C. Trauma-Informed Child Welfare System

The document “Building a Trauma-Informed Child Welfare System: A Blueprint” lays out nine Guiding Principles for child welfare stakeholders to use as we continue transforming the system to one that is trauma-informed and trauma-responsive. The nine Guiding Principle as well as suggested trauma-informed practices to be implemented in the courtroom are provided below.

1. CULTURE: Texas will create a culture of trauma-informed care for all individuals and organizations that touch the lives of children, youth, young adults, and families while they are involved in the child welfare system.

•   Acknowledge the children, youth, young adults, and family members in court have likely experienced trauma and may continue to experience trauma throughout the case.

•   Review current courtroom practices and environment with a trauma-informed lens and integrate improvements.

•   Base communications between court professionals and participants in trauma-informed principles.

•   Create an environment of safety, respect, honesty, and humility to nurture healing, rehabilitation, and resiliency. Modify the environment, such as seating, lighting, and signage to be trauma-informed.

•   Develop a shared understanding of the role that trauma has played in shaping the survivor's life. Connect trauma concerns with the rest of the child's problems and goals, and understand that experiences of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse can shape fundamental patterns of perceiving the world, other people, and oneself.

•   Identify current circumstances that may trigger trauma responses, e.g., unexpected touching, threats, loud arguments, violations of privacy or confidentiality, being in confined spaces with strangers, or sexual situations. Be watchful for other less obvious triggers that become evident as you know the family better and as family members recognize and can express their individual stress responses more accurately.

•   Promote and support efforts to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint practices.

•   Create service plans and court orders that are individualized to address the trauma-related needs of the child and family to promote healing and minimize re-traumatization.

•   Address trauma-related needs during transition periods.

Special Issue: The Statewide Collaborative on Trauma-Informed Care has developed a working definition of Trauma-Informed:

An individual, program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed fully integrates knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices by:

1. Realizing the widespread impact of trauma, understanding potential paths for recovery, and acknowledging the compounding impact of structural inequities related to culture, history, race, gender, identity, locale, and language;

2. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system; Maximizing physical and psychological safety and responding to the impact of structural inequities on individuals and communities; Building healthy, trusting relationships that create mutuality among children, families, caregivers, and professionals at an individual and organizational level; and Striving to avoid re-traumatization.

This definition was developed and approved by the SCTIC utilizing definitions from SAMHSA's Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma Informed Approach and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN).

2. COLLABORATION: A trauma-informed child welfare system requires collaboration within and across systems, organizations, and individuals.

•   Create an environment of open collaboration between all stakeholders to enhance services to families.

•   Increase accessible and effective trauma services through education and collaboration among the many stakeholders (mental health providers, caseworkers, foster parents, caregivers at kinship placements and residential treatment centers, judges, attorneys, CASAs, medical community, law enforcement)

3. EQUITY: A trauma-informed child welfare system is culturally competent and equitable.

•   Consider a child and family's identity and cultural background when addressing participants and making decisions.

•   Seek out equity training for court staff. See the Chapter on Disproportionality for additional resources.

•   Review disaggregated data and address disproportionalities and disparities in collaboration with community partners.

4. YOUTH & FAMILY VOICE: A trauma-informed child welfare system includes and respects youth and family voice and cultivates resilience.

•   Gather the child's perspective on their case through the appropriate avenue for each individual child (in-person, video conference, letter, etc.).

•   Engage children, youth, parents, and family members in identifying the best approach for achieving reunification or other permanency options when reunification is not possible.

•   Minimize the trauma from removal and attachment disruption by increasing visitation with parents, siblings, and other close family (especially in children ages zero to three) to provide meaningful and consistent connections with appropriate family members.

•   Help children and youth identify strategies helpful in the past in dealing with overwhelming emotions. Place priority on child's preferences regarding self-protection and self-soothing needs by using de-escalation preference surveys.

•   Facilitate healthy relationship building with a trusted adult (e.g. CASA; community member; family member)

•   Support and encourage normalcy activities as defined by the individual child.

5. SECONDARY TRAUMA: A trauma-informed child welfare system recognizes and addresses secondary trauma.

•   Assess courtroom practices to evaluate the work environment and its impact on court staff and professional wellness as it relates to secondary trauma.[214]

•   Encourage court staff and professionals to complete periodic self-assessments for personal reflection.[215]

•   Provide trainings and resources that support self-care and minimize the impact of secondary trauma.

6. TRAINING: A trauma-informed child welfare system recognizes that ongoing, quality training is fundamental.

•   Train court staff and professionals on the basic concepts of brain science, trauma, and trauma-related behaviors. Collaborate with stakeholders and community partners to leverage existing training and technical assistance resources.

•   Provide ongoing, regular training to court staff and professionals to sustain trauma-informed changes and provide opportunities to implement what they learn.

7. INFORMATION SHARING: A trauma-informed child welfare system has information sharing capabilities that are accessible, manageable, innovative, and user-friendly.

•   Enhance collaboration pathways within and outside the courtroom to enhance information sharing processes.

•   Encourage the creation of a learning collaborative in the community to increase opportunities for sharing resources and knowledge and building relationships.

8. DATA: A trauma-informed child welfare system is informed by data and committed to continuous quality improvement.

•   Collaborate with stakeholders to ensure quality data collection practices.

•   Evaluate data and institute necessary changes with a trauma-informed lens.

9. FUNDING & SUSTAINABILITY: A trauma-informed child welfare system is adequately funded and sustainable.

•   Partner with community stakeholders to develop strategies for sustaining a trauma-informed courtroom.