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Research: Trauma-Informed Organizations

Change Package: Safety


Emotional Safety

Emotional safety can be defined as a state of being where one feels their emotions and psychological state are validated and supported. Someone who is emotionally safe has the capacity to deal and cope with the unique demands of their environment. Attachment and esteem are often markers of a person feels safe during an interaction.

Physical Safety

Physical safety is the absence of harm or injury that can be experienced by any person from a physical object or practices that involve a physical object, which could include furniture, medical equipment, toys, etc.

Psychological Safety

Psychological safety centers on mental well-being, which encompasses perceptions, relationships, and personal trauma triggers.

Crisis Management

Crisis management is the process by which an organization deals with a sudden emergency situation, including a client experiencing a mental health crisis, client death, or a community disturbance (e.g. natural disaster, terrorist attack).

Staff Experience

  • Work with consumers or consumer advisory boards to solicit feedback on:
    • Types of safety plans (e.g., organizational, personal, treatment).
    • Options for communicating and displaying organizational safety plans (e.g., codes, emergency plans).
    • Security measures, processes, procedures, including security personnel.
    • Results from the TIO Assessment Consumer Survey and all TIO assessment components’ safety questions.

  • Discuss options and potential changes in current safety plans with the TI Committee. Enlist a staff person to lead this task and create a regular schedule for review. Communicate to staff about this activity as it occurs, invite staff to participate in the review and discussion, and update staff with any changes.
  • Discuss and record the decision-making process about how the program will display safety plans (e.g., worn on a lanyard, kept in a pocket, taped to a desk, posted on a wall, etc.)
  • Display safety plans (e.g., codes, emergency plans) for all staff and consumers.
  • Develop an intervention that addresses historical and social trauma, power, conflict, or loss issues when a collective disturbance occurs, whether in the community such as a campus shooting or natural disaster, or directly within the program such as a consumer/staff death or consumer-involved escalation.

  • Talk with staff about potential changes that could increase sense of safety, including physical changes or training. Prioritize solutions that come from staff feedback.
  • Consider changes that allow the parking lot and entrance to be clear, accessible, and safe (e.g., free from harassment or respectful of individuals in recovery).
  • Develop spaces to wait that offer more privacy/personal space/seclusion, if desired.
  • Design office spaces to allow staff to sit closer to the exit door than consumers.

  • Ensure all staff receive training in trauma and de-escalation with regular refresher courses (see training resources under the Systemic Understanding of Trauma section). 

  • Provide one-on-one coaching on de-escalation, conflict management, and nonviolence communication.
  • Regularly ask supervisees and staff about their sense of physical, emotional, and psychological safety.
  • Explicitly ask supervisees if language used in writing or orally has ever been experienced as violent or oppressive. Validate all responses and reactions from staff.

Consumer Experience

  • Solicit feedback from consumers about what makes them feel safe, including asking about the intercom systems (e.g., if they are loud or disruptive) or security guards (e.g., should they be present or in uniform or carrying a weapon?).

  • Review and/or develop a policy to monitor and triage people when entering the premises that reflect TI principles (e.g., options for waiting environments or capacity for self-control or self-soothing).
  • Create a policy/procedure to determine if a new consumer is a perpetrator (has committed an act of violence toward a current consumer), and how to help keep all affected consumers safe.
  • Develop a written policy outlining responses to consumer crises (e.g., self-harm, suicidal thinking, aggression towards others) and share publicly with all consumers.
  • Develop and/or review current policies for de-escalation that explicitly state methods that minimize the possibility of re-traumatization.
  • Review policies from other homeless service agencies for banning/not banning consumers that outlines rationales and processes, including length of time. Draft or update program policies.

  • Ensure that intake processes inquire about consumer safety and offer information and resources for assistance if unsafe. Explicitly ask:
    • Current level of safety in their living situation.
    • Current level of danger from other people (e.g., restraining orders, history of domestic violence, threats from others).
  • If a consumer indicates witnessing or experiencing violence (community or domestic), staff should inform the consumer of support available to address that trauma.
  • Before having an interview or examination, explicitly ask consumers about any concerns, fears, or past negative experiences related to the service or intervention.
  • Develop a policy/procedure to support a TI review (e.g., role of culture, historical trauma, “What happened to you?” versus “What is wrong with you?”) of actions that led up to a critical incident.
  • Review and develop procedures to respond to and communicate about consumer or staff tragedies (e.g. deaths, severe injuries, critical incidents).
  • Train community health workers (or former consumers currently employed by the program) and staff on how to approach in a TI manner a consumer who may be crowding or blocking the entrance of the building.

  • Hang posters or public signs that offer contact information and other resources for victims of interpersonal/domestic violence.
  • Ensure light fixtures around the building, including parking lot if applicable, are active during and past hours of operations.
  • Provide internal light fixtures that offer soft lighting.
  • Ensure there are comfortable seating options for consumers including areas where:
    • No one can walk behind them (as with their back to the wall or a partition).
    • The entrance/exit is in their direct line of sight.
  • Ensure stalls and single-occupancy restrooms can be locked.
  • Create space to move around and walk about in the lobby/waiting room.
  • Ensure exit signs are large and posted throughout the program.

  • Ensure all staff are trained on how to respond if a consumer indicates they are now or have recently experienced or witnessed violence.

  • Coach staff one-on-one on how to communicate with consumers on different choices and how various choices may affect their safety.
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