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Family Engagement in Trauma Identification

Supporting children and families who have experienced trauma means doing it in a collaborative, culturally sensitive way. Honoring children and caregivers’ voices lays the foundation for healing.

Start with the positive

People are so much more than the trauma they endure. Trauma-informed and responsive care needs to also center on strength and hope. Asking children and caregivers about people they love, places that feel safe, or things that bring them joy are all great ways to engage families impacted by trauma.

For more on the power of positive experiences, click here.

Create a safe environment

Your #1 priority is to make sure children in your care feel safe so that they can heal from trauma.

Immediately address self-harming or suicidal thoughts and behaviors by asking them directly about their thoughts or behaviors, ensuring their immediate physical safety, and connecting them with someone in or outside your organization who is equipped to help them.

Promote equity and belonging. Racism, bullying, or unfair treatment based on gender, sexual orientation, or disability is a roadblock to healing. Trauma identification and support is most effective in a space free of discrimination.

Help children regulate their feelings. Children and their caregivers can become upset when talking about their trauma or completing a trauma screening tool. Use grounding techniques, connecting & identifying social supports, and listen & validate their feelings to help them reduce feelings of distress.

Anticipate triggers. Once you’ve learned about the trauma of a child or their caregivers, think about ways you and your organization can avoid re-traumatizing them.

Be curious

Our culture, family life, and society’s expectations shape how we experience trauma. Inviting a child and/or their caregiver to share how their identity and background impact their experience of trauma is an important part of trauma-informed and responsive (TIR) care.

Some cultures or families discourage public displays of emotion. Others value certain kinds of emotions. Check out this resource to learn more about how culture can shape how people react to trauma.

Children can have very different reactions to traumatic experiences. Some can be more obvious, like anger outbursts and hyperactivity. But others, such as depression or anxiety, are less disruptive, so it’s easier to miss them. Be curious about all unusual changes in behavior.

Have honest conversations

Transparency and trust are a big part of trauma-informed and responsive (TIR) work. Regardless of how you identify trauma, it’s important to have honest conversations throughout the process.

Don’t jump to conclusions. When you observe potential signs of trauma, talk to the child and/or their caregiver about your thought process. That will give them an opportunity to share if they wish.

If you are using a screening tool, be clear about the entire process. Talk about the benefits and drawbacks of this approach.


Discuss what could come next. This includes the next steps they may want to consider, such as referrals to services or more frequent check-ins.