According to a survey on adverse childhood experiences by the National Survey of Children’s Health, “almost half the nation’s children have experienced at least one or more types of serious childhood trauma.” As YouthBuild practitioners, you’ve seen this first hand in your programs. Note the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s definition of trauma:
Trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.
Given this and what we see daily in youth development programs across the country, the need to help young people address the impact of trauma is clear.
The effect of trauma is far-reaching, impacting young people, their families and communities, and the adults in their lives - including YouthBuild program staff. To truly address trauma, programs must be intentional about creating, implementing, and integrating a trauma-informed approach throughout program services. Trauma and post-traumatic stress research shows that there is a “critical window” of vulnerability to traumatic stress in brain development. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), young people with complex trauma histories may have problems thinking clearly, reasoning, or problem solving. While we often hear youth told that they just need to “get over it” or “toughen up,” NCTSN’s research shows that there are biological and physiological aspects at play not only in managing trauma, but in functioning adequately despite its affects. This underscores the need for trauma-informed care in YouthBuild programs. The YouthBuild model requires youth to have healthy coping mechanisms and social interaction skills to support good decision making and problem solving practices as they navigate new material and work to unlearn behaviors and mindsets that impede their success.
In considering a trauma-informed approach for your YouthBuild program, these 7 Domains of Trauma-Informed Care, outlined by the National Council for Behavioral Health, are essential.
  1. Early screening and assessment
  2. Consumer-driven care/services
  3. Nurturing a responsive workforce
  4. Evidence-based/emerging best practices
  5. Creating safe environments
  6. Community outreach and partnership building
  7. Ongoing performance improvement and evaluation
In addition, a range of entities that participate in the My Brother’s Keeper initiative providing support to individual school districts have published recommendations for best practices. These may be adapted for the YouthBuild context. See and for more information including a feature on the Oakland, California School District’s Trauma-Informed Practices Initiative. With funding from the United States Department of Education, Oakland’s work is focused on “keeping kids in school while providing targeted support and training for educators managing childhood trauma among their student population.”
Focusing on trauma-informed care requires a paradigm shift for the youth and for YouthBuild program staff. This must include the full team from educational staff to construction staff to managerial and administrative staff. For more on developing a trauma-informed approach for your YouthBuild program, see the archived DOL YouthBuild webinar Developing a Trauma-Informed Care Approach that Works, which was held on December 6th, 2016.