Circle Insights

Trauma informed practice – how a West Midlands coalition is changing things

Marc Radley

The idea of trauma informed practice has been around for a while now (SAMHSA 2014). It remains, however, a burgeoning area of practice. The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is attempting to take this forward into commissioning policy. Through a coalition of public service agencies, it aims to promote a framework for trauma informed practice in the region. Knowledge, practice-based evidence, data sharing, combined training and service inputs will set new pathways towards achieving better outcomes for all children in the region.

“Trauma informed practice is a journey, not a destination,” says Lucy Cavell Senior Trauma Informed Practitioner at Barnardo’s, the children’s charity which is coordinating the work of the WMCA trauma informed coalition which sets a policy direction. “There are different approaches in the seven constituent local authorities. For example, Birmingham City Council has a slightly different flavour to other organisations, having taken a holistic approach to training around trauma informed practice within children’s services and schools.

“We’re creating a community of practice on behalf of the coalition. There’s a sharing of knowledge and of best practice being implemented. The coalition is a reflective space with strategic support for locally based networks. It accepts the regional differences in localities such as Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, but it’s still early days, we’re still learning, gathering knowledge and promoting connections and promoting building the evidence base.”

Trauma informed practice in the West Midlands

The WMCA trauma informed coalition was established in 2022 in response to Punishing Abuse, to develop trauma informed practice in the localities. It includes the West Midlands police force, public health, primary care, local authority children’s services, schools, faith groups and charities including homelessness, temporary accommodation, drug, alcohol, domestic violence and mental health. The trauma informed coalition is borrowing from the learning about violence reduction and service developments in Scotland and other regions, such as in Wales, aiming to adapt this to the history and demographics of the WMCA.

“We saw the potential in being involved in such a coalition and the benefit that it can bring to so many vulnerable children,” says Lucy. “Punishing Abuse is a powerful piece of work that demands action. One of the primary barriers to this is siloed short-term responses. Services interact with children in the way that they see as being most appropriate and that makes sense to them. Children move in and out to other areas of the regional system with unseen and unmet needs and are dealt with in an entirely different way.” The importance of a more optimal and joined-up approach which is able to consider much more of the individual context of each child’s journey is something we’ve written about previously.

“One aspect has been the simple creation of training material to promote trauma informed practice,” says Lucy. “We’ve seen real leadership buy-in from the police, with training delivered to over 2,300 officers and staff so far. This covers the basics, from psychology and behaviours to appropriate skills in formulating partnership responses. This has seen a much more compassionate response from the police towards children, young people and families and their communities. Simply by understanding their behaviours differently it has increased the window of tolerance in police settings.”

What the future will bring

There is no blueprint for trauma informed practice and it remains a development area of work with vulnerable young people and their families. As Lucy outlines, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work.

“We hope that establishing a trauma informed framework via the coalition will at least set us on the path to end the punishment of abuse,” concludes Lucy. “The goal is to commission interventions that facilitate systemic resilience. Of particular interest and relevance to establishing a consistent unified approach across Educational settings is the Trauma Informed and Attachment Aware Schools regional certification model, informed by the work of ARC, Virtual Schools, Educational Psychology Services and Barnardo’s in the region.

“At the heart of the coalition is the intention to engage with adversity and trauma in regional localities to meet needs in an optimal way. Further, to promote evidence from effective collaborative partnership practice by capturing, monitoring and sharing relevant data and the context of individual, family and community adversity and trauma ethically. The objective is to make smarter service commissioning investments for the longer-term future of the region. There will be a need to step back to see what works and what doesn’t. It is, after all, early days.”

In the second part of this blog series, we will take a closer look at what success looks like for the WMCA trauma informed coalition.

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Marc Radley