A significant number of youth and their families who are served by residential intervention have experienced varying degrees of traumatic stress. These traumatic stressors might include abuse and neglect, as well as witnessing violence in the family and community. Moreover, for some youth and their families, being removed from their homes can be experienced as a traumatizing event. In an effort to facilitate engagement, ensure feelings of safety and security, and to create increasingly positive outcomes for youth and families, many residential services providers have adopted trauma-informed practices.

Trauma-informed practices are fundamentally based on individualized and strength-based approaches. These practices underscore the important role of youth voice and choice in creating feelings of security, increased control, and empowerment. Furthermore, trauma-informed practices foster collaboration between the youth, family, and service provider in creating positive goals and outcomes for the services and supports offered.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has identified six key principles that drive trauma-informed approaches. These six principles are:

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice and choice
  6. Cultural, historical, and gender issues

Trauma-informed approaches are applicable across a variety of service types, although how they are put into practice must be individualized to the specific service.

Adopting and incorporating trauma-informed practices with all the residential interventions, both in the program and in the home and community, by all disciplines of staff, including executive leaders, will foster an environment of health, well-being, safety, and respect for all, along with influencing positive staff morale and retention.

Key Resources

Redefining Residential: Trauma-Informed Care in Residential Treatment, (2010). American Association of Children’s Residential Centers.

Building a Trauma Informed Workforce, Chapter 2. Trauma Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services: Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2014.

LeBel, J. & Kelly, N. (2014) Trauma-Informed Care. In G.M. Blau, B. Caldwell, & R.E. Lieberman (Eds.), Residential Interventions for children, Adolescents, and Families: A Best Practice Guide (pp. 78-95). New York, NY: Routledge.