BUFFALO, N Y. -- Like many powerful ideas, the essence is
simple. Those dealing with people who have a mental illness or
addiction problem have to start asking what has happened to the
person that may be causing the issue, not just focus on what the
person did and what went wrong.
And for at least one Western New York family court judge, taking
this approach led to dramatically better results.
It happened in the last few months, says Susan A. Green,
clinical associate professor within the University at Buffalo's
School of Social Work and co-director of the university's new
Institute on Trauma and Trauma-informed Care. The judge, who had
trained with UB's trauma-informed care program, presided over a
case involving a man who she had seen several times in court, who
had often had to be removed from the courtroom because of his
This time, Green says, the judge changed the way she and other
court officials dealt with him. Still mindful to keep the court in
order, the judge decided to soften some of the rules of procedure
that did not have a direct effect on the case.
"She made a point of looking at the whole picture and where he
was coming from," says Green. "She engaged him in a different way
than before. She approached him according to what happened to this
man versus what was wrong with him. This allowed her to shift her
engagement style and approach in a way she believed made a
difference in the outcome."
The approach allowed the man to retain more of his sense of
personal power, rather than relive the antagonistic history of
previous courtroom encounters. One detail stands out in Green's
account: The judge allowed the man to keep his hat on.
That's a trademark of the trauma-informed system that has social
workers so excited and interested. It works, and its results are
often quick and clear. With this in mind, UB's Trauma-Informed Care
Institute – or ITTIC – will hold its latest training
session, this time for local law enforcement officers. Funded by a
grant from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration Center for Behavioral Health and Justice
Transformation, the Western New York community will receive the
available "How Being Trauma-Informed Improves Criminal Justice
System Responses" training of trainers (TOT) event.
The two-day training will take place 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 21, and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22, in
Room 216, Paczesny Hall at Hilbert College, South Park Avenue,
One of the few sites in the country to receive this award, UB's
institute will work with Hilbert College's Institute of Law and
Justice and Martin Floss, chairman of the Graduate Program in
Criminal Justice Administration, to organize the training for 25 to
30 local professionals. The training will be the beginning of
establishing a core group of local Western New York trainers,
specifically, individuals from law enforcement, mental health and
addiction systems of care who will train others on becoming
trauma-informed within the criminal justice system.
"Individuals and systems are paying attention to the reality
that trauma really does exist in people's lives," says Green, who
is co-director of UB's ITTIC with Thomas H. Nochajski, also
associate professor in UB's School of Social Work.
"Being in a position at the institute and being able to assist
professionals in infusing trauma-informed care into their existing
workplace is a privilege," she says.
UB's institute began in the fall of 2011, aided by strong
support from Nancy J. Smyth, dean of the UB School of Social Work,
and further endorsements from Catherine N. Dulmus, associate dean
for research and director of the Buffalo Center for Social
"We started with an idea, created a website, invited experts in
the field of trauma and trauma-informed care to sit on our expert
advisory panel," says Green. "And the work began."
This week's training is the latest in a series conducted by the
institute. Other organizations involved in evaluation, consultation
and training include: local child welfare, addiction and mental
health agencies, and three different school districts.
The ITTIC is also joining forces on grant proposals with other
agencies and units at UB, including UB's Department of Family
Medicine, UB School of Nursing, UB's School of Public Health and
Health Professions and SUNY Albany. Green's group also has worked
with immigrant and refugee populations on both the East and West
sides of Buffalo, as well as veterans' groups.
Trauma-informed care has been a common thread of instruction in
the UB School of Social Work. Recent graduating students have
created the "Trauma Institute Think Tank" gathering three times to
report on volunteer projects they worked on through ITTIC,
including research, video-taping for online continuing education
trauma courses and direct work with individuals in the community
impacted by trauma.
"Learning about trauma and trauma-informed care makes social
work 'click' for me,' says Katie McClain-Meeder, a master's student
intern from the institute who just finished eight months of
Over and over, the simple but profound message of the approach
kept resonating, according to Green. "We as providers need to start
asking what has happened to this person," she says, "rather than
what's the matter with this person, or what is wrong."
And of course, as part of the trauma-informed approach, this
principle applies not only to the people being treated, but also to
the social workers and other government or agency officials who are
supposed to treat them.
Trauma-informed treatment sees what the person has gone through
as part of the bigger story. And if that's true for those in need
of help, it's also true of those professionals whose job it is to
provide that help.
"Social workers in the field, have their own trauma
experiences," says Green. "You not only need to consider the
clients, but you also need to consider the staff. A true trauma
approach does that. It recognizes that if you don't treat the staff
in a trauma-informed way, how are you going to treat the