Lessons from overseas in care for traumatised young people

Published: 27 Sep 2017

Author: Daniel Johnson
Lessons from overseas in care for traumatised young people

Dan Johnson, a forensic psychologist from near Paisley, has returned to the UK after travelling for five weeks earlier this year in Norway and Sweden, and in late 2016 in the USA, exploring models of care for traumatised young people in residential and secure care. Dan’s travels were enabled by a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship award, in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation.

Dan is the Head of Psychology at Kibble, Scotland's largest child care charity. For the last ten years, he has worked with children who have suffered some of the highest levels of adversity and trauma in the UK. He has found that deciding on the best care for these children is complex as there are many competing demands and pressures in the care environment, in addition to a huge amount of theory and guidance on the subject.

He wanted to use his Fellowship to spend time with carers in the USA and Scandinavia, as these are countries with a longer history of implementing care designed specifically for young people who have had traumatic experiences. He aimed to observe how they meet the challenges he has faced in his own work.

Dan visited more than ten residential and secure care providers during his Fellowship. He wanted to focus on the tangible and real-life aspects of how care is delivered and so took a hands-on approach, following the daily routine of the units from waking to evening time, which included attending school and eating with young people and staff. He gained an insight into factors affecting care which he had not considered before, such as the use of nature and animals, the physical layout of homes and staff mentoring.

The experience of his Fellowship convinced Dan that services must be open minded in their care for young people who have adverse and traumatic experiences. There is no single magic bullet and good care will require a range of relationships, activities and coping supports.

“The UK should increase trauma informed practice in residential and secure care. In practice this would mean increased enquiry into and understanding of the experiences of young people, who are themselves the experts in what they need. It would also mean increasing the skills and knowledge of staff in how to respond to these experiences and their effects. If this was achieved it would mean that the goal of these environments could shift from solely care, to a more explicit hope of being therapeutic and healing” -Dan Johnson

Since returning to the UK, Dan has published some of his findings and presented at numerous conferences. He has begun a secondment within his organisation that aims to introduce authentic and quality trauma informed care both within Kibble and beyond. Dan hopes a care setting can be realised that can confidently describe itself as wholly therapeutic and as responding meaningfully to the needs of young people with traumatic experiences.

Read Dan’s report here

Notes to Editors

Contact: dan.johnson@kibble.org

Read Dan’s blog

The Mental Health Foundation

The Mental Health Foundation is the UK’s charity for everyone’s mental health. With prevention at the heart of what they do, they aim to find and address the sources of mental health problems so that people and communities can thrive.

The Mental Health Foundation is supporting Churchill Fellows with advice, and ensuring the lessons learnt are shared with policy makers and other relevant groups and individuals.