Early in 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives passed U.S. House Resolution 443 to recognize the importance, effectiveness and need for trauma-informed care in the existing programs of federal agencies, as well as to encourage federal agencies to adopt a trauma-informed approach to their work. The resolution states that a trauma-informed approach is “a principle-based, culture-change process aimed at recognizing strengths and resiliency as well as helping people who have experienced trauma to overcome those issues in order to lead healthy and positive lives.” The trauma addressed may be a natural disaster, adverse childhood experiences, violence, poverty or toxic stress. A similar resolution, Senate Resolution 346, passed several months later in the Senate. Both are “simple resolutions” intended to express broad support and inspire others to act, but they stop short of requiring or prohibiting specific actions.
The resolutions acknowledge the role of federal agencies, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in providing financial support and other resources to support implementation of trauma-informed practices, and also cite examples from the state, tribal, and local levels. The examples in the resolutions are by no means an exhaustive list of trauma-informed practices, programs and policies implemented at every level of government, but the preponderance of examples cited are from local communities.
Some, but not all, of the examples referenced in the resolutions involve a legal component. The following are brief descriptions of the examples discussed in the resolutions, with links to relevant legal authority and documents added where available:
- Fostering Futures, a collaboration of the State of Wisconsin with tribes, state agencies, county governments, and nonprofit organizations to make Wisconsin a trauma-informed state.
- The Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin worked to increase understanding of historical trauma and childhood adversity and to develop culturally relevant, trauma-informed practices.
- The University of Illinois at Chicago School of Medicine Comprehensive Assessment and Response Training System improves the quality of psychiatric services provided to youth in foster care, and the University of Chicago Recovery & Empowerment After Community Trauma Initiative supports residents who are coping with community violence.
- In Philadelphia, service providers, academics, and local artists use art to engage their community to educate and involve citizens in trauma-informed care activities.
- In San Francisco, the city’s public health department provided training for its workforce to create a trauma-informed system.
- In Kansas City, schools, including preschools, worked to become trauma-informed communities by providing education and support to children, teachers, and parents.
- In Tarpon Springs, Florida, the city crafted a community effort to gather city officials, professionals, and residents to coordinate multiple trauma-informed activities. Multi-sector collaboration is supported by a memorandum of understanding.
- In Worcester, Massachusetts, community members worked with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health to create a venue with peer-to-peer support to engage individuals experiencing trauma more effectively.
- In Walla Walla, Washington, the city and community members launched the Children’s Resilience Initiative to mobilize neighborhoods and Washington State agencies to tackle adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The city issued proclamations and 2013 and 2017 in support of the resilience initiative.
- The state of Oregon passed the first law designed to promote trauma-informed approaches to decrease rates of chronic school absenteeism, and created a plan to leverage community resources to support youth.
- The state of Massachusetts established a safe and supportive schools framework in order to promote whole-school efforts to implement trauma-sensitive approaches to support the social, emotional, and academic well-being of all students, including both preventive and intensive services and supports depending on students’ needs. The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative is a collaborative effort of Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children which has championed a policy agenda to nurture trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed schools.
- The state of Washington implemented the ACEs Public-Private Initiative (APPI), a collaboration among public, private and community organizations to research and inform policies to prevent childhood trauma and reduce its negative emotional, social and health effects. The APPI is the successor to the Family Policy Council, which implemented the Self Healing Communities Model, which emphasized cultural change and capacity building from 1994 to 2012.
In view of the support garnered in Congress across the political spectrum and the varied examples cited, incorporating an evidence-based understanding of the impact of adverse childhood experiences and trauma into law and policy at every level of government is a timely and adaptable strategy to increase resilience and enhance community health.
This post was prepared by Jill Krueger, J.D., director of the Network for Public Health Law—Northern Region.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.
Support for the Network is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, RWJF.