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Developing your practice to become a trauma-informed social worker

Recognising and responding to the impact of trauma in children’s daily lives has changed radically the way Cheshire West and Chester’s services work with children, two social workers said last week.

11/10/23

Developing your practice to become a trauma-informed social worker

At the Social Work Show in Manchester last week, Anna Johnson, Innovation and Practice Development Lead and Louise Irving, Principal Social Worker, described their ‘Way of Working’ to a packed seminar. This is a multi-agency model of practice that has embedded a trauma-informed approach to working with children in Cheshire West and Chester Council.

The change to an embedded multi-agency approach was motivated by a particular incident but, Anna Johnson said, overall, ‘we realised we had a sticking-plaster approach. The only time we came together to reflect was when there had been an incident.’

The new model of practice works across all the child’s needs, and focusses on prevention.

So now, she said, ‘when we are on a visit, we are always thinking about how we can reduce the impact of trauma…[it] required a shift in our thinking – when faced with someone who is really angry, from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What’s happened to you?”’

‘A few years in we can see how changing the language and approach has really changed our practice,’ Louise Irving said. ‘It makes us more curious, and makes our assessments much, much richer.’ As a result, ‘you are presenting as the expert; you are the one who knows the child.’

Anna Johnson added, ‘many of [the ideas] are obvious but if we use this approach, it is transforming.

‘All the time as social workers we used to talk about cases. So we changed the language. We asked our Children in Care Council what they wanted. They told us, “Be consistent, know my story, value me, see me as an individual -- not a number or a case.’

‘The principle around TIA is emotional safety,’ Ms Johnson said. ‘We are doing with, and not to, and so building trust. We are enabling people to make choices -- that is something that is often not available to them. Many of the people we work with find it difficult to trust professionals.’

They discussed the background to TIA; there is recognition worldwide of the impact Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can have on a child. Long-term, ACEs can affect mental and physical health, including higher incidences of cancer and heart disease.

Examples of ACEs include
• the death of a close relative
• poverty which regularly affects the home though lack of food, housing or heating
• separation or divorce of parents,
• being a victim of verbal or physical abuse.

Governments in Wales and Scotland have taken Adverse Childhood Experiences into their national strategies for well-being and public health strategies, but the approach in England is more regional.

The Cheshire team has trained over 5,000 people working with children, including in schools, police and health services.

‘As a profession, we don’t see [trauma] happen but we do see its effects,’ Ms Johnson said. ‘We see it in how people manage their emotions, in risk and how they respond to it. What we see is people struggling to manage relationships.

‘We know it is within our gift to practice as trauma-informed.’

COMPASS runs events throughout the year with seminars on topics like the above. The next COMPASS event is in London on 20 November, and you can register for your free ticket at https://www.compassjobsfair.com/Events/London/Book-Tickets

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