Health Forward Foundation

Mental Health Advocates Promote Trauma-Informed Care to Deal with Conflict

OLATHE – Let’s say you work at the county jail or juvenile detention center and are dealing with an uncooperative detainee.

If the individual is dangerous and unruly, physical intervention might be appropriate, said Rise Haneberg, the criminal justice coordinator for Johnson County government.

But if the knee-jerk reaction is restraint or isolation, and if the inmate, for instance, has been abused in the past by being locked in a closet, Haneberg said, “You can see how your outcome could really go wrong for you.”

Being aware of, and sensitive to, individuals’ personal histories is what Trauma-Informed Care is all about.

Mental health advocates in Kansas have promoted the concept for at least two years, and officials like Haneberg are pushing for wide adoption of the treatment approach throughout Johnson County.

Regional dissemination might also take place through the Mid-America Regional Council.

Members of the county’s Community Violence Action Council picked up on the emerging idea last year. At the group’s annual conference in October, it brought in experts on the topic from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The agency has a National Center for Trauma-Informed Care.

As a follow up to that meeting, United Community Services of Johnson County is bringing the federal experts back for an Aug. 8 forum scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in room 200 of the Johnson County Administration Building, 111 S. Cherry St. in Olathe.

For more information about the forum, contact United Community Services at

Trauma-informed care requires a change in thinking, said Valorie Carson, community planning director with United Community Services.

“What is wrong with you?” becomes “What has happened to you?” she said. “It’s a shift in perspective and shifts in perspective are not an easy thing.”

Traumatic experiences, she said, can range from physical abuse to witnessing substance abuse in the home or other psychologically disturbing circumstances.

At an organization like CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties, trauma-informed care might help volunteers understand that an unresponsive child is merely using coping skills developed to insulate them from something negative in the home.

CASA volunteers advocate for children that are in the court system due to abuse or neglect.

CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties Executive Director Lois Rice helped bring the experts to the conference last year and she was looking forward to getting more information at the follow-up forum.

“The volunteers are lay people, but they are lay people who see the kids on almost a weekly basis, so they get to know that child in a pretty intensive, in-depth way,” Rice said. “So, I think that by providing some additional resources for the volunteers, as well as our own staff, we can maybe better address some of the needs and some of the issues that kids are experiencing.”

In addition to serving as a refresher course, planners want to expose more members of the social service community in the county to the concept of trauma-informed care, Carson said.

The representatives from the national center also are expected help the county’s trauma-informed care task force do some strategic planning on the best approaches to getting buy-in from various agencies.

She said the planners would be looking to the experts for advice on how to assess the agencies’ readiness to adopt the model.

Local advocates will also want to avoid traps that other communities have fallen into.

For example, Carson said disagreement about how the program’s success would be assessed waylaid one community for more than a year.

A thing to keep in mind, she said, was that trauma-informed care could benefit staff as well as the inmate, patient, or client.

By recognizing triggers that set a person off and avoiding them, it could cut down on physical confrontations that can injure workers.

“There are a lot of advantages to the organization that go beyond the person who has experienced the trauma,” Carson said.

The Health Forward Foundation is proud to partner with the Kansas Health Institute news service to provide weekly health stories about health and policy issues impacting the greater Kansas City region. This News Service is an editorially independent program of the Kansas Health Institute and the Health Forward Foundation and is committed to objective coverage of health issues.

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