6 Principles for Building Trauma-Informed Communities

Local government leaders across Alliance for Innovation are engaging in an important conversation around trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and their implications for building thriving communities. 

What is an ACE?  

ACE’s include various forms of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver mental illness, and household violence. Additional social ACEss, like those tracked in Philadelphia, include witnessing violence, feeling discrimination, adverse neighborhood experiences (lack of safety), and bullying.  

Research has demonstrated that ACEs cause tremendous negative consequences for those who experience these traumas. This includes dramatically increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, substance abuse, smoking, poor academic achievement, time off from work, and even premature death. 

Negative Impacts of ACEs 

While ACEs are common across all populations, some groups are more vulnerable to experiencing ACEs because of the social and economic conditions in which they live, learn, work and play. A majority of adults report at least one ACE, and more than 20% report 3 or more. As the number of ACEs increases (the ACE score), so does the risk for negative health and well-being outcomes.   

For example, people with an ACE score of 4 are twice as likely to be smokers and seven times more likely to become an alcoholic. Having an ACE score of 4 also increases the risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400%, and attempted suicide by 1,200%. People with high ACE scores are more likely to be violent, to have more marriages, more broken bones, more drug prescriptions, more depression, and more autoimmune diseases.  

People with an ACE score of 6 or higher are at risk of their lifespan being shortened by 20 years. 

This sobering data means we have a responsibility to be “trauma-informed” in our work.  The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines any setting as being traumainformed if the people there realize how widespread trauma is, recognize signs and symptoms, respond by integrating knowledge into practice, and resist doing further harm.  

6 Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach 

Just as communities can collectively experience trauma, they can also be a tremendous resource for resilience and healing. 

 SAMHSA has convened a number of conversations around this issue, and has subsequently developed 6 Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach which local government organizations can use in dialog with community members and elected officials to integrate into their programmatic and fiscal planning process.   

  • Safety:  The trauma-informed community prevents violence across the lifespan and creates safe physical environments. 
  • Trustworthiness:  The trauma-informed community fosters positive relationships among residents among residents, City Hall, police, schools, and others. 
  • Empowerment:  The trauma-informed community ensures opportunities for growth are available for all. 
  • Collaboration:  The trauma-informed community promotes involvement of residents and partnership among agencies. 
  • Peer Support:  The trauma-informed community engages residents to work together on issues of common concern. 
  • History, Gender, Culture:  The trauma-informed community values and supports history, culture, and diversity. 

Awareness and adoption of these principles is a necessary step toward supporting those who have experienced trauma, and toward reducing future instances of trauma. The specifics of adoption will vary tremendously, as communities take different approaches to addressing trauma and building resilience depending on local resources, cultures, and circumstances. 

Case Studies 

Kansas City:  A Community Coalition in the Business of Compassion 

Philadelphia:  Public Health Partnerships for Trauma Transformation 

San Francisco:  Aligning the Workforce to Create a Trauma-Informed System 

Tarpon Springs:  A Community Journey Towards Resilience 

Walla Walla:  Mobilizing a Community for Resilience 

Worchester:  Healing Community by Sharing Lived Experience 


For a deeper dive on ACE’s Research (source: acestoohigh.com) 

ACE Study primer — KPJR Films, which came out with Paper Tigers in 2015 and Resilience in 2016, put together this five-minute overview of the ACE Study. 

ACE Study video — Three-minute trailer for a four-hour CD of interviews with ACEs researchers produced by the Academy on Violence and Abuse. 

How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime — 16-minute TED Talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris  

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study – the largest public health study you never heard of – started in an obesity clinic 

 Joel Carnes is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He has spent his career in innovation, and has experience at every level — with products, teams, organizations and entire communities. While he’s always been a technologist, he’s much more interested in the impact on real human lives than the technology itself — a passion that inspires him to work with local governments and communities across North America. Joel has held senior executive roles at XPRIZE, Activision, SecondMuse, and Disney Imagineering, and has become a thought leader in connected innovation — where individuals, teams, organizations and businesses come together to solve a problem, going beyond what any single entity could accomplish on its own. With this strategy, Joel has built relationships across sectors, industries and political boundaries, creating entire innovation networks that continually produce solutions to real-world problems. You can read his posts here.

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Janice Quintana

Very Informative! I’m glad to see the Alliance of Innovation is embracing this! Great blog. Thank you for shining a light on an uncomfortable but important topic.