Practice blog

A trauma informed response for working with young people affected by domestic abuse

Jo Sharpen is the Policy Manager at Against Violence and Abuse (AVA). In this blog she explains how the effects of trauma can manifest in young people affected by domestic abuse, and how practitioners and services can understand and prevent re-traumatisation of young people. For an audio version of this blog, visit our Soundcloud profile or scroll to the  bottom of the page.

The term ‘trauma-informed’ is becoming increasingly popular, but how does trauma relate to domestic abuse and how can we provide trauma-informed care for young people?

‘Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being’[1].

Domestic abuse certainly fits these criteria and can be exacerbated by the fact that the trauma is perpetrated by someone close to the victim and by the unpredictable nature of abuse. There are many common responses to trauma such as hyper-arousal, numbing, increased startle response, flashbacks, avoidance, sleep problems, anxiety, memory and attention problems, developmental delays and attachment issues to name a few. These are all normal responses to abnormal situations, but on the surface may manifest as behaviour that may seem irrational, illogical or even risky. A concern then is that such behaviours could potentially be misdiagnosed as a child being defiant, oppositional or as having ADHD.

Young people who have experienced abuse are making complex, daily decisions about risk and safety. Due to the trauma response, they may be living mainly in the ‘survival’ part of the brain, constantly hyper-vigilant and scanning for threats and danger. This may come at the expense of higher reasoning, problem solving and logical reasoning. Sometimes this alarm response can still happen, even when the person is in a safe place. The brain stores memories of trauma that may be triggered by sounds, smells etc. and can result in an automatic, unconscious response.

We need to understand these responses so we can better support young people. Services often prioritise one issue whereas young people need a trauma informed approach which understands they may be experiencing multiple disadvantages (see the previous blog from Dr Kat Ford on adverse childhood experiences). Young people also need to understand that their responses are normal, as it can be very frightening and confusing especially if they can’t make the links between their behaviour and their experiences.

If we do not respond appropriately, we risk re-traumatising someone. For instance, excluding a teenage from school for ‘misbehaving’ can remind them of abuse or rejection. Similarly, closing a case when someone does not engage or show up to appointments does not allow for the fact that simply leaving the house can be difficult when experiencing abuse or recovering from trauma.

 A trauma informed response focuses not on what is ‘wrong’ with someone, but rather what they have experienced.

For instance, instead of thinking a young person is disruptive or not engaging, we understand that they have been triggered; instead of thinking that a young person needs ‘consequences’ or anger management, we understand they need routine, support and self-worth.

SAMHSA’s ‘four R’ model is a helpful reminder:

“A program, organisation, or system that is trauma-informed:

  1. Realises the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  2. Recognises the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatisation."

What we must always remember is that the impacts of trauma are preventable and reversible. With understanding, training and support we can ensure we are providing a more appropriate and therapeutic response that will impact on the long term wellbeing of young people affected by domestic abuse.

For more information on how to create a trauma informed response for survivors of domestic abuse, please visit the AVA website.

Visit our Spotlight page for more resources, guidance and survivor stories to inform your work with young people.


[1] SAMHSA (2014)  Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach

Working with young people in abusive relationships – and how it's different to helping adults

Claire Amans is the Young Person’s Violence Advisor (Ypva) Services Coordinator for South Tyneside. Claire was trained as a Ypva through SafeLives Young Person’s programme, funded by the Department for Education. Here Claire reflects on the role of a Ypva, and how it differs to working with adults. For an audio version of this blog, visit our Soundcloud profile or scroll to the bottom of the page.

When I started working as a young people’s violence advisor, I was surprised to see how many young people were victims of high-risk abuse. I’d worked in youth justice previously, so I knew that there would be some high-risk victims, but I didn’t realise how many.

Now I look back on the past three years and think “Who was working with these young people before?”  They get so much out of the service that there’s clearly a need. I’ve worked with 16-17 year olds who had used an adult service before, in the absence of anything else. They’ve said that it was really helpful for them to have that, but they felt that it didn’t meet all of their needs.

Adult services are different, and rightly so – what they do is right for adults. But at 16-17 you are still a child in the eyes of the law, so you need support beyond what an adult service might have the resources to offer.

And that’s where South Tyneside’s three Young Person’s Violence Advisors (Ypvas) come in; we offer young people personalised support and act as a single point of contact for all the problems they face.

