community trauma.” –Howard Pinderhughes3 

Trauma-Informed Community Building

The Community Collaboration for Children’s Success initiative will take a trauma-informed approach to community engagement to strengthen trust, resiliency and participation in communities that have experienced systemic trauma.

Trauma-informed community building (TICB) offers an approach to strengthen power and resilience in communities in the face of pervasive trauma.4   The principles of TICB include:

1.    Do no harm. Acknowledge trauma, avoid re-traumatizing individuals and “acknowledge that traumatized communities face ongoing insecurities around the sustainability of programs, services and institutional relationships”. 
2.    Acceptance. Accept the realities of community conditions and establish realistic expectations and goals. TICB “sets goals that allow residents to grow but doesn’t push them past their capacity”. 
3.    Community empowerment. Community ownership over the change process established through peer support, inclusiveness and accountability.
4.    Reflective Process. Adjust to changing community and neighborhood needs and continue to incorporate residents’ voices in the planning process.