It can be useful to think about trauma-responsive programs as the bridge between trauma-informed awareness, that needs to be universal, and the wide array of trauma-specific treatment approaches that are emerging. As we know, children and adults who have experienced trauma, adversity, and exposure to chronic stress seek out or are sent to services in all of our human service delivery systems. But research has shown that most traumatized people do not actually seek mental health services. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the stigma that is still attached to getting help for problems that are emotionally laden.
Shelters, mental health and substance abuse programs, physical healthcare settings, juvenile and adult courts and correctional systems, and all child welfare programs, offer opportunities for engagement, identification of problem, assessment, and response and therefore it is vitally important that all systems that deliver services are equipped to assist in the process of recovery from psychological as well as physical injuries. This is what makes the universal application of trauma-informed knowledge so important.
However, in order to truly meet the needs of people who have experienced trauma and adversity, it is necessary, once greater knowledge has been gained, to achieve a more significant level of responsiveness to those needs that derives from the increased knowledge. For example, a domestic violence shelter offers the opportunity to do prevention and intervention. Everyone who comes to such a shelter has by definition experienced trauma or he or she would not be in a domestic violence shelter. That means that everyone connected to the shelter— clients, staff, management, providers of other services, consultants, and board members—need to become trauma-informed. In addition, all of the clients—adults and children—in a shelter are at risk for further problems, so the shelter will have to decide on and implement secondary prevention strategies. In such a setting, there are great opportunities to respond to the trauma that adults and children in a shelter have already experienced by organizing the environment around responding to the issue of trauma, thereby becoming trauma-responsive. To do this, the staff will need ongoing opportunities to design, implement, and evaluate innovative interventions and strategies. In the case of a domestic violence shelter serving women and children, this means equipping them with basic useful skills and tools to help them to identify and positively deal with the impacts of exposure to trauma in the present while preparing them for diminishing risk and improving outcomes for the future.