Trauma Informed Care: A Call to Action

While all across the country our living rooms were saturated with images of a burning city falling into a chaotic state, a reality exists beneath the surface and in the historical fabric of this city. The reaction to the death of Freddie Gray was the result of a City whose most vulnerable residents felt they had nothing left to lose. It was the consequence of historical traumas that have been used as tools of subjugation and control. With this context, it is important to understand that the uprising was not only a call to action, but also a cry for help.

Anisha Thomas (right), Office of Youth Wellness and Community Health at the Baltimore City Health Department
Anisha Thomas (right), Office of Youth Wellness and Community Health at the Baltimore City Health Department

As the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) worked tirelessly to ensure that residents had access to health services the days after the uprising, we found that what the city actually needed went beyond even food and medicine. BCHD along with Behavioral Health Systems Baltimore (BHSB) saw a city that was in pain, the residents who love their home and the civil servants who were dedicated to serving it. With tensions at an all-time high something had to be done to address the toxicity that was brewing and the trauma that followed. BCHD and BHSB decided to host introductory Trauma Informed Care sessions in which facilitators led workshops for city employees on the principles of Trauma Informed Care in order to better serve residents who were exhibiting signs and effects of trauma

Trauma Informed Care is a structured treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of trauma. It also emphasizes physical and psychological safety and helps survivors rebuild a sense of control and empowerment. It is a practice guided by six principles which include: safety; trustworthiness and transparency; peer support; collaboration and mutuality; empowerment, voice and choice; and cultural, historical and gender issues. These guiding principles change the way we both define and interpret the uprising. These principles bring a better understanding to the experiences of Baltimore city residents, and show how the uprising symbolized the trauma Baltimore City has experienced historically, especially its Black Community.

After sifting and sorting through the feedback received from the summer trainings, the overwhelming response was hard to ignore: Baltimore City employees wanted a comprehensive training in Trauma Informed Care. The responses indicated a genuine desire to learn more about how to address the survivors of trauma and to use that information to implement manageable changes in the workplace that make it easier for city employees to respond to residents in need or crisis.

Luc Figueiredo Miller, Americorps VISTA with the Baltimore City Health Department
Luc Figueiredo Miller, Americorps VISTA with the Baltimore City Health Department

So in October 2015, Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen requested every city agency send a team of employees to embark on a transformative journey, creating the Trauma Informed Care Collaborative Learning Community. Since October, 20 teams of city agencies and organizations have met monthly to learn the principles of Trauma Informed Care, to share in their experiences as city employees, to address their own biases and growths, and develop plans for sustainable integration of the model in their agencies.

April 19th marked the one year anniversary of the death of Freddie coincidentally, shortly before one of the most important elections in the history of the city. It has been a year since the country turned its eyes to Baltimore to watch what they thought was a city in chaos. In reality what they saw was a city in pain, and communities responding the only way they knew would elicit a response. Since then, this city has slowly begun to heal. As Baltimore City residents lined up across the city to cast their votes, they did so looking towards the future of the city in the hopes that whoever was elected would work hand in hand with ignored communities to continue the healing process with agencies now equipped with Trauma-Informed Care.

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