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EIF report

Trauma-informed care: Understanding the use of trauma-informed approaches within children’s social care

Over the past 20 years, ‘trauma-informed’ approaches have become increasingly popular as a means for reducing the negative impact of childhood adversities and supporting child and adult mental health outcomes. In this study, we consider how trauma-informed care principles have been adopted by children’s social care teams to improve the quality of their service.

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Trauma-informed approaches were originally developed to increase engagement in evidence-based, trauma-specific treatments offered through mental health services. However, trauma-informed principles have since been adopted by schools, the police and other frontline services to improve service quality more generally.

Children’s social care was chosen for this study explicitly because reducing children’s and parents’ experiences of trauma is core to their work. In partnership with What Works Children’s Social care, we conducted a mapping survey, which was completed by 58 children’s social care (CSC) teams, and depth interviews with principal social workers from 10 CSC teams.

Key findings

  1. Trauma-informed care is widely used and perceived to add value to children’s social care.
  2. No single model of trauma-informed care currently exists within children’s social care teams in England.
  3. There is a high degree of overlap between trauma-informed care activities and standard children’s social care practice.
  4. Trauma-informed activities rarely led to evidence-based interventions.

Implications and recommendations

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

About the authors

Dr Kirsten Asmussen

Kirsten is head of what works, child development, at EIF.

Thomas Masterman

Tom is a research officer at EIF.

Tom McBride

Tom is director of evidence at EIF.

Donna Molloy

Donna is director of policy & practice at EIF.