In South Tyneside we do a lot of one-to-one work. We do the core safety planning and healthy relationship work, but we also look at the individual young person and their specific needs – like building their social network and their confidence. That includes becoming safe from the abuse itself, of course, but also issues such as housing, finance and education to name just a few.

Our engagement with young people has been fantastic and we’ve had contacts reaching into the late hundreds. Weekly sessions are offered to all young people and can sometimes last for 2-3 hours per session depending on the intervention offered.  What we offer is very intensive, but it’s necessary at times to help the young person holistically. Spending that much time with them can also mean they’re more likely to open up to you around personal issues such as sexual health or substance use.

There are times when a young person can feel overwhelmed due to their circumstances and the different agencies involved, and may need you to advocate for them to make sure their voice is heard. For example, one referral we received was for a 16-year-old who was homeless because of domestic violence, so it wasn’t safe for her to return home. We couldn’t just signpost her to the housing team and leave it at that. She wasn’t sure of the process involved and felt overwhelmed. Having someone to advocate for her when she felt emotional or wasn’t sure how to answer the question was important. We needed to help them understand why it wasn’t safe for her to go home. Bridging that gap for her meant that she was taken seriously and supported – and she now is in emergency accommodation.

When she first moved in, I took her shopping. I explained about budgeting and then took her back to her supported accommodation. She’d not had to do any household chores like that prior to becoming homeless – even putting food in the freezer was something she didn’t know about. With adults you might be able to rely on them to understand basic things like shopping, managing money and so on. But for many young people, on top of dealing with an abusive relationship, this may be their first experience of the real world and it can be a very worrying and overwhelming time for them.

She told me afterwards that she wouldn’t have been able to manage alone on her own – she wouldn’t have known where to go or what to say. Without intensive support, she wouldn’t have had the confidence to deal with the situation and would have remained at risk.

Now that this young person has safe and secure accommodation, we can focus on safety planning and healthy relationship work to help her stay safe from abuse.

It goes to show that, with young people, you need to do more than just signpost. You need to go on that journey with them. Young people should be able to expect the support of a dedicated worker. They deserve not to have to live in chaos. Having that central co-ordinator to not just help them be safe, but also to understand their needs and champion their cause, is vital. 

SafeLives young people’s programme was created to find new ways to help young people who suffer abuse from the people they are close to. It began in May 2013 and has now come to an end, leaving a legacy of over one hundred trained Ypva’s. It was a partnership with Barnardo’s, IKWRO, Leap, and the Marie Collins Foundation and was funded by the Department for Education.

Visit our training pages for information about SafeLives Ypva training courses.

Visit our Spotlight homepage for more resources, content and personal stories from young people and the professionals who support them.

Why education is important for understanding domestic abuse

Amna Abdullatif is children and young people's officer nationally for Women's Aid. Her previous role as national schools engagement officer focused heavily on encouraging schools to implement preventative work through the Expect Respect toolkit.

One of the areas of work that Women’s Aid are passionate about is in relation to education and prevention, which encouraged the production of a toolkit, aimed at schools and other organisations working with children and young people, called Expect Respect.

The need for education and prevention is vital.

We know how children are impacted greatly by violence that is happening in the home; according to Radford (2011) 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse, as well as domestic abuse being a factor in 60% of Serious Case Reviews, where a child has been murdered or seriously injured as a result of abuse or neglect. (Brandon 2012).

We are also aware that young women aged between 16 & 19 and between 20 & 24 are the most likely to be victims of domestic abuse (11.3% and 12.5% of the respective population) (ONS 2014), often due to engaging in first relationships, and not knowing or understanding what makes a healthy relationship or understanding how to get out of a relationship once it becomes abusive.

But also, girls are often experiencing various forms of abuse and misogyny during their experience in and out of school at a much earlier age, which perpetuate certain stereotypes and ideas of what is acceptable, even when it is harmful.

Not surprisingly, there are many issues that children and young people face, and schools and educational establishments have a core role to play to ensure they remain safe and happy inside and outside the school environment. 

The Expect Respect toolkit offers a range of lesson plan for age groups from reception to college age, all of which aim to do the following:

  • Changing beliefs and attitudes about men and women; 
  • Challenging assumptions about gender and power;
  • Managing feelings and accepting responsibility for  one’s own feelings and behaviour;
  • Helping to resolve conflict;
  • Helping young people to knowing the difference between abusive and non-abusive relationships;
  • Communicating consistently the message that abuse is not acceptable;
  • Helping young people to understand that abuse is a crime;
  • Highlighting the role of peers in providing support; &
  • Giving information about where to get help.

