Gateway, part of The Calico Group and provider of homelessness prevention and complex needs support across East Lancashire, has begun using a bespoke trauma-informed approach to support vulnerable individuals who access their services.
They currently offer a range of person-centred and solution-focused services that support vulnerable individuals with additional needs – including addiction support – who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness. Gateway’s teams recognised the need for a more trauma-informed approach after identifying that many of the people they support had a history of adverse childhood experiences.
The bespoke training package, ‘Discover Me’, was specially created for The Calico Group and Gateway by TRAC Psychological Limited after consultations with managers and frontline workers. At Gateway, all staff are specifically recruited for their values, as well as professional skillsets, so they knew the teams were already passionate about delivering the best level of support to their clients.
However, to enhance their skills even further, and to help them build a solid relationship of trust and growth, they felt they needed to do more and chose to embed an authentic culture of trauma-informed practice to help people achieve even better outcomes by working with the specialists at TRAC. Research suggests that trauma-informed approaches help support staff to consider trauma as an explanation for client problems, incorporate knowledge about trauma into their service delivery, understand trauma symptoms, transform trauma narratives, and use this knowledge as a tool for healing.
TRAC Psychological Limited (TRAC) was established in 2010 as a direct result of unmet needs within the criminal justice and social care sectors for evidence-based approaches. TRAC is led by Professor Nicola Graham-Kevan, who is passionate about making positive changes and is internationally recognised for her research with vulnerable populations.
Understanding a person’s past and barriers to personal growth needs to sit centrally as part of our homelessness services if we are to truly help people move forward and make positive changes. I am proud that our services are constantly evolving to break away from traditional support approaches that feel standardised. Putting the person at the heart of their own support journey, and giving them the tools to be resilient, is our future.
The key goal of trauma-informed practice is not just to raise awareness amongst staff about the wider impact and intricacies of past trauma, but to help prevent the re-traumatisation of clients in service settings that have been fundamentally created to support and assist healing.
‘Discover Me’ goes far beyond simply awareness raising, instead providing frontline workers and their managers with specialist tools and techniques, alongside empowering and educating the teams. In turn, this can build stronger skills and a deeper understanding of how to support their clients with specific difficulties that frequently go hand in hand with complex trauma created via adverse childhood experiences. It does this by providing clients with tools to understand past experiences and recognise their needs and strengths. Practical techniques are also taught to manage some of the known consequences of childhood adversity, so that clients can move forward within the service and to help prepare them for a positive and successful future beyond Gateway.
Additionally, The Calico Group and Gateway understand that often members their own staff who are drawn to supporting others as a career have experienced similar types of adversity and trauma at some point in their lives. ‘Discover Me’ serves a dual purpose by encouraging all teams to use these skills to recognise their own lived experiences and struggles, and those of their peers, and to then utilise the tools and techniques available to maintain their own wellbeing.
Feedback from staff who attended the training has been very positive. One team member at Gateway said, ‘After exploring a real case study in the training sessions, I have completely changed how I look at my clients. I’ve started using the techniques with a woman I was working with, and it has been really useful.’
Another said, ‘We are about to embed ‘Discover Me’ into our group work programme and that’s really exciting. The tools from the training have helped me see how simple it is to recognise unwanted behaviours and seek to change them – I am using this for myself and the people I support.’
Wider research on working in a trauma-informed way within this sector is still very much in its infancy. However, the emerging evidence suggests that all housing services should be trauma informed and that teams often find that a trauma-informed approach of focusing on needs, flexibility and accessibility is important. Those who engage in these types of services have found that a trauma-informed approach allows them to construct new models of relationships, learn adaptive strategies for living, and increase hope, direction, and purpose.
Kate Cunliffe is homeless and prevention services lead at Gateway