Trauma refers to experiences that can cause intense psychological and physical stress and can have lasting negative effects on a person’s physical, socio-emotional, and/or spiritual well-being. These experiences can influence key skills such as how we think, feel, behave and relate to others.
Programs that are ‘trauma-informed’ follows a process of ‘universal precaution’, meaning it assumes all clients may have experienced trauma and will take precautions such as:
- Acknowledging the wide reaching effects of trauma while understanding potential pathways for recovery,
- Incorporating trauma-related knowledge into policies, procedures and practices in a standardized way,
- Understanding possible signs and symptoms of trauma and recognizing them among participants as well as staff,
- Seeking to prevent future trauma and re-traumatization.
It is critical to be aware that many fathers who participate in fatherhood programs may have experienced trauma. However, they are not always easy to identify. This is why ALL programs should be trauma informed to provide reliable and effective services for fathers.
Ensuring that all fatherhood programs are trauma-informed requires that they develop an organizational framework of knowledge and understanding about trauma-informed practices, thus requiring and providing training for ALL staff members. They must be aware of the entire organization’s capacity to address trauma, seek out additional resources and services to meet the needs of its client fathers[or mothers or children and youth, as it pertains to educational settings in particular] Many youth are similarly exposed to trauma and thus school staff must adopt greater trauma awareness to best meet the needs of students and their families. Not important solely for mental/behavioral health school providers, but classroom teaching staff as well.
Trauma can influence many behaviors and attitudes of students in school settings. Therefore, schools must be trauma-informed in its framework- system-wide. With greater staff awareness, less punitive disciplinary measures will result when behaviors and attitudes are not perceived as ‘defiant’ or ‘with malicious intent’. Moreover, fewer students will be referred to special education academic programs. If extended to law enforcement representatives and first responders, trauma-informed practices and appropriate training may result in fewer arrests, police involved shootings and deaths when appropriate interventions are utilized on the spot.
Being trauma-informed does not mean that an organization or school provides direct mental health or other counseling services to treat trauma, although trauma-informed programs may be better prepared than others to provide referrals for such services. Every school staff member is not expected to treat trauma, but rather have the awareness and capacity to make appropriate referrals. Follow-up is an important component of the referral process,
The importance of mindfulness, knowledge, and utilization of trauma-informed approaches of programs that serve fathers is highlighted as conducive to positive outcomes in all life areas, and not limited to one setting.
Why focus on fathers and trauma?
- 3 out of 5 men in the U.S. have experienced or witnessed at least one traumatic event in their lives, but they may be reluctant to seek help because that is equated with lack of strength, an attack on their ‘manhood’.
- Men who have experienced trauma may not be aware that certain behaviors, like being easily startled, having trouble sleeping, and engaging in angry outbursts are normal responses to trauma.
- Men of color and men who are low-income are more likely to have experienced trauma, but are definitely less likely to report, recognize or seek help than their white and middle-class peers.
- To cope with the physiological and psychological symptoms of trauma, some men engage in behaviors that have negative health outcomes, i.e., alcohol and drug use.
- Some men who’ve been traumatized disconnect from those around them to cope with their trauma.
- A father who is suffering from the effects of trauma are less likely to be able to handle the daily demands of parenting. Parents who experience trauma may withdraw from their children or become easily agitated by everyday sources of stress- busy traffic, disagreements with partner, bad day at work- all of which could have negative or harmful interactions with their children.
- Parental trauma can have long term negative effects on their child’s development and mental health, including social, emotional, and behavioral problems, trouble in school, and secondary traumatization.
- Individuals who have experienced trauma may become re-traumatized in situations or environments that make them feel as if the traumatic event is occurring all over again. Program participation can also re-traumatize clients if they feel its dangerous, unsafe and it reminds them of their past trauma.
- Staff members who have experienced trauma themselves may experience trauma from exposure to their clients’ traumatic events.
Trauma-informed approaches do not negate the need and importance of cultural responsiveness. Cultural proficiency should be embedded and basically a fundamental principle of such approaches, interventions, and culture and climate of all programs and staff who engage with fathers, children, mothers families and youth. This is inclusive of every setting and work environment, as cultural competence should be a foundational requirement of effective communication with others, in any capacity-personal and professional. Empathic awareness and compassion also are best accompanied by the responsiveness of each of us as social beings, but in this case it is in programs using trauma-informed approaches with fathers.