Being unemployed, particularly for a longer period of time, can be an intensely stressful experience. Similarly, the experiences of onboarding at a new job, upskilling or retraining and changing careers (though these might be more positive experiences) can also be extremely stressful.
For clients who have experienced significant harm or adversity, however, and particularly if those experiences happened in childhood, these ‘normal’ stressors can become compounded. Often, when this compounded stress becomes unmanageable, it may result in clients leaving programs, increasing coping behaviours that have negative impacts (like increasing substance use) and/or experiencing significant and personally disruptive emotional distress.
For workforce programs to be accessible to the most vulnerable clients and help them to meet their goals, services should be designed with a lens that anticipates that at least some of our clients are living with a trauma history. In healthcare, this is known as trauma-informed care or trauma-informed practice. Trauma-informed practice is not the same as providing mental health services or services that are specific to resolving trauma. Rather, it is a set of principles that help you to design an environment that is supportive and empowering for all of your clients; not just those who explicitly identify with having experienced trauma.
Three practical things you can do to work towards trauma-informed practice in your program
In the training Purpose Co offers to employment and training practitioners about using a trauma-informed approach, we refer to the principles of trauma-informed care that have been identified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Below are 3 of these principles and one way to implement the principle in your workforce program:
Strive to create an environment where clients have control over if, when and how they disclose about their experiences. This means avoiding intrusive questions during intake and focusing the conversation on their goals and current needs. If you do need to ask more personal questions, make sure you explain why you are asking, what the information will be used for and give the client the option to decline answering or answer at a later time.
Empowerment + Choice
When you are running workshops or sessions, provide a detailed agenda in advance (including any questions you will be asking participants to discuss or answer). Ensure you give participants easy ways to opt-in and opt-out of discussions. For example, in person, you can explain that you will only call on participants who have their arms crossed; in an online environment, you can ask participants to put up an icon to indicate if they are open to sharing their thoughts.
Trustworthiness and Transparency
Set up clear parameters of confidentiality with clients, and get very comfortable explaining them. This might involve consulting with your Board of Directors or with your organization’s legal team. What you need to know (and communicate to clients regularly and clearly) is: are there contexts or situations in which you are legally not able to maintain confidentiality? For example, are you mandated to call child protective services if a client discloses certain behaviours in the home? Are you mandated to call for a wellness check if a client indicates thoughts of self-harm?