SAFEHOME’s practices driven by the latest research on trauma

coping plan

A SAFEHOME staff member's coping plan

For the past 36 years, SAFEHOME has been working with some of Johnson County’s most vulnerable citizens – women, children and men who have experienced violence and abuse. Oftentimes, the abuse has been going on for years and the victims come to us with significant physical and emotional wounds. Our advocates learned over the years to recognize the myriad ways that trauma can affect a person.

This is why SAFEHOME jumped at the opportunity to join the Johnson County Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) Task Force, where we could learn more about integrating the latest research on trauma into our work practices. Along with a core team of other local agencies, we delved into the topic and began creating a plan to implement new trauma-informed policies and practices.

One of the things that came out of this project was the recognition of how much we had already been doing that was trauma-informed. At its most basic level, TIC means meeting people where they are at, and this is something that social services agencies have been doing since their inception. It was rewarding to recognize the things we had been doing right, but we also identified areas where we could improve and we set about making changes.

We decided that the first order of business was getting our staff and volunteers trained. In 2014 we provided two organizational-wide trainings. We decided to make them mandatory, including even our administrative and maintenance staff, because we felt the concept of trauma-informed care was foundational to our mission. We wanted everyone to understand that trauma can actually alter the brain and result in physical, psychological and emotional changes. In 2015, we incorporated TIC into our day-long volunteer trainings.

We also developed some additional tools for both clients and staff to provide feedback. We created an annual client survey and a staff satisfaction survey, and put up suggestion boxes throughout the facility to give clients an opportunity to provide feedback concerning their comfort, safety and well-being in a safe and anonymous way. Aggregated results are shared with our board of directors.

We have provided training for staff on the effects of secondary trauma and the importance of self-care. Each staff member is encouraged to complete a coping plan, which is essentially a list of what they can do when they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. The plan is written on a small card and is designed to be worn on a lanyard, underneath their keycards, where it is easily accessible throughout the day. It serves as a tangible reminder to take some deep breaths, go for a walk or check in with a coworker for support and connection.

We also learned some lessons along the way. Our enthusiasm to make positive changes resulted in the development of a rather ambitious agenda. We were churning out new policies and practices at the same time we were undergoing program expansions and a major renovation. We quickly realized that the pace at which we were trying to make changes was creating more stress than it was alleviating, so we gave ourselves permission to pull back a little and take a month off here and there.

Overall, it has been a positive and empowering experience for us and we are grateful to the Health Care Foundation for funding the initiative and to UCS and the other agencies on our task force for lending their guidance and support.

This blog post is part of A Healthy 10.

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