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Trauma Informed Practice

Archivists and recordkeepers are engaging more and more with ways of using empathy to examine and improve processes, provide better support to Care Leavers, and at the same time to acknowledge that the content of some records means they may also need support themselves.

Recent discussions in the archival profession have focused on:

  • recognising the traumatic effects of a childhood in out-of-home care
  • understanding that records of out-of-home care can contain traumatising content for all who encounter them
  • Acknowledging that the profession can enact radical empathy and ensure the Care Leaver community is at the centre of decision-making processes when we accept that all who encounter these records can be affected by their content
  • archivists using this knowledge to move towards trauma-informed practice

Testimonies at the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and previous enquiries and conversations about redress schemes highlighted the stories of people who spent time in out-of-home care. Recognising their trauma, and their need to access records that may provide some evidence of their experience, we can begin to understand the importance of centring those with lived experience in decision-making processes.

Understanding their stories can also help explain the feelings Care Leavers experience when they access records. Realising the potential trauma in finding records can increase empathy and lead to improved support for Care Leavers when they applying for and access their files. Behind the scenes, this realisation can inform archival decision-making processes around what gets kept, access provisions, procedures for visitors to the archives and even layouts of reading rooms. Considering these issues (and more) can put the community and their needs first.

The Blue Knot Foundation describes trauma informed practice as “founded on five core principles – safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment as well as respect for diversity. Trauma informed services do no harm i.e. they do not re-traumatise…”. Following these principles can help improve and direct the decisions made around Care Leaver records, for example, supporting the need for collaboration between the community and record holders, and increased transparency from archives.

All of this can assist archivists in ensuring records access becomes a trauma informed process, making decisions that focus on the community and cause no further harm to Care Leavers or other vulnerable communities.

With Michaela Hart
Senior Archivist


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  1. The practice of hiding records continues and will continue as long as the abuser institutions hold our records. We are aware of several cases where records have mysteriously disappeared that have been previously sited and where records were sited and then access was denied. Both Government and religious records, so how do we STOP this.

  2. Nice sensitive posting Michaela! I assume it’s directed to records holders and services that support access to records for Care Leavers – and it’s important they get the message.

    One thought: I hear Care Leavers saying that ‘trauma-informed’ has become the magic word around the place thanks to the Royal Commission (Volume 9 of the Final Report mentions the word ‘trauma’ 551 times including the compound word 187 times ). Like ‘democracy’, everyone is in favour of it, but it’s not until you try to practise it that you discover it means different things to different people.

    I think that’s why some Care Leavers say, “I don’t want to know that a professional person is trauma-informed, I want to know if they’re Care-Leaver-informed.” What this means, I think, is they want to work with professionals who have taken pains to read about Care Leavers’ history, talked to Care Leavers directly about their experiences, and walked a mile or two in their shoes in empathy. And ‘work with’ is the operative term.

    • Michaela Hart

      June 14, 2018 at 9:40 am

      Thanks Frank. The post was co-written with Nicola Laurent, but we agreed I should respond.

      The discussion around trauma-informed care is aimed at records holders, and was written as small part of the the work to getting the message out there.
      Thank you for sharing you thoughts about how Care Leavers would prefer to to know a professional is Care Leaver informed.
      I’ll be thinking about how that language can be better integrated, and how that can translate to practice. I’d be interested to talk to you more about it if/when the opportunity presents.

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