Trauma informed activities rarely lead to evidence-based treatments, a study by the Early Intervention Foundation has found.
Trauma Informed Care practice varied widely across children’s social care services, with no two teams offering the same components, or attending the same training. Furthermore, the study found that TIC activities rarely led to evidence-based treatments but were more frequently offered alongside other social work practices that had also not yet been rigorously tested.
“Trauma-informed care was originally introduced to help engage vulnerable individuals in evidence-based mental health treatments. It has since been expanded to a broad set of principles that have been adopted by schools, child protection services and the criminal justice system. This expansion reflects widespread enthusiasm for the trauma-informed principles and optimism that their use will lead to measurable benefits for children and adults,” said the report.
“However, we still do not yet know if these benefits can be realised, especially in the absence of trauma-specific treatments. Given the growing enthusiasm and investment in trauma-informed approaches, we believe this knowledge is essential for guiding future national policies and local practice decisions aimed at supporting vulnerable families through public services,” it added.
In this study, the EIF consider how trauma-informed care principles have been adopted by children’s social care teams in England to improve the quality of their service. While TIC is used in a variety of settings, children’s social care was chosen explicitly because reducing children’s and parents’ experiences of trauma is core to their work.
The EIF partnered with What Works Children’s Social Care to investigate:
1. How prevalent is trauma-informed care within CSC teams?
2. What activities do children’s social care teams offer under the guise of trauma-informed care?
3. How are TIC activities perceived to add value to children’s social care, particularly in terms of their benefits for children and parents?
4. Do specific models of trauma-informed care exist within children’s social care and are they amenable to rigorous evaluation?
The report found that TIC activities are prevalent and occurring in 89% of the teams participating in the study. ‘Strengths-based’ methods for engaging families were listed as the primary trauma-informed care activity, followed by trauma-informed training.
Participants reported that TIC activities provide a wide range of benefits, with better treatment decisions and improved family engagement listed as the most prominent.
The report concluded from the study that trauma-informed care is widely used and perceived to add value to children’s social care. No single model of trauma-informed care currently exists within children’s social care teams in England and there is a high degree of overlap between trauma-informed care activities and standard children’s social care practice. Trauma-informed activities rarely led to evidence-based interventions.
The EIF recommends that a core definition of trauma-informed care is agreed by central government departments, including the Department for Education, the Home Office, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in order to provide a clear and consistent definition of trauma-informed care.
Furthermore, the benefits of trauma-informed care must be identified and evaluated and government departments should prioritise robust evaluation of models of trauma-informed training and practice in different service contexts.
Finally, the report concludes that trauma-informed care should never be used as a replacement for evidence-based, trauma-specific treatments. It recommends that the availability of effective, trauma-specific interventions should be prioritised and linked to any future investment in trauma-informed care.