Developing Concepts, Frameworks and Applications of a Trauma-Informed, Human Rights Perspective in Social Work Practice

abstract image of transformation project.

Alternative Reaffirmation Project

Project Overview

Our alternative project for reaccreditation focuses on the development, implementation and evaluation of a trauma-informed, human rights (TI-HR) oriented curriculum, exploring and developing frameworks and applications of a TI-HR perspective across all levels of social work practice — micro, mezzo and macro.

The social work profession has given little attention to trauma-informed practice principles and in the United States, the profession lags behind its international counterparts in promoting human rights and infusing human rights principles into social work practice and policies.

The School of Social Work curricular focus on trauma-informed and human rights perspectives in social work practice fits well with the pressing social issues and needs in the Buffalo-Niagara region, home to the University at Buffalo.

The Buffalo-Niagara region has been challenged in the past 30 years by population decline, a high poverty rate and slow economic growth. These challenges informed our decision to offer a curriculum emphasizing a trauma-informed and human rights perspective for social work practice.

Project Component 1 - Conceptualization

Component 1 of the Reaffirmation Project is responsible for interviewing agencies and clients as to their usage and knowledge around the five main principles of trauma-informed care, as well as human rights.

The five main principles of trauma-informed care are: safety, trustworthiness, collaboration, empowerment and choice, as experienced by staff and clients (as developed by Fallot, 2006).

Component 1 is using qualitative methods to gather and study the necessary data. Focus groups and individual interviews with multiple levels of personnel in social service agencies have been conducted, as well as interviews with clients from some of these agencies.

To date, there have been five individual interviews with key personnel from agencies, seven focus groups with agency employees and four client interviews (with more to come).

Project Component 2a - Curriculum

The goals of Project Component 2a are to:

  • Develop and implement model curricular modules that integrate a trauma-informed and human rights perspective in the foundation and advanced year curriculum.
  • Develop a Student Self-Care Plan program.
  • Integrate a trauma-informed and human rights perspective into existing courses.

To achieve these goals we are:

  • Conducting focus groups with students and faculty.
  • Redesigning course evaluations, field learning contracts and field practicum evaluations.
  • Soliciting input from field educators on the Student Self-Care Plan program.
  • Redesigning student exit surveys.

Project Component 2b - Trauma-Informed Personal Self-Care Plan

Self-care is a tremendously important aspect of personal mental and physical health maintenance and enhancement for students during their training. Self-care knowledge, skills and practice developed during training can also form the basis for ongoing professional self-care subsequent to graduation.

As part of the School of Social Work’s Reaccreditation Project, we are developing a number of self-care resources to be made available to students in the program.

The materials presently in development include:

  • Self-Care Workshop that will introduce students to the concept of self-care and provide them with materials, skills and other resources to facilitate the development of their own personal self-care plans.  This workshop will be conducted at each student orientation.
  • Self-Care Binder to be distributed to all incoming students at orientation. It will contain printouts of a range of self-care materials, including a step-by-step plan for developing a personal self-care program, informational readings, exercises, self-administered measures, restorative activities, web resources, a recommended reading list and a referral list.
  • Self-Care Webpage on the School’s website to provide links to the aforementioned materials, as well as additional resources.
  • Self-Care UBLearns Website to house professional (copy-righted) readings and other materials, to make them available for download by registered students and faculty. Readings will include articles on vicarious traumatization, retraumatization, compassion fatigue, burnout, stress, resilience and psychotherapy for professionals, among others.

To evaluate the self-care program, baseline data will be collected from entering students on their awareness of a range of issues including vicarious traumatization, stressors, utilization of self-care strategies for reducing stress and enhancing resilience, and their intentions to develop and implement a personal self-care plan.

A follow-up evaluation will be conducted to evaluate the accessibility, applicability, utility and effectiveness of the materials and training provided.

Project Component 3 - Evaluation and Assessment

We will develop and revise assessment tools for measuring the extent that organizations, including the UB School of Social Work, incorporate a trauma-informed, human rights (TI-HR) perspective in their service delivery and organizational culture, as well as students’ TI-HR-related knowledge, self-efficacy, attitudes, practice behaviors and behavioral intentions.

Surveys of community organizations personnel and student interns will assess their TI-HR-related organizational characteristics; TI-HR-related knowledge, attitudes and skills among agency personnel; the provision of training on client rights; and agencies’ perceptions of their current provision of care from a TI-HR perspective.

Field agency personnel will be recruited for on-line surveys through use of emails, using the field educator and field liaison listserv maintained by the School’s Field Education Department.

We will also survey students. Students will complete assessments of their (a) knowledge of TI-HR approaches to social work practice; (b) attitudes towards a TIC-HR perspective; (c) self-efficacy concerning TIC-HR-oriented practice; (d) behavioral intentions with respect to implementing TI-HR approaches; and (e) TI-HR-oriented behaviors exhibited in their field placement.

Field educators will also be asked to assess these variables, in the mid-term and final field evaluation of students’ performance.

Project Component 4 - Field Education

We will establish enhanced field education collaborations focused on integrating a trauma-informed, human rights (TI-HR) perspective into social work practice.

In collaboration with a new TI-HR Field Education Consortium, we will select three to five agencies that wish to establish enhanced field collaborations with the UB School of Social Work.

We have identified potential agencies interested in joining this consortium through our Field Education Community Advisory Group, and the agencies that full-time faculty are currently consulting with on issues of trauma, the treatment of trauma and trauma-informed care.