Trauma-Informed Community Building

Trauma-Informed Community Building

“Many of the participants are dealing with trauma, either personally, historically, or at the community level. Living in a persistently traumatic environment often derails the prescribed curriculum, and facilitators will adapt lessons and plans to address the traumatic experiences and events that the youth bring to the group.” 

Trauma-informed community building is a prevention strategy that addresses the social and structural determinants of health, recognizing that living in historically disadvantaged communities increases the risk of children and families experiencing multiple forms of violence. This story features coalitions in Delaware, North Carolina, and Indiana that implemented approaches in communities experiencing disproportionate trauma as a result of exposure to stressors such as chronic poverty, high rates of violence, and substandard housing. The highlighted lessons below reflect the importance of building and leveraging trusting relationships when working in communities that have experienced trauma while amplifying the voice of the community to build safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments.


Key Lessons Learned & Highlighted Strategies

Key Lesson #1: Partnering with organizations that have existing relationships with the community or offer complementary resources can facilitate lasting prevention efforts.
  • Realizing that their focus neighborhood may be distrustful of outside organizations that had been described as a “revolving door of helpers,” the Delaware community coalition partnered with Child, Inc., an organization with long-standing ties to the neighborhood and a high degree of trust established with residents. This relationship allowed to coalition to build trust with residents while demonstrating their commitment to sustainable efforts within the community.
  • The North Carolina coalition recognized the need to build a more effective, coordinated, and trauma-informed response when collaborating with interacting systems. A partnership between the Charlotte Housing Authority, an organization respected by the community for its work in addressing homelessness, and Community Support Services, a department in the county health and human services agency with expertise on trauma-informed approaches, resulted in the development of practices and policies on rapid re-housing approaches that consider the unique needs of domestic violence survivors in North Carolina.
  • The Indiana coalition followed the lead of key community partners including Crisis Connection, who facilitated trainings with youth and community members on institutionalizing safe, stable nurturing relationships and environments, and the CARES Coalition who adopted a leadership role in addressing the social determinants of health and prevention of substance abuse. Their experience taught them the value of considering whether other partners might be in a better position to lead prevention efforts because of their existing relationships, expertise, and available resources.

Key Lesson #2: Building cohesion and trust requires a willingness to adapt program activities and goals to meet the interest and capacity of participants and partners.
  • Delaware’s community coalition anticipated the need to build inclusivity and acceptance as new members were regularly introduced to their youth group. This was important because the focus neighborhood consisted primarily of renters with a high degree of turnover among youth participants. Therefore they made adaptations to proactively integrate regular team-building activities into the existing curriculum.
  • Early in their partnership, the North Carolina coalition learned that the Renaissance West Community Initiative (RWCI), an organization leading the revitalization of a public housing site, had a need for comprehensive program evaluation of a complex initiative. The coalition adjusted their planned activities to offer expert programs evaluation services to RWCI.

  • In their work to institutionalize safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments (SSNREs) in as many entities as they could reach, Crisis Connection in Indiana learned that their partners needed support in building their capacity to modify the structural background issues that impact SSNREs, such as education and workplaces. They used this knowledge to develop revised program plans that helped organizations focus on promoting SSNREs within relationships.
Key Lesson #3: Gaining traction on entrenched social determinants of health requires recognizing the validity of community members’ expertise and supporting them as critical partners.
  • Upon learning from their needs assessment that social cohesion was not the priority community issue they had expected it to be, Turning Point, a mini-grant recipient of the Indiana Coalition, sought advice and leadership from within the community. As a result, they shifted their strategy to focus on increasing social efficacy among residents in an underrepresented sector of their targeted neighborhood. Because of this shift, neighbors identified priority needs, developed plans to address them, and have begun to lead the change efforts.
  • Since the Delaware’s community coalition’s goal was to implement a youth-driven program, it was especially critical that youth were engaged early in the planning process. In addition to conducting youth focus groups and gathering information during community events, program implementation data was crucial to their ability to continually assess the alignment of program goals and youth interests. Youth played an integral role in planning community improvement projects, including an artistic performance and community-wide healing event that aimed to build community resilience. Involving youth in the planning process helped to ensure that the event reinforced community values and provided an opportunity for community members to identify safe and healthy strategies for coping with chronic adversity.

Tools for Adaptation

Highlighted Projects

Related Resources


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