Principles of trauma-informed approaches to child sexual abuse: A discussion paper

Dr Antonia Quadara and Cathryn Hunter

October 2016

ISBN 978-1-925289-86-2

Executive summary

This paper describes the emergence of trauma-informed care in both the international and Australian service contexts. Since the early 2000s, human services, criminal justice and community welfare services have endeavored to incorporate an understanding of trauma into their organisational structures, treatment services and day-to-day practices – that is, to become trauma- informed. This was the case even if the service itself did not work directly with trauma, and a considerable body of scholarship, as well as practice and guidance literature, has developed around the notion of being trauma-informed.

While there are some common principles of trauma-informed care, a number of questions remain unresolved. For example, there appears to be a lack of consensus about:

  • the extent to which trauma-informed care signals systems and organisational reform, compared to changes to specific practices and interventions
  • whether being trauma-informed means providing trauma counselling to clients and service users
  • whether practitioners need to have clinical or counselling backgrounds
  • which settings trauma-informed approaches are most appropriately applied to
  • what constitutes effective or successful trauma-informed care and practice
  • how trauma-informed care intersects with mental health policy more generally (Atkinson, 2002; Denham, 2008; Muskett, 2014).
This lack of consensus can lead to multiple interpretations of trauma-informed care, leaving practitioners and professionals uncertain about what the term means for them in their day-to-day practice.

The overall purpose of this paper is to provide conceptual clarity based on the available research literature and a critical analysis of the ways in which the concept is being implemented in practice.