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All public services should be trauma-informed
Agenda & Centre for Mental Health report into trauma-informed approaches for women

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Public services that are trauma-informed provide better support for women who have been through traumatic events, but making the transition to this approach can be challenging for many organisations, according to a recent report  by Centre for Mental Health and Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk.

A sense of safety explores how trauma-informed approaches are being implemented by a range of public services, including mental health services, women’s centres, and women’s prisons. It finds that of the services looked at, those taking a holistic approach to supporting women’s needs were best able to make the change to becoming trauma-informed. But, in many organisations it is a long-term process that means changing longstanding ways of working. In others it is made difficult by the environment they are working in or by funding constraints.

For many services, short-term and fragile funding, based on targets of the volume of service delivery instead of outcomes and quality of the service limited their ability to be innovative and adapt to a truly trauma-informed approach.

A sense of safety calls for all public services to be gender- and trauma-informed. Being trauma-informed means that a service recognises trauma as an important element of a women’s story and recovery and seeks to empower, build trust and meet her needs respectfully and safely.

While traumatic events can happen to anyone, women experience higher rates of violence and abuse in intimate relationships and are more likely than men to experience poor mental health as a result. Over half of women with a mental health problem have experienced violence and abuse. Despite this, few public services recognise or respond to trauma among women.

The report finds that for services, the transition to being trauma-informed requires ongoing commitment and leadership. It means changing the way staff work with women. It finds that the women’s centres that it looked at were more likely to be trauma-informed than most other services. For services that do adopt a trauma-informed approach, there are tangible benefits, not least with increased levels of engagement with women.

One woman when asked about her support from a Women’s Centre that adopted a trauma-informed approach said: “…The staff are amazing; they make you feel safe and as though you can trust them because they actually show an interest…”

A sense of safety calls on the Government to take action to help public services to make the transition to being trauma-informed. This should be included in the next NHS Mandate and future NICE guidelines for health and social care. And bodies like the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted should inspect how well public services are gender- and trauma-informed.

This is a comprehensive report based on telephone interviews with 24 trauma-informed services across the country followed up by site visits and in-depth discussions with nine services including Women’s Centres, a women’s only hostel and a prison-based trauma programme for women.

A full list of recommendations is available in the report. They include:

  • All public service commissioning bodies adopt trauma- and gender-informed commissioning principles for the services.
  • The Department of Health and Social Care and its arm’s length bodies in England, and equivalent bodies in Northern Ireland, should look to developments in Scotland and Wales to support progress towards trauma- and gender-informed public services.
  • The Department of Health and Social Care should lead a research and development programme in England to consolidate the evidence base and produce guidance and resources for a trauma-informed approach.

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