The threat of homelessness is traumatic. The experience of homelessness is traumatic. Imagine a mother with children losing her home, desperately trying to find a safe place to be with her children. There is a good chance that she has experienced trauma and violence in the past, as a child and as an adult. How does her encounter with emergency homeless services and supports consider the impact of trauma on this woman's life?
Today, USICH highlights the issue of trauma-informed care, particularly from the angle of trauma-sensitive programming. While it is absolutely critical to understand the impact of traumatic events past and present on an individual's ability to rebuild, it is equally important to think about how an organization structures and operates its programs to take trauma sensitivity into consideration. How are staff expectations set and how does professional development occur? What are the program rules, why do they exist, and how are they enforced? How do programs build trust with families when it might be perfectly natural for a family not to trust the program right away?
We know that women who experience homelessness have high rates of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as children and adults. We know that children experiencing homelessness have been exposed to acts of violence. We know that post-traumatic stress can result in behaviors that are symptomatic, but often mislabeled as "noncompliant" or "shut down." And we know that there is a growing body of literature and training for frontline staff to provide trauma-informed care, and for the agencies running these programs to do trauma-sensitive programming.
Being trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive changes the way programs interact with all their clients. It's not just a specific way of working with only those clients with histories of trauma. I encourage you to access the information on usich.gov that helps you build the trauma competence of your organization.
As we celebrate all moms this Mother's Day, let's focus on ways in which programs helping families experiencing homelessness can step back to consider how to provide the best support to moms who are taking care of their children while finding a way back home.
Recommended reading list on trauma, mothers, and children from Ellen Bassuk, the founder and president of the National Center for Family Homelessness and the Director of the Center for Social Innovation