Trauma-Informed Transitions

Jul 19, 2019 | by Amanda and Meggie


For the STOP-IT Program, transitions come in many forms. Clients completing goals, moving or disengaging in services, staff departures, and funding shifts are all things that social service providers navigate. The STOP-IT program aims to support survivors in living as independently as they wish through skill building, healing, and connections to longer-term resources. Our program is not intended to serve people indefinitely. Rather, it functions as a launching pad and place of relative safety for folks who are healing from the relational trauma of human trafficking.

Navigating Change

For most people, positive and negative change are a part of life and this change is navigated successfully. The way we manage change and/or stressful life events and bring ourselves back to a steady baseline of functioning, or a state of equilibrium, depends on our coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms can look like many things—adaptive or maladaptive. Some adaptive coping mechanisms are exercising, eating well, sleeping enough, and vegging out on the couch watching Netflix from time to time. Some maladaptive coping mechanisms might look like drinking or using substances, overeating, or other self-destructive behaviors. For people who have experienced traumatic life events, coping mechanisms might be maladaptive and it could be difficult to come back to that state of equilibrium. The longer it takes to come back to that baseline after a stressful life event, the more likely it is that chaos becomes one’s normal level of functioning. This is obviously something service providers want to avoid, as a core value of social work is to “do no harm.”

How does the STOP-IT Program approach the caseworker-participant relationship?

At STOP-IT, we believe that healing from trauma happens in the context of safe, healthy relationships. Caseworkers partner with survivors on their paths toward reconnection to themselves and others. We hope that these partnerships can serve as a more respectful and caring relationship model for folks who have been mistreated by people who claim to care for them. In doing so, we experience the ways in which these relationships can serve as a vehicle for change for the survivors and for ourselves.

We recognize that it is not possible for us to completely understand the impact the loss of a caseworker can have on someone seeking services. The relationship between client and caseworker can be intense—this might be the first time the person seeking services has trusted a person in a position of power, and the loss of that relationship can be extremely difficult. Helping individuals navigate this loss is incredibly important if we want folks to seek services in the future and to not feel abandoned.

How does the STOP-IT Program handle transitions with folks engaged in services?

While staff members do not always have control over who is engaged in services and how a staff/participant relationship ends, we do our best to ensure that clients are prepared for change and given as much information as possible about transitions. Program participants at STOP-IT are able to voice their concerns, given space to vent, and provided with choice when it comes to navigating transitions. We do this in the following ways:

  1. Inform. We want to share as much information about programmatic changes, staff transitions, and the “plan”’ for next steps, with as much time as possible. We want clients to be able to ask any questions or give feedback about the transition to staff.
  2. Process. We want to give people a space to express their emotions, whether it’s sadness, anger, abandonment, or joy. How is the person feeling about what is to come?
  3. Input. If at all possible, we want clients to be able to use their voice and be heard when it comes to programmatic change. How can we make the program better, either with funding changes, programmatic changes, or staffing changes? How can we best support you through this transition?
  4. Choice. Folks get to choose how they would like to end services with the program. Does the person want to remain engaged in services, either based on programmatic changes or staff transitions? What resources would they like to be connected with as they transition out of our program? How does the person want the last meeting with a worker to look? Does the person WANT a last meeting with a transitioning staff member?
  5. Acknowledgement. Change is hard. It’s okay for people to feel however they’re feeling. Acknowledge this and provide support.

Change happens, loss happens, transitions happen. Be supportive, empower individuals, and restore choice.

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