Trauma Informed Services


The term “trauma-informed” has evolved into a frequently used buzzword across a wide variety of disciplines and sectors. Yet, it’s unclear whether there is a shared understanding of what it means, and when it should be applied. Many victim service providers describe their work as being “trauma-informed,” and yet it remains unclear whether there is consensus, or lack thereof, on what trauma-informed services encompass.

With direction from the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) at the U.S. Department of Justice, the Sexual Violence Justice Institute (SVJI) at the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA) is conducting a project that aims to capture the national landscape of understanding and practice of trauma-informed services in the sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, and dating violence fields. Throughout the course of this project, SVJI intends to learn the degree to which there is consensus among practitioners and experts on what trauma-informed services include and when, where, and how it should be applied to work with victims. SVJI will explore the trauma-informed landscape through carefully crafted methodology and then provide OVW a written report of findings that can inform their own work and decision making. SVJI will be collecting and reviewing data until the summer of 2015.

Guiding Questions

The key questions guiding SVJI’s inquiry are these :
1. To what extent is there consensus about the “Trauma-Informed’ Concept among OVW constituencies?

    • What are the key definitions being used across the sectors or disciplines that address trauma?
    • How are these similar and different from each other?
    • How much agreement is there that these definitions are a fit for the spheres in which OVW leads—dating violence, stalking, sexual assault, and domestic violence?

2. To what extent is there consensus about how and where the ‘trauma-informed’ concept is APPLIED across agencies serving or interacting with survivors of dating violence, stalking, sexual assault and domestic violence?

    • What are examples of how the concept is being applied?
    • What’s useful or beneficial about the application?
    • Where have there been challenges?
    • What makes the difference between useful and not useful or dangerous?

3. To what extent can the concept be flexible or portable enough to be useful for all distinct victim/survivor populations across all service contexts?

    • When/where/for whom does this concept help?
    • When/where/for whom does it not help or make things worse?
    • Are there risks or consequences to certain survivors when the concept is applied?
    • What makes the difference?

4. What does good application of the concept look like in programs addressing dating violence, stalking, sexual assault, and domestic violence?

    • How does trauma-informed services compare to ‘good advocacy’?
    • What are the promising practices currently being used?
    • What are the key components of these promising practices?

Project Methods

Project methods include key informant interviews, literature review, a consensus survey, trauma-informed story contribution, and roundtable discussions. Key informant interviews will take place in the beginning stages of the project and will allow project leaders to discern a general trauma-informed landscape prior to digging into the more concrete methods. The literature review will take place in mid- to late-summer 2014 in order to qualitatively analyze the trauma-informed landscape on a national scale. After the literature review is complete, project leaders will develop and distribute a consensus survey to respondents in early-fall 2014. The consensus survey will explore the degree to which respondents agree with the trauma-informed definitions and principles that emerged through the literature review. Responses from the consensus survey will inform topics and questions for the two roundtable discussions, one of which will likely take place in fall of 2014 and the other in winter of 2015. Around the same timeframe, project leaders will initiate a story contribution process that involves systematic capturing of stories related to trauma-informed concepts and applications. This methodology is meant to further clarify identified “fuzzy concepts” via reviewer interpretation of the stories. These stories can reflect different level and sector applications of the trauma-informed concept and will later be analyzed for themes. Findings generated through the methods above will be synthesized and presented to OVW for their own use.


Project Summary Documents

This project began in early 2014 and ended in May 2016. SVJI created the following documents to help describe the methods and key findings of the project:


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