trauma recovery

A Personal and Professional Quest for Trauma Informed Care

Following a soulful dive into the world of understanding ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), I fell upon a term that gripped my eyes – Trauma Informed Care.

“Seeing the term trauma-informed care for the first time, I didn’t understand what it meant, but I could feel it was important. I knew in my gut I was on a path to discovering a language for the absence in care I’ve felt since early in my career.”

The Argument for Trauma-Informed Services Parenting with PTSD -Dawn Daum

Simply put, trauma informed care is a systemic framework of care and service based on the effects trauma has on a survivor’s brain, body, and nervous system. The framework leads providers of human services to ask, “What happened to you?” rather than “What is wrong with you?” It demands that systems of care involved in prevention, healing and rehabilitation acknowledge the prevalence of trauma, the lasting effects it has on individuals ability to function and connect, and the damage done by addressing and treating only psychological and behavioral symptoms.

Trauma informed care is the anti-Band-Aid cultural approach; a simple but powerful change in perspective and service that leads to sustainable growth and healing.

The foundational beliefs of a trauma informed approach resonated with me because as both a trauma survivor and a mental health professional, I have witnessed and fallen through the cracks in the mental health, physical health, education, and legal systems.

When my life as a blogger, Survivor, and advocate for parenting survivors of childhood abuse collided with my career working in the trenches of the mental health and substance abuse recovery field, I knew the universe was telling me it was time to put what I know, personally and professionally, into motion.

But how?

I really struggled with the how. Until I realized I needed to stop asking myself how, and ask where instead. Once I did that the answer was clear. I needed to start exactly where I was, doing exactly what I was already doing.

At the time, I was a health home care manager for a non-for-profit agency in upstate NY. The agency had recently experienced a total overhaul of the administrative team due to the executive director of 30 years retiring. In his place, a driven woman with an open mind and a determination to bring the agency up to speed with the times and the needs of a population that differ drastically from when the agency began in 1978.

It felt right; the perfect time and place to put everything I had learned about ACEs, trauma recovery, and resilience into motion at a grass roots level, which just so happens to be where I’m most comfortable. I just needed an opportunity.

“Be the change you want to see” had always been a favorite quote of mine. It became my mantra.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s handbook on implementing trauma informed care (TIC) and every piece of literature I could read on the topic was my new obsession. I was determined to make sense of it all and teach myself what it means for survivors and the workforce.

For months, I sat at my kitchen table with papers surrounding my laptop, etching out information and stats that could help me make the argument for implementing TIC into the agency. I knew that requesting to meet with the Executive Director so that I could suggest to her what the organization needed was a big risk. I was support staff; a care manager with very little alphabet soup following her name.

However risky, I knew I was justified in the proposal for several reasons: I had lived experience as a trauma-survivor; If I could understand the brain science behind the framework then anyone in this field could; I had began making connections in the “TIC world” three years prior and knew I could build on those relationships to continue learning and help make this possible; and I had never been more passionate about anything in my life.

I requested fifteen minutes of the Executive Director’s time. I consolidated the ridiculous amount of information I had consumed. I went into her office mentally prepared to deliver ACEs 101 and geek out on why trauma informed care is such an important concept for the people we serve, and those providing the services.

After walking in to her office (sweaty pits and all), what actually occurred was more of a conversation than a pitch; a dialogue between two women about how we can make our residences physically and psychologically safer, our services more compassionate and effective, and our staff less stressed. I didn’t have to sell her the idea. All I needed to do was introduce her to a framework for providing services through a new lens – a trauma informed lens.

I was given the green light to keep this conversation going and start formulating a plan to roll this out. I thanked her and tried to contain the ludicrous amount of joy I felt as I left her office. I was on a validation high soon to be followed by my dear friend the vulnerability hangover. It’s a process. I’m a process too.

I welcomed and continue to look forward to the challenges this process entails. I knew then and fully understand now three years later as a public speaker and Program Director that I have a resistant, oftentimes overwhelming, but exciting road ahead of me. Not only in identifying the logistics in all of it, but in carving out the time to do it without neglecting my other roles as mom, woman, and healthy Survivor.

Getting to meet a Rock Star!
Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris’ work changed the trajectory of my life. If you haven’t already, watch her TED talk How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime and read her book The Deepest Well. Game Changers.

Transforming the system is no easy task. And I continuously learn the importance of balance and asking for help. But I’ve grown, as has my vision. I know we can help our systems evolve and fill the cracks with holistic, compassionate, and inclusive approaches. Even if only one crack, one agency, one system at a time.


Are you looking to connect with another agent of change in the field of mental health and trauma recovery (a.k.a. geek out on brain/body convos)? Or are you looking for someone to help your team or agency implement ‘boots on the ground’ trauma informed practices? Please, reach out to me at dawndaum@gmail.com.


Visit: www.dawndaum.com to learn more.

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Learn about and get your copy of Parenting with PTSD: the impact of childhood abuse on parenting, co-edited by Dawn Daum and Joyelle Brandt today!

Dawn Dawn is co-editor of Parenting with PTSD: the impact of childhood abuse on parenting. She is currently the Program Director for Milestone Manor, a mental health and trauma recovery community residence in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Dawn uses both her personal and professional experience to write, speak, and facilitate conversation and implementation of trauma informed systemic change. Her mission is to help shift the culture’s understanding of what it means to heal the mind and body from trauma.

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