Trauma-informed care in child/family welfare services

CFCA Paper No. 37 – February 2016


Understanding the experiences of adversity in childhood such as sexual or other abuse as trauma is now recognised to be an important concept for human service delivery sectors. The USA has led efforts to incorporate trauma theory into mental health and other service delivery, largely driven by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA funds two major trauma-related resources, the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (NCTIC) and the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (NCTSI), to provide a focus for developing a shared language and evidence base around trauma and trauma-informed approaches to service. Emerging efforts in Australia are now contributing to our knowledge of effective practice for children, young people and adults who have experienced trauma from events such as child maltreatment, sexual assault, military service, forced adoption and past family separation practices.

This paper aims to define and clarify what trauma-informed service delivery means in an Australian context. Australia is not as far down the track as the USA in terms of implementing a trauma-informed approach to human service provision in systems such as mental health and child and family services. There is, however, a recognition that exposure to traumatic life events is a driver of service need and that policies and service providers must address and respond to trauma appropriately to ensure best outcomes for individuals and families using these services.