Creating Trauma-Informed Systems

Creating trauma-informed service systems is a vital part of the work done by Network members, and is essential for NCTSN’s mission of raising the standard of care and improving access to services for children, families, and communities impacted by trauma. Members of the NCTSN Trauma-Informed Service Systems working group have collaborated on developing a definition of a trauma-informed child- and family-service system, shown below. The group believes that this definition accurately reflects the complexity and multifaceted nature of a trauma-informed child- and family-service system. By sharing this definition the group hopes to strengthen the dialogue about the creation of trauma-informed systems, and anticipates that the definition will evolve—together with the work of Network members and affiliates. For questions or comments related to the definition, please contact NCCTS’s director of service systems, Jane Halladay Goldman, at

What is a Trauma-Informed Child and Family Service System?

A trauma-informed child and family service system is one in which all parties involved recognize and respond to the impact of traumatic stress on those who have contact with the system including children, caregivers, and service providers. Programs and agencies within such a system infuse and sustain trauma awareness, knowledge, and skills into their organizational cultures, practices, and policies. They act in collaboration with all those who are involved with the child, using the best available science, to maximize physical and psychological safety, facilitate the recovery of the child and family, and support their ability to thrive.

A service system with a trauma-informed perspective is one in which agencies, programs, and service providers: (1) routinely screen for trauma exposure and related symptoms; (2) use evidence-based, culturally responsive assessment and treatment for traumatic stress and associated mental health symptoms; (3) make resources available to children, families, and providers on trauma exposure, its impact, and treatment; (4) engage in efforts to strengthen the resilience and protective factors of children and families impacted by and vulnerable to trauma; (5) address parent and caregiver trauma and its impact on the family system; (6) emphasize continuity of care and collaboration across child-service systems; and (7) maintain an environment of care for staff that addresses, minimizes, and treats secondary traumatic stress, and that increases staff wellness. These activities are rooted in an understanding that trauma-informed agencies, programs, and service providers: (8) build meaningful partnerships that create mutuality among children, families, caregivers, and professionals at an individual and organizational level; and (9) address the intersections of trauma with culture, history, race, gender, location, and language, acknowledge the compounding impact of structural inequity, and are responsive to the unique needs of diverse communities. 

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NCTSN Resources

Mini-Grants for Under-funded Areas
In 2007, three priority areas—making child-serving systems more trauma-informed, enhancing cultural competence and enhancing family and youth involvement in trauma treatment and services—were identified by the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress as being under-funded within the Network. Through a competitive process, Network members were granted funds to develop projects, products, and servcies in these key domains.

Multimedia Presentations
Visit the NCTSN Learning Center for Child and Adolescent Trauma to access the Service System Speaker Series. The series began in 2008 with presentations by Network experts on responding to child trauma within child welfare settings, schools, law enforcement, juvenile courts and other child-serving systems. Presentations in the 2009 edition are structured as "Q&A" sessions with Network experts. View the 2008 (PDF) and 2009 (PDF) series fliers for more information. Continuing education credits are available.

Trauma-Informed Interventions: Clinical Research Evidence and Culture-Specific Information Project (2008)
Trauma-Informed Interventions: Clinical Research Evidence and Culture-Specific Information Project (PDF) identifies trauma-informed interventions for working with trauma-affected youth and describes each intervention's level of cultural competency.

Service Systems Briefs Series
The Service Systems Briefs Series describes how systems currently approach child trauma, and introduces innovative and effective ways of serving traumatized children.

Service Systems Brief (vol 2, no 2): Judges and Child Trauma: Findings from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network/National Council of Juvenile & Family Court Judges Focus Groups (2008) (PDF)
This Brief reports the results of focus groups conducted with members of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ). The Network conducted the focus groups in order to understand how knowledgeable juvenile and family court judges are about child trauma and to identify ways to work with NCJFCJ to promote education on the issue.

Service Systems Brief (vol 2, no 1): Creating a Trauma-Informed Law Enforcement System (2008) (PDF)
This Brief describes how partnerships developed by Network members and police agencies are helping to create a trauma-informed law enforcement system.

Service System Brief (vol 1, no 1): Creating Trauma-Informed Child-Serving Systems (2007) (PDF)
The first issue of the series describes why creating trauma-informed child-serving systems is necessary and suggests specific competencies that systems can adopt to work effectively with traumatized children and their families.

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Additional NCTSN Resources Promoting Trauma-informed Systems

Child Welfare

Resources for Child Welfare Practitioners
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) has developed tools and materials for building skills and increasing knowledge about childhood trauma to help child welfare administrators, caseworkers, frontline staff, other mental health personnel, and caregivers understand and respond to the needs of traumatized children.

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Juvenile Justice

Resources for Judges and Court Professionals
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has developed resources to help juvenile justice professionals understand and provide trauma-focused services to these youth.

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Law Enforcement / First Responders




Mental Health

Training and Education
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network is dedicated to providing state-of-the-art training to enhance the quality of clinical assessment, treatment, and services for traumatized children, adolescents, their families, and communities. To that end, the Network offers a variety of in-person and online (live and on-demand) training opportunities.

For Professionals

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