A Report by Tricia Stephens, LCSW-R, Ph.D.
Shifting to more trauma-informed practices in family court has been shown to improve outcomes for families. A report presented on the Rise website details the importance of using a trauma-informed approach in working with child welfare-involved parents, especially families of color, who may have had negative experiences with courts that resulted in systemic distrust.
Intended for family court officers and child welfare professionals, the report provides introductory information on a trauma-informed approach and the impact of language in the courtroom. At its core, a trauma-informed approach involves a shift away from asking “What is wrong with you?” to asking “What happened to you?” Principles of this approach include safety, collaboration, and empowerment.
The report emphasizes the importance of using this approach when working with families of color. Most parents who get involved with family courts in urban areas are people of color from the lower socioeconomic strata of American society. As such, many of these parents have faced personal trauma, community violence, societal racism, and exclusion from economic opportunity. As court settings often foster tense and confrontational encounters, systems that are not trauma-informed run the risk of retraumatizing these parents.
In addition to an overview of trauma-informed approaches, the report includes the following:
- Definitions of key terms, including shared trauma, a relatively new term that refers to a collective traumatic reality that is shared universally, such as a pandemic
- Recommendations for trauma-informed practices that best support families during a period of shared trauma
- Input from parents on their experiences with family courts
- A case vignette that compares traditional language to trauma-informed language
Read the full report, Supporting Families of Color: How Racial and Complex Trauma Affect Parents of Color Navigating Family Court During the Time of COVID and Beyond, to learn more.