Building a Trauma-Informed Child Welfare System: A Blueprint
The concept of trauma and the accompanying research have shifted the paradigm about the way in which systems, organizations, professionals, and caregivers approach and serve children, youth, young adults, and families who experience the child welfare system. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as the result of “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”
When trauma is experienced during childhood, the ripple effect can be both swift and substantial. Replicated studies on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) demonstrate that childhood stress is linked to poor health outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, depression, heart disease, cancer, and stroke as well as alcohol and drug abuse, low graduation rates, and poor employment outcomes. Undoubtedly, children and youth who experience abuse or neglect or interact with the child welfare system are vulnerable to trauma and our systems must respond to the needs of children and families through a trauma-informed lens. In doing so, serving children and families moves beyond responding to behaviors to promoting healing.
In the past several years, there have been significant gains in the awareness and understanding
The Children’s Commission offered to lead the SCTIC because the legal system is one of the main systems engaged in the lives of children and families with child welfare involvement. The National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) recognizes that “courts and judges are uniquely positioned to identify those suffering from traumatic stress…[and] urges juvenile and family courts to be trauma-informed by engaging stakeholders—including children, parents, and other court consumers—to jointly develop and implement universal precautions at an environmental, practice, and policy level that limit stress often associated with system involvement or working within courts.” Similarly, the American Bar Association (ABA) “urges federal, state, local, tribal and territorial bar associations, working with judges, lawyers, and other professionals with subject matter expertise in trauma-informed systems of care, to develop and implement training programs for judges, child welfare attorneys, prosecutors, defense counsel, and law students that will enable them to integrate trauma knowledge into daily legal practice and integrate and sustain trauma awareness, knowledge, and skills in practice and policies.”
Leadership from and partnership with the legal system is critical to implementing effective and meaningful trauma-informed care. In response to the emerging research and demonstrated value in adopting a trauma-informed approach, the Children’s Commission, through the SCTIC, sought to bring together the many voices and perspectives throughout Texas to help craft such a response.
Commonly Used Terms
There are various terms and concepts used uniformly throughout the Blueprint. For the purposes of interpreting the Blueprint, these terms are defined below.
- Caregiver(s) refers to an individual or group of individuals who care for the day-to-day needs of children, youth, or young adults in the managing conservatorship of DFPS. Caregivers include foster parents, kinship and fictive kin, and residential provider staff.
- Client(s) refers to any child, youth, young adult, or family member being served by the child welfare system and other systems while engaged with DFPS.
- Children, Youth, and Young Adults
refersto any person under the temporary or permanent managing conservatorship of DFPS ages birth through 18 or any person over 18 in extended foster care.
- Child Welfare System refers to the various stakeholders dedicated to serving children and families involved with the child welfare agency. The system includes Child Placing Agencies (CPAs), service providers, caregivers, advocates, judges, attorneys, and many others.
- Conservatorship is a term used in Texas to describe care, custody, and control rights over a child in a case involving abuse and neglect. Foster care or substitute care are other terms used to describe the status of the child, youth, or young adult. (These umbrella terms are used to describe a living arrangement when the child, youth, or young adult is in out-of-home care, including care by
a relativeor fictive kin.)
- Diverse Populations include but are not limited to persons of color, citizens of tribal nations, people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Questioning (LGBTQ), and people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD).
- Families include children, youth, and young adults as well as their biological or adoptive family members.
- Individual(s) referenced in this document are intended to describe all levels of organizational hierarchy from leaders to entry-level staff, as well as other system stakeholders.
- Organization(s) refers to a public or private entity that serves children and/or families in the child welfare system."
- Provider(s) refers to organizations that provide services to children, youth, young adults, and families involved in the child welfare system. This includes but is not limited to CPAs, general residential operations, and other service providers.
- Re-traumatization refers to the process of re-experiencing traumatic stress as a result of a current situation that mirrors or replicates in some way the prior traumatic experiences.
- Secondary Trauma describes trauma-related stress reactions and symptoms resulting from exposure to another individual’s traumatic experience. (Also referred to as “compassion fatigue” or “vicarious trauma.”)
- STAR Health provides medical and behavioral health services to children and youth in Texas foster care, at the time of this publication.
- Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) is the state agency that protects children and vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. DFPS is also referred to as the child welfare agency. In the Blueprint, any reference made to DFPS is a reference to its Child Protective Services (CPS) program, unless otherwise specified.