In December we had an amazing day presenting alongside speakers from Free Your Mind, You & Me Counselling, Redthread, representatives from the Greater London Authority and Rinova at the Young Londoners Participation Network. We heard powerful stories of resilience, connection and hope through adversity, and inspiring ways that services work to support young people affected by trauma.
In this blog, our Programme Manager, Thalia Wallis, shares our understanding how trauma affects young people and the professionals working with them. As we enter a new year and decade it is important for us to reflect on the work we do, as well as implementing strategies and intentions for self-care in the future.
We are working in a system that often further excludes, disempowers and marginalises the most vulnerable, often at a time when their behaviour is crying out that they need support.
We know childhood years are vital for developing skills in emotional regulation, coping skills, resilience and self-awareness, and that trauma and adverse childhood experiences have a damaging effect on brain development and social and emotional well-being. This can negatively impact young people’s ability to manage thoughts, feelings, behaviour and relationships, which are all crucial skills in leading fulfilling lives.
Support that interrupts the connection between trauma, shame and violence and helps young people build the resources needed to regulate their emotions is particularly important at a time when school exclusions are rising. With ‘persistent disruptive behaviour’ being the most common reason for this. Young people who have been excluded by the age of 12 are 4 times more likely to end up in prison, and the majority of our clients have experienced adverse childhood experiences such as neglect, abuse and household adversity or dysfunction. This means we are working in a system that often further excludes, disempowers and marginalises the most vulnerable, often at a time when their behaviour is crying out that they need support.
We know it’s the adults who have daily contact with these young people who can make the biggest difference, and that relationships with supportive, regulated adults is a protective factor against the negative effects of trauma. However, working with dysregulated, traumatised young people can come at a price. Young people often outwardly display their internal confusion, so a distressed young person is often distressing to work with, and working with a traumatised child can often be traumatic. This all has a significant impact on the social and emotional wellbeing of the adults working with young people, and can undermine the resilience of the whole system surrounding them.
By creating trauma informed environments which prioritise the wellbeing of professionals as well as the young people in their care, we can buffer against the negative impact of trauma and blunt the effects of adverse childhood experiences.
Khulisa aspires to work in organisations where we can deliver training and support for professionals as well as directly working with the young people. We know that working in this way has the biggest impact. By creating trauma informed environments which prioritise the wellbeing of professionals as well as the young people in their care, we can buffer against the negative impact of trauma and blunt the effects of adverse childhood experiences. We train and encourage professionals to think ‘what’s happened to you’, rather than ‘what’s wrong with you’, and this way we re-frame disrespectful and challenging behaviour as a communication of confusion, vulnerability, trauma and unmet needs.
A system with burnt out, overwhelmed professionals is often a system which is quick to react instead of a respond, leading to more conflict and punitive measures such as isolation and exclusions and a zero tolerance attitude to behaviour seen as “naughty”.There’s a reason self-care has become such a buzz word. We’re working with huge numbers of professionals experiencing compassion fatigue, toxic stress and vicarious trauma, often leading to high levels of absenteeism, high turnover of overwhelmed staff and physically and emotionally exhausted teams. As you can imagine, the impact of this on young people undermines their sense of safety, attachment and belonging to the institutions they need the most.
Building a trauma informed and trauma responsive environment is paramount to safeguard the wellbeing of professionals and the young people in their care to buffer against the impact of trauma on the whole system.
This involves implementing a culture that is stable, nurturing and safe for both staff and clients. This includes teams that are strengths and asset based rather than focussing on deficit and a culture which values staff relationships, self-worth, and supervision where possible. Organisations which allows staff space to acknowledge their own unmet needs and seek support from peers enables staff wellbeing to be prioritised which has a positive impact on the young people in their care.
By building staff resilience and teaching coping strategies to regulate themselves, and developing the skills to effectively de-escalate and co-regulate with young people, professionals can safeguard and role model self-care.
We advocate moving from sanction, punishment and blame to education and restorative approaches because we know this creates an environment where people take responsibility for their behaviour, see the impact of their behaviour on others and develop respect and empathy.
The good news is, our brains are plastic, and providing young people with experiences and skills of self-awareness, a sense of belonging, respect and acceptance can literally re-wire their brain.
Trauma doesn’t always equal traumatised, and the more organisations can build a culture that puts wellbeing at the heart of support, the more we can work towards young people developing post-traumatic growth instead of post-traumatic stress symptoms.
We want young people to have places of safety, especially when home and the community aren’t safe. A culture of blame, punishment and exclusions, and dysregulated overworked adults undermines the safety of the systems young people access. It is crucial for staff to acknowledge the impact working with traumatised young people has on them, and to start prioritising their own well-being.
In the words of a young man who recently completed our programme:
I think everyone in my school needs this, even the adults
Think about one thing you will do differently this year to prioritise your self-care