A Guest Blog by Kirsten Boda, Research and Reporting Coordinator at CUPS
The income support system is an essential part of the social safety net that exists to help individuals and families meet their basic needs. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of people who accessed income support in Alberta increased by 14,192, resulting in more than 54,000 individuals as of January 2017.i This growing need demonstrates the importance of designing a system that responds to each person’s unique needs. If there is one thing we have learned through the consultations for the National Poverty Reduction Strategy, it is that poverty is complex and a one-size-fits all approach does not work when it comes to poverty reduction efforts.ii
While the social service sector finds itself entrenched in conversation around social welfare reform, it is important to remember that many individuals and families rely on the current system in order to make ends meet. Therefore, policy makers must ensure their decisions do not create barriers limiting access to this vital source of income. The reality is that, without income support, families and individuals will inevitably struggle and risk falling deeper into the trap that is poverty.
In order to identify barriers that exist, it is essential that we momentarily set aside the overarching debate and look at the experience of those who rely on the current system. While some may fall into poverty for a short period of time, others may spend their entire lives living within its ugly shadow. Research shows that trauma is often a factor in poverty, homelessness, and poor mental and physical health outcomes.iii If you have experienced poverty or have worked with individuals living in poverty, you know that it is traumatic. Being faced with the choice of buying healthy food or maintaining a roof over your head is never easy. Poverty, in and of itself, is traumatic.
Furthermore, a large percentage of the individuals that access social services struggle with various mental and physical illnesses, addictions, increased levels of stress, attachment difficulties, and chaotic behaviour. iv These challenges are often due to extensive trauma histories experienced in childhood and adulthood alike. As a result, those affected by trauma may exhibit an impairment in executive functioning and emotional regulation, low self-efficacy, and high levels of anxiety and stress.v
Unfortunately, by legislation and design the current income support system is often suspicious and punitive and, as a result, it can perpetuate the negative impacts of poverty and trauma. Failing to recognize these effects and make the appropriate changes negatively impacts the well-being of our communities. Therefore, it is essential that we search for solutions that attempt to mitigate the effects of trauma and encourage access to vital resources, such as income support.
Enter trauma-informed care (TIC). The concept of TIC is simple: it “offers a framework for providing services to traumatized individuals within a variety of service settings”.vi TIC within the service delivery context is characterized as:
Providing a safe environment to clients that is free from physical harm and retraumatization. vii
Genuine collaboration between the agency and clients.viii
Acknowledging the role that trauma has in the lives of the clients.ix
As TIC has grown in popularity and moved outside the healthcare sector, social service agencies have begun to adopt this approach when working with clients. In Alberta, many social service agencies have recognized the importance of TIC, which has resulted in a slow and steady march towards embedding this approach within programs and services. While not always standardized, this positive movement towards TIC highlights many agencies’ desire to find a balance between reporting on measurable outcomes and building trusting relationships with clients by meeting them where they are at.
TIC simply provides a lens through which to approach relationships; it exists to inform practice, regardless of the service delivery context. Therefore, it is essential that TIC is embedded in policies and procedures throughout the entire social services sector, from government ministries to privately funded non-profit organizations.
Trauma exists throughout every segment of society and acknowledging this reality is especially important for those agencies that exist to serve vulnerable populations. When we acknowledge trauma, we create a space that allows individuals to heal. Consequently, as we move forward, we must ask ourselves: how do we begin to acknowledge and act on the trauma that exists within our communities?
If you are interested in learning more about TIC or an advocacy initiative for TIC currently underway in the Calgary area, please contact Kirsten Boda at email@example.com or Vicki Park at firstname.lastname@example.org.
i “Income Supports Caseloads in Alberta,” Social Policy Trends The School of Public Policy, (April, 2017), https://www.policyschool.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Social-Trends-Income-Support-for-April-Issue.pdf.
ii Opportunity for All – Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy,” Government of Canada (2018), https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/campaigns/poverty-reduction.html.
iii Mental Health Commission of Canada, Klinic Community Health Centre, “Trauma-informed systems and organizations,” (2014), https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/2014-0408_mhcc_trauma-informed_care_0.pdf.
v Robin L. Aupperle, Andrew J. Melrose, Murray B. Stein, Martin P. Paulus, “Executive Function and PTSD: Disengaging from Trauma,” Neuropharmacology 62,2 (2012): 686-694. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4719148/.
vi Hopper, K. Elizabeth, Bassuk, L. Ellen, Oliver, Jeffrey, “Shelter from the Storm: Trauma-Informed Care in Homelessness Services Settings,” The Open Health Services and Policy Journal 3, (2010): 80-100. http://www.homelesshub.ca/sites/default/files/cenfdthy.pdf.
vii Bincy Wilson, Thomas H. Nochajski, “Evaluating the Impact of Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) Perspective in Social Work Curriculum,” Social Work Education 35,5 (2016), https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02615479.2016.1164840.