The role of protective factors in sustained recovery from trauma for children and young people

How can we mitigate the effects of trauma in care-experienced children and young people? Blue Cabin is working with Kazzum Arts to become a trauma-informed organisation. Alex Evans, Artistic Director from Kazzum explains more about the impact of trauma and the pathways to recovery.

The impact of traumatic stress, often brought about by exposure to overwhelming experiences, can be devastating. Pervasive signs of dysregulation, and physical and psychological symptoms of distress in the body and mind, can be extremely detrimental to an individual’s sense of self, their connectedness to others and their experience of their own mental and physical health. Traumatic stress is not limited to individuals however and can affect whole communities that co-experience trauma, for example as a result of war, oppression, mass-displacement or community violence.

Fortunately, there are many pathways to the recovery from trauma. Formalised therapeutic interventions such as psychotherapy, EMDR and Trauma Release Exercises will be familiar to many already and the evidence base for many modalities grows each day. Leading experts from across the globe are now highlighting our connectedness to others through relationships as the most effective and important factor in this process.

This is reflected within the growing understanding that trauma-informed organisations, systems and structures are also necessary conditions to provide much-needed support for individuals and communities. At Kazzum Arts we use creativity and the arts as a route towards healing through play and connection. Our offer of regular practical workshops which encompass games, discussion, multidisciplinary arts activities and the development of youth voice, supports thousands of young people each year.

Kazzum’s journey to becoming a trauma-informed organisation began in 2018, as a route towards building resilience as an organisation. It has developed into a methodology which feeds into everything we do and every interaction we have with a young person wherever we meet them.

Early on in our journey we began to focus on the concept of ‘Protective Factors’ which can mitigate the effects of trauma and build resilience against re-traumatisation. In our organisation we have identified specific protective factors inherent in our work, such as emotionally available adults who deliver our programmes, the power of play and creativity to regulate the nervous system, the continual asset-based approach which offers inspiration, and our ability to build epistemic trust by following clear trauma-informed principles of care. These qualities are woven into all our programmes with the potential to reduce social stress, increase personal connection, build capacities for resilience, develop cognitive skills, build emotional languages, support regulation and offer space and time to process difficult thoughts, feelings and sensations as they arise.

With this foundational groundwork of protective factors and trauma-informed organisational processes and policies in place, we look towards creating pathways for post-traumatic growth. This encompasses the research of Tedeschi and Calhoun which suggests that when people are offered consistent opportunities to experience: faith; expression; creativity; narrative; optimism; and community – the ability for post-traumatic growth may be achievable. There are five key indicators of post-traumatic growth to be looked for in this instance: improved relationships with others; a sense of new possibilities; increased personal strength; an awakened sense of spirituality; and enhanced appreciation of life.

All children and young people who have been impacted by trauma deserve safe and effective routes to recovery. It is the responsibility of the systems and communities around them to provide access to protective factors and the necessary network of connections to guide them towards the possibility of post-traumatic growth. Deepening the skills and knowledge of facilitators, carers, organisations and entire systemic structures to become trauma-informed is a vital step in this process, and essential if we are to support those that need it most.

Alex Evans

Artistic Director, Kazzum Arts

Learn more about Kazzum Arts at www.kazzum.org and sign up for Kazzum’s Trauma Awareness Training here.

Further reading and viewing for the curious:

Animating Adversity – a four-part guide to adverse childhood experiences: https://www.kazzum.org/trauma-informed-approach

Becoming Trauma-Informed as an Arts Organisation: Our Journey So Far

Covid-19: How can we Mitigate the Long-Term Impact on Children and Young People?

Posttraumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence by Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun