square bulletTrauma Informed Care Informing Policy and Legislation

August 8, 2019

From Mandy Davis, LCSW, PhD, Director, Trauma Informed Oregon

Bills, laws, testimony—oh my! As this job has propelled me into policy level work, I have come to respect the importance and limitations of policy efforts at the local, state, and federal level.

Oregon is often cited for the state-level work being done that is reflected in policies about how we provide services and how we treat the workforce. In addition, many of you are reviewing organizational policies to see how they hinder or promote healing. The relationship between policy and practice is dynamic. For example, we have excellent practices that promote healing but if they are not sustained (funded, researched, disseminated) through policy we risk wasting resources. In turn policies without the people’s voice risk perpetuating oppression and trauma. Policy and practice must continuously inform each other and push each other to evolve. We need to be willing to adapt and change policies especially when we get it wrong. A friend used to say that a good practice can turn into a bad policy.

TIC Principles and Policy Work

Applying the principles of trauma informed care (TIC) has been quite helpful as I navigate policy work and I believe gives us another opportunity to begin to heal past hurts caused by policies. For example, applying TIC principles is helpful when incorporating different voices while developing a policy or policy agenda. Consistent but flexible is a phrase I use to describe trauma informed (TI) work and it is quite relevant to policy work. Some people will want to be involved from the beginning. Some people will want to give feedback on a final draft. Some people will want to offer lots of ideas and others will be observers. But, all people will want to be heard and respected when asked for feedback. I find that welcoming different ways of being involved has been, surprisingly, easier than trying to make one way fit (this does not mean everyone is happy all the time—but everyone is heard and valued).

The one-size-fits-all model inevitably creates othering and moves the pace too fast or too slow. (Sloth slow?) How many times have you been asked to provide feedback on a draft and felt it was not genuine? How many times have you been in committee meetings trying to write one sentence? I am striving to keep TIC and Inclusion principles/values present in my approach to policy work, and so far it is quite helpful.

Oregon just wrapped up the 2019 Regular Session and the work to address adversity was visible in several bills. There were ~ 14 house and senate bills mentioning trauma informed approaches and addressed the need for training, services, data, and program-level work. I have learned that policy work often requires laying foundations or scaffolding legislation for the next iteration of work. An example of this is HB 2969 (I encourage you to listen and read the testimony). The case was being made that because of the work you are doing, in organizations and communities, it was time to take inventory of work across state systems. HB 2969 did not get out of the Ways and Means but describing, through testimony, the amount of work across sectors is an important next step.

Some things I learned this legislative session include:

  • A bill not passing can be considered a first step to the next.
  • Voices from the people matter. In person is best, letters too. Sharing testimony (not a favorite past time of mine) is powerful and game changing.
  • Legislative session can feel like a roller coaster of emotions—excited, bored, hopeful, uncertain, deflated. (I thought about a self-care booth at the capital).
  • Legislators need your wisdom at the table. Passion and great intentions often start the work, but help with the details from those on the ground is critical.
  • Rarely is it perfect; changes and amendments will be needed.

Helpful Blog Posts

Staying informed about policies and legislative happenings is important as you are supporting efforts across Oregon. Take a moment to red these blogs from folks who inform, create, or implement policies. For some, their work became legislation. For those whose legislation did not pass, some programs will be hurt as a result and others will use this as a next step in the process.

As you read about Oregon related work, it’s important to know that there is federal work happening as well. Gather your staff, community, whoever will listen (especially those skeptical), and watch “Identifying, Preventing, and Treating Childhood Trauma: A Pervasive Public Health Issue that Needs Greater Federal Attention.” There is also S. 1770 Resilience Investment, Support, and Expansion from Trauma Act” or “RISE from Trauma Act” that was introduced to improve the identification and support of children and families who experience trauma.

A big THANK YOU! to all who do policy work. You make trips to Salem, gather ideas and people, schedule and make urgent last minute changes. But most of all, a deep felt GRATITUDE! to those of you who share your experiences to legislative committees in Oregon, and federally, to promote better practices. Policy work is ongoing—keep talking, advocating, testifying, and innovating.

To Do List: