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Part 2: What does it mean to be trauma-informed in a post Covid-19 society?

Sam Matthews, Director of Delivery
Monday 8th June 2020

Part 1 explored Leap’s journey to becoming a trauma informed organisation. This edition shares how our practice is evolving as a result of the pandemic and the services we have designed to support young people and professionals as lockdown measures ease.  

What risks does the pandemic pose for triggering trauma?

Months into this pandemic, it is becoming clearer and clearer that there are few ‘experts’.  The last time that the world dealt with a pandemic of this scale was decades ago, in an era very different to the world we occupy today. More and more we are learning of the hardships faced by many – the pandemic and the knock-on effects raise a whole host of issues for people, including the re-triggering of past trauma.  

Dr Bessel Van Der Kolk MD (Author of How the Body Keeps the Score) gives some useful guidance by recognising that the pandemic provides the perfect preconditions for trauma.  He challenges us to use our bodies to help deal with the effects and other ways to support ourselves and one another:

  • Organise our lives in as predictable a way as possible.
  • Focus on creating connection – staying in touch with loved ones.
  • Move our bodies to help create calm – build things, do yoga and breathe.
  • Find what enables us to feel safe – music, art, human touch or reaching out to helplines.
  • Activate ourselves to set up a sequence of time, meditate – noticing and paying attention to ourselves and others around us.

During the lockdown we have implemented these ideas across the organisation and online delivery. For example:

  • In our one-to-one sessions with young people, project workers have sent journals to help the young person capture key thoughts and reflections across the eight-week delivery sessions
  • For our young women’s programme, we have sent self-care introduction packs to aid learning and support information as they adjust to the easing of lockdown measures
  • All our online delivery has introduced reflective sessions whether in group sessions with foster carers and youth workers or in one-to-one sessions with young people
  • We have organised weekly online exercise, quizzes, games evenings and opportunities to learn a new skill for staff, trainers and project workers so that we remain connected while physically distancing

Ensuring Leap’s work is underpinned by Trauma Informed core principles

There are several scholarly reports on the guiding principles or core values of trauma informed approaches to care.  Almost all include the following,

  • Safety
  • Choice
  • Empowerment
  • Collaboration
  • Trustworthiness

At Leap, we adopted these values as central to our endeavours, asking ourselves the extent to which our practice and behaviours reflect our commitment to each of them. Similarly, there are four ‘Rs’ which are the key assumptions in a trauma informed approach – Realisation, Recognise, Respond and Resist/Re-traumatisation.  In developing our current 2020 – 2024 strategy we began to consider ways in which our activities might be better adapted in keeping with the four Rs.  Changes include:

  • Tools and resources for self-soothing
  • Changes to lighting and space to support feelings of safety
  • In relationships, asking the right questions and building individual profiles of need and support
  • Adapting models of choice for engagement in delivery

How we have responded as an organisation

Planning is in my bones – if a task is to be done, I simply cannot think without a plan securely in place to drive my progress. But how do you plan in a pandemic? Especially when there is no end in sight - who knows what will happen in six weeks, let alone six months!  How do you implement a trauma informed approach to working via Zoom or other digital platforms? I simply don’t have all of the answers. However, I do know that our adaptations and new ways of working in the current environment have brought us closer to operating within these core principles than any amount of planning would have been able to achieve.

It seems as though trusting in our humanity and responding with compassion, not only towards others, but very importantly towards ourselves, has brought us far closer to becoming a truly trauma informed organisation.  Of course, we’ve made plans and structured our activities, but we have also made time to listen and taken time out to care – to really show that we care.  This is not something that the senior management team have led or decided upon. It’s been almost an automatic collective response with project workers, trainers and staff all playing their part. 

So, the task ahead for the trauma informed team is to continue paying attention to what is already taking place within our organisation and to build from there. That is not to say that we are not still learning from other practitioners in the sector, as indeed we are. But somehow a new space has been created for reflection, choice, empowerment and trust; a space which brings new opportunities that were not apparent before that strange day in March when everything was suddenly very different.

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If you are a youth professional or organisation interested in participating in one of our online wellbeing sessions and/or our young people and trauma online training, please contact Bethany.roberts@leapcc.org.uk

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