Building Trauma Informed Communities

By Debra Berke, Ph.D
8/3/2021 Sussex County Health Coalition.

More and more, organizations, institutions, coalitions, and systems are turning to a trauma-informed approach (TIA) to best strengthen and support our communities. Collectively, we are recognizing the prevalence of trauma (1 in 6 people have had 4 or more ACEs) and we are understanding its impact (negative effects on health, well-being, and life opportunities) on people from all walks of life, all geographic regions, and all races and cultures (CDC, 2021).

Adapting a trauma-informed approach is not only a current trend, and certainly a best practice, but it is a change of worldview from “What is wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”

The origins of this concept can be seen in the Sanctuary Model of Trauma-Informed Organizational Change (Bloom, & Yanosy Sreedhar, 2008) which acknowledges the impact of trauma on the individual and family while also implementing procedures and policies to prevent future re-traumatization, including the concept of universal precautions or treating everyone as if trauma has occurred.

A trauma-informed approach is based around 6 principles—safety, trustworthiness and transparency, peer support, collaboration and mutuality, empowerment, voice, and choice, and cultural, historical, and gender issues (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014a; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014b). These principles can be applied to any setting and have been incorporated into fields such as health care, social work, criminal justice, and  education. Healing, growth, and resilience are the focus and anticipated outcomes of utilizing these principles.

Within communities, the question becomes how do social context and environmental factors such as violence and poverty impact functioning and resilience (DeCandia, Guarino, & Clervil, 2014) and how can we implement the 6 TIA principles to address trauma? Two successful adaptations of these principles to broader communities can  be found in the BRIDGE Housing Corporation’s work in San Francisco and that of Trauma Matters Delaware, a statewide public-private, nonprofit backbone organization that advocates for research on trauma, the recognition of its impact, and the adoption of trauma informed practices and policies.

The BRIDGE Housing Corporation’s Trauma-Informed Community Building Model (n.d.) is a research-based model that applies trauma-informed interventions to strengthen communities. Using a holistic approach, they have developed strategies that work to reduce the negative effects of trauma on community-building work at all levels—individual, interpersonal, community, and systems.

Traditional community-building strategies have encountered trauma-related challenges, such as diminished levels of trust and social cohesion, an absence of stability and reliability, a lack of hopeful longterm goals, and an overwhelming amount of community needs that require intensive support and resources (The Bridge Housing  Corporation, n.d.). Their traumainformed approach applies 4 principles to community building efforts: do no harm, acceptance, community empowerment, and reflective process. Their outcome? A community ready to engage in and benefit from traumainformed community development (The Bridge Housing Corporation, n.d.).

Trauma Matters Delaware was founded in 2013 by a small group of advocates. In 2018, Governor Carney issued Executive Order #24 which prioritized trauma-informed efforts within the state of Delaware, driving Delaware to become a trauma-responsive state. Trauma Matters Delaware has 3 workgroups focused on a holistic, trauma-informed approach for the entire state. The Community Healing Workgroup supports community organizations through technical assistance and trauma-informed  development opportunities. The Higher Education Workgroup helps institutes of higher education become trauma-informed while also helping them to prepare a trauma-informed future workforce. The Primary/Secondary/Vicarious Trauma and Resilience Workgroup increases awareness of and promotes practices to prevent or mitigate exposure to primary, secondary, and vicarious trauma and promote resilience in our Delaware workforce. This is a holistic, community-based approach to building a  traumaresponsive state (Trauma Matters Delaware, n.d.).

These are just two examples of how a trauma-informed approach can build trauma-informed communities. The foundational principles are there to be utilized. All that is needed is some creativity, community voice, and a willing coalition.


  • Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System ACE Data |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC.
  • (2020, September 3).
  • Bloom, S. L., & Yanosy Sreedhar, S. (2008). The Sanctuary Model of Trauma-Informed Organizational Change. Reclaiming Children & Youth, 17(3), 48–53.
  • The BRIDGE Housing Corporation. (n.d.). Trauma informed community building model.
  • BRIDGE Housing Corporation, Harder and Company, & Weinstein, E. (2018). Trauma Informed Community Building: The Evolution of a Community Engagement Model in a Trauma Impacted Neighborhood. San Francisco, CA: BRIDGE Housing Corporation.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Preventing adverse childhood experiences.
  • DeCandia, C. J., Guarino, K., & Clervil, R. (2014). Trauma-Informed care and trauma- specific services: A comprehensive approach to trauma intervention. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014a). SAMHSA’s Concept of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach. Rockville, MD:  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014b). Trauma-informed care in behavioral health services. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  • Trauma Matters Delaware. (n.d.).