Trauma-Informed Care (TIC), identified as a best practice for effective work with victims of domestic violence and their children, is a special project focus area for Violence Free Colorado.  As a statewide coalition, Violence Free Colorado is uniquely situated to provide trainings and technical assistance to help ensure that trauma-informed interventions are at the core of working with victims and their children.


Some events are considered traumatic and cause distress in the moment.  However, how an individual person responds afterward to such events will vary. Some individuals will experience post traumatic growth, some will experience post-trauma stress, and some will resume their same pre-trauma functioning.  Trauma symptoms are the result of changes in survivors’ body systems, and have nothing to do with personal strength or willpower.  Social support is the primary factor in healing from trauma, and advocates are well positioned to help survivors manage ongoing trauma symptoms and to heal.

Trauma-informed practices fit well with core advocacy practices. Advocates will soon be able to access Violence Free Colorado’s ‘Survivor-Defined Advocacy and Trauma-Informed Services’ Online Learning Module!

Trauma Informed Care

Trauma exposure is very common and can have lasting impacts. Taking trauma into account in how we set up our work environment, our services, and our interactions with people using services will help us to engage and serve domestic violence survivors. Being trauma informed  means we strive to provide services that build safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, empowerment, and which demonstrate cultural competence.

Anti-violence advocacy organizations pioneered survivor-defined advocacy which incorporates many trauma-informed components such as building safety and empowerment. Learning about how trauma affects a person’s body/mind, and how mental health concerns or substance misuse relate to trauma symptoms, can allow advocates to better assist survivors with these inter-related circumstances. Advocates who know TIC principles and terminology can also better advocate to help survivors get useful services at other community organizations where concepts like safety and empowerment are not as deeply incorporated into typical practice.

History of TIC

Within the movement to end domestic violence, discussions with victims of domestic and sexual assault about their experiences have been central to what advocates do. Advocates saw repeatedly that in many systems, including mental health or substance misuse treatment services, survivors were pathologized rather than believed, and advocates became leery of applying mental health labels on survivors. Once the prevalence and significance of post-trauma symptoms were acknowledged in the 1990’s, advocates and allied professions have sought to combine expertise and better serve people who experience DV and also had mental health or substance misuse treatment needs.

  • The first national Trauma Informed Care conference was held in the mid-90’s.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) began publishing protocols related to trauma and substance abuse treatment in 2000
  • In 2005, SAMHSA created the Center on Women, Violence and Trauma.
  • The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health was created in 2005 to assist programs in shifting to a more trauma-informed environment of service provision for trauma survivors.
  • The Family Violence and Prevention Services Act (FVPSA), administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, has included a strong emphasis on TIC in recent years.

TIC Initiatives at Violence Free Colorado

In recognition of the role of trauma, substance misuse, and mental health concerns in the lives of some survivors, Violence Free Colorado has been promoting a TIC approach to advocacy by bringing in topic area experts to our annual conference. We’ve been thrilled to host Terri Pease, Carole Warshaw, Missouri Coalition staff (on their Rule Reduction Project), Patti Bland, and Tonier Caine. At the 2014 Advocacy In Action Conference, Dr. Stephanie Covington presented a Trauma Informed Care Institute and trained over 110 attendees on her ‘Healing Trauma’ curriculum. Six organizations joined in a Healing Trauma Learning Circle and implemented Healing Trauma as staff development as well as incorporating Healing Trauma into community support groups. One Learning Circle liaison then presented Healing Trauma curriculum and lessons learned to 60 people at the 2015 Advocacy In Action Conference (Great job, Lonnie!).

In addition, in 2013 Violence Free Colorado partnered with the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health to distribute a survey to program Directors on current trauma-informed advocacy practices. The data from the survey helped identify areas of practice strength and opportunity, and set the goals for our work.

TIC Workgroup

There is a lot of information available about TIC. Where to start? What does it all mean to advocacy? The Trauma Informed Care Workgroup meets monthly with the goal to translate TIC concepts into concrete applications.

The TIC Workgroup has:

  • Read and shared highlights from expert resources
  • Presented webinars on TIC in advocacy work
  • Provided input on the 2014 ‘Beyond Trauma’ learning circles
  • Developed expertise and supported one another’s advocacy work!

The next phase of the TIC Workgroup will focus on mapping out the mental health and substance misuse treatment services providers in Colorado and promote local linkages, and discussing how a new survivor feedback tool, the Trauma-Informed Practice Scales, might enhance core advocacy.

Seeking Safety – Learning Circles

Substance misuse and trauma symptoms often go hand-in-hand. Learn more through this recorded webinar: Working at the Intersection: An Overview of Substance Abuse, Trauma, and Violence Against Women

One promising tool to help survivors address trauma symptoms and/or substance misuse is Seeking Safety, an evidence-based curriculum published in 2002. Since its original publication, Seeking Safety has been shown to be effective in reducing trauma symptoms and substance use in a variety of settings, including shelter and community-based advocacy, and with a variety of people, including domestic violence survivors. Effective in as few as 6 sessions, this curriculum has 24 topics from which survivors can choose. It has even been successfully used as a peer-led group! Hear more about one advocate’s experience implementing Seeking Safety in California in this webinar recording:

Nine Violence Free Colorado Member organizations have joined a Seeking Safety Learning Circle. Learning Circle organizations received the Seeking Safety curriculum and in-person training, and will have opportunities to dialogue with other participants from around the state as they each implement the curriculum in their local area. This project is running from October 2015 to March 2016.

Participating organizations include A Woman’s Place, Alternative Horizons, Archuleta County Victim Assistance, Crossroads Safehouse, Family Tree – Women In Crisis,  Lutheran Family Services, Renew, Safehouse Denver, TESSA, and Violence Free Colorado’s Latin@ Outreach Coordinators from Trinidad, the Roaring Fork Valley, & Leadville.

FINAL Seeking Safety Learning Circle Report

Additional Resources

Trauma Informed organizations are built by integrating trauma awareness into workplace structure and service domains. Violence Free Colorado is pleased to work with Member organizations and other DVP-funded organizations on enhancing their capacity and alignment with TIC practices. Feel free to contact us! In addition, these excellent resources are a great starting point for more ideas and materials:

Trauma Informed vs. Trauma Specific Services

Trauma-Informed. A trauma-informed program, organization, system, or community is one that incorporates an understanding of the pervasiveness of trauma and its impact into every aspect of its practice or programs. This involves being attuned to the experience of trauma and ways the service setting and processes may themselves be re-traumatizing.

Trauma-Specific. The term trauma-specific refers to interventions or treatments designed to facilitate recovery from the effects of trauma an ongoing trauma symptoms. There are a number of promising and evidence-based treatment modalities that address PTSD and other trauma-related conditions (e.g. depression, substance abuse, complex PTSD), although few have been designed specifically for domestic violence survivors.