Skip navigation
Press release

Early Intervention Foundation warns trauma-informed care may not be achieving what is hoped for

Published

20 Jan 2022

Contributor

This press release outlines just some of the key findings and recomednations from our latest report ‘Understanding the use of trauma-informed approaches within children’s social care.’

A survey of children’s social work teams and principal social workers by the charity, the Early Intervention Foundation, has found that although trauma-informed care (TIC) is widely used and is perceived to add value to children’s social work, this type of practice is rarely leading to treatments shown to reduce trauma, which was the original purpose.  

The charity’s report ‘Understanding the use of trauma-informed approaches within children’s social care’ found a lack of availability of the things that are proven to make a difference to child outcomes. The report states that: 

our study observed that trauma-informed care led to evidence-based treatments in only two instances. More often, TIC activities were offered alongside social work practices that had a less established evidence base.” 

The Early Intervention Foundation warns that trauma-informed care was not designed to reduce the symptoms of trauma or improve outcomes for children who experience it; and that despite the growth in the use of TIC, few TIC activities have undergone rigorous evaluation and so the specific benefits for children and families remain largely unknown.  

The charity says social work teams who are relying on these approaches as a key part of their local strategy to prevent child trauma may be being over-optimistic about what these approaches can achieve. More needs to be done to ensure children are receiving services that have a track record of addressing trauma.  

Other findings include: 

  • No single model of TIC currently exists within children’s social care teams in England.  

While many of the children’s social care (CSC) teams engaged in activities consistent with those traditionally associated with TIC, there was little consistency in how these activities were delivered. Only one-fifth of the study participants reported that their team had a shared definition of trauma-informed care or made use of written guidelines or protocols. 

  • There is a high degree of overlap between TIC activities and standard children’s social care practice.  

Many social workers viewed TIC as a strengths-based activity that would help them better engage families and reduce child maltreatment behaviours. In this respect, several observed that many TIC activities did not represent a significant departure from standard social work practices, meaning that TIC did not necessarily represent a new way of working in CSC. 

Donna Molloy, director of policy & practice at the Early Intervention Foundation commented: “The growing focus on doing more to reduce and mitigate experiences of trauma across a range of public services is to be welcomed, but it is important we respond in the right way. We owe maltreated children access to treatments with the strongest evidence of reducing the impact of trauma and improving their overall wellbeing. Whilst trauma-informed care has a contribution to make here, it is unlikely to be a sufficient solution in itself.

“The expansion of TIC has far outpaced its evaluation and work is urgently needed to clarify the specific contribution of these approaches, so that we can be sure that the money being invested in these approaches is being used to best effect.”

Recommendations 

  • Central government departments, including the Department for Education, the Home Office, the Department of Health and Social Care, and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, should work together to agree a core definition of trauma-informed care. 
  • The benefits of trauma-informed care must be identified and evaluated.  
  • The Home Office and Department for Education should prioritise robust evaluation of models of TIC training and practice in different service contexts.  
  • Trauma-informed care should never be used as a replacement for evidence-based, trauma-specific treatments.  
  • The availability of effective, trauma-specific interventions should be prioritised and linked to any future investment in trauma-informed care. 

More information on the full recommendations can be found on the Early Intervention Foundation website here.

--ENDS-- 

Notes to editors     

About EIF:     

The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) is an independent charity that champions and supports the use of effective early intervention to improve the lives of children and young people at risk of experiencing negative outcomes. For more information, see: www.eif.org.uk     

Survey methodology:  

The survey was completed or partially completed by representatives from 58 CSC teams. 12 social workers or directors of children’s services representing 10 CSC teams also took part in a one-hour long depth interview. In two instances, the interview was attended by two social workers from the same team. 

Media contacts   

Andy Ross, Senior Press Officer – 07949 339 975 / andy.ross@eif.org.uk  

About the author

Donna Molloy

Donna is director of policy & practice at EIF.

About the contributor

Dr Jo Casebourne

Jo is chief executive at EIF.