From Diane Benavides Wille, MA, LPC, CADC I, Director of Diversity & Workforce Development, LifeWorks NW

As someone who identifies as Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), one core principle of Trauma Informed Care (TIC) that resonates with me is Trustworthiness and Transparency. This principles helps us to ensure that decisions being made are done so transparently and with the goal and spirit of building and maintaining trust.

Those of us working in mental health systems understand how important this principle is. We think of it countless times when providing services to our most vulnerable communities. How do we also use this principle from an organizational standpoint? This was a question I pondered when I developed our annual “diversity” work plan. To be honest, I had cranked out the same report format that I inherited and just updated with current data. I had to have an honest conversation with myself to say, how do I use my areas of privilege to move the dial on my Diversity, Equity and Includsion(DEI) work?

Doing Things Differently

I first had to blow up the useless report I was pushing out and create something meaningful. A very wise person (to be clear it was Ana Hristić) suggested that I combine our TIC and DEI efforts. Equity goes beyond a broad umbrella encompassing all aspects of “diversity.” Equity includes an historic and present day evaluation and examination of systemic and institutional policies and practices to help eliminate inequities most impactful for our vulnerable and often historically targeted communities. The historic reflection must also be evaluated from a generational and historical lens of trauma. With that said, it would be a disservice to address issues of DEI without incorporating principles of TIC.

Our new work plan specifically calls out a culture of TIC that involves all aspects of organizational activities, settings, relationships, and environments. It involves all groups—administrators, supervisors, direct service staff, support staff, and our consumers. It is also a commitment to ongoing self-assessment, reviewing our progress and goals, actively seeking the voices of our consumers and staff, and an openness to changing policy practices. One important aspect of our plan was to operationalize our organizational equity assessment tool, ensuring voices of those impacted by our decisions are at the table, looking at potential consequence or inequities, and assuming responsibility in evaluation and mitigation of these potential outcomes.

Knowing Your Responsibility and Role

Going back to Trustworthiness and Transparency, it is also important for all of our staff to know their responsibility and role in ensuring the goals in our work plan. From the moment they begin their onboarding process, we want to create and ensure transparency. This is not only around the expectations of onboarding but also in being transparent about our expectation to create a work environment that is respectful and inclusive of all, being met with external signage indicating our commitment to service regardless of how one identifies, including citizenship status, and focusing on not what is wrong with an individual but what has happened to them. We reinforce transparency when we post our work plans, when we orient our board of directors to TIC and our DEI work, and when working with individuals being open about treatment options and collaborating with those we are serving.

Building Trust

Trustworthiness is a by-product of being transparent. When one has an understanding, because it is transparent as to what the expectations are, and we follow up on expectations and do the things we say we will do, we add to and build on trustworthiness. When those we serve, work with and for, and interact with in our work environment see that we are transparent in our decisions, with our expectations, and with our actions, they believe our words and actions and trust us to follow through. When our staff members and those we serve trust us, they are more likely to be engaged and have better outcomes. I will often say when providing TIC and DEI trainings and workshops, if one doesn’t feel they have a place at the table, they’ll stop showing up. Our work isn’t about taking away a place setting at the table by inviting others in, it’s simply making more room for others to show up.

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 Diane can be reached at dianeb@lifeworksnw.org for questions or comments.