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Principle 3: Empowerment, Voice and Choice

Children who have experienced trauma are not just victims. They have strengths, capabilities and talents that should be nurtured throughout their lives and that can help support recovery and healing.

They may feel a loss of control and that they’re powerless to do anything to change their situation. Adults who interact with children should work with them and their caregivers to empower them to make decisions about their own lives.

Ways of empowering children and their caregivers can include:

Using a strengths-based, resiliency-focused perspective and choosing language that’s culturally sensitive, and recognizes that there is much more to a child than their circumstances or the trauma they have experienced.

Including children and their caregivers in decision-making processes (e.g. giving them choices, helping them set goals).

Asking about a time when they previously overcame a challenge to learn more about existing coping mechanisms and support systems.

Developing input and feedback mechanisms for children, families, and communities.

Recognizing that youth and families may bring different yet equally valid values and perspectives to a decision, some of which may be rooted in differences in background, upbringing, experiences, or culture.

Recognizing that a family’s culture can be a source of strength and support as they heal from trauma.

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Learning to differentiate between decisions that are actively harmful and those that are simply not the ones a staff member would make for themselves.

Creating space for youth and families to have a role in organizational decision-making.

Supporting youth and families in advocating for themselves.

Connecting children and families with interpreters, family partners, and peer support.

In situations where a youth has caused harm, adults can also empower them by adopting a restorative approach rather than responding in a punitive manner. Restorative responses seek to repair and improve relationships and, as such, empower youth to become a part of the solution.

Trauma-informed and responsive organizations should also engage children and families in providing feedback throughout the process of developing, implementing, and evaluating policies and programming.

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