One example of a session plan for high school students explores young people’s views of what behaviours they feel are ok or not ok. It provides an opportunity for young people to discuss their own views and hear others, in order to challenge or question the way they engage in intimate relationships.

There is also a need to understand what young people feel makes a healthy relationship, and to ensure that they understand that they are entitled to be in a relationship that is safe, healthy and happy. 

However, this alone isn't enough. It's vital that schools and educational establishments understand how to respond to the needs of children and young people. Responses could include:

  • Introducing a whole-school approach
  • Regular training for all staff
  • Close links to specialist services
  • Encouraging regular sessions for prevention focused work
  • Responding to disclosures and potential child protection concerns effectively
  • Facilitating a peer support network
  • Offering practical support
  • Providing safe spaces
  • Offering opportunities, roles and responsibilities to children and young people

As well as the toolkit, Women's Aid also has information and resources in the Hideout website for primary and secondary aged children and young people. The ‘love don't feel bad’ website is a useful resource for young people in understanding what coercive control is and how it can impact on their relationships, providing some real life examples, as well as resources, a quiz and videos.

A holistic approach is required by all professionals working with children and young people, to ensure they are supported, informed, protected, and that their voices are listened to.

Women's Aid is the leading national charity in England supporting women and children to end domestic abuse, with over 220 member organisations across the country, who offer more than 300 lifesaving services.

For further information and support contact:

For more resources, survivor stories and expert content around supporting young people, visit our Spotlight homepage

A day in the life of a young person's violence advisor (Ypva)

Jamila Hassan is a Young Person’s Violence Officer (Ypvo) for South Tyneside Young Person’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Services. In this blog Jamila shares her daily experiences of working with young people experiencing domestic abuse in the form of a diary entry. For an audio version of this blog, visit our Soundcloud profile or scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Its 8.30am Monday is always a busy day in the Ypva Service. I’m checking emails, and catching up with the weekend developments of my cases. I open an email from a staff member who works in the Children's Home where *Vicky, one of the young women I am working with, lives. The email is to inform me that her boyfriend, the perpetrator, has assaulted her again; he'd been arrested and was still in police custody. The staff member confirms that Vicky has provided a statement. This surprises me as she’s been previously reluctant to engage with the police. I ring her and agree to re-arrange my diary to prioritise a visit to meet with her today. I then ring the investigating officer to query if the perpetrator is being charged. The police confirm that he has been charged with common assault and that he will be released on conditional bail, conditions include that he is not to contact Vicky directly or indirectly.  

After re-arranging my diary I ring the Children's Home to update them and check that a DASH RIC has been completed. The staff member informs me that Vicky declined to complete the DASH RIC, they confirm that they have started the document but request that I assist with completion. I agree to meet with the staff member following my appointment with her.

It’s now 11.30am - Upon meeting Vicky, she agrees that we can go through the DASH together. The initial question on the DASH RIC asks ‘are you frightened’; although she answers ‘no’ I explain that this question will be answered to take into account the initial disclosure information provided by the police and Children’s Home. The overall score of this DASH RIC is 15 and meets the criteria for a referral into Marac. I explain the Marac process to Vicky and ask her if she wants the police to apply to the court for a Restraining Order. Vicky replies no, adding that she could ‘see no point’. She also discloses that she's been self-harming as a result of receiving threats from her now ex-boyfriend's family. I encourage Vicky to report this to the police but she refuses. I explain that I have a duty to share this with the police and her Social Worker. Vicky said she understands. The remainder of our session focuses on updating Vicky’s individual safety plan, support plan and reminding her of strategies she can use to reduce the likelihood of further self-harm.     

It’s 1.30pm and I return to the office, knowing that I still have two more clients to see. I also need to make time to update Vicky's case records, type up the DASH RIC and make the referral to Marac. My colleague explains that she has had a cancellation, and offers to see one of my clients; this is a relief, team work within the Ypva Service is essential. I use the next three hours to finalise Vicky’s documents.

It’s now 4.30pm and I meet my next client *Johnny in the office. Working with Johnny has additional complexities as he presents embarrassed and in denial that he is being abused by his girlfriend, and he also perpetrates harm to her. We are in the process of compiling information for Johnny’s individual safety plan and he laughs when I explain why we want him to consider a safety word. I know I need to be creative and suggest that he could use the safety word if he feels at risk of harming his girlfriend, Johnny agrees and I feel this is progress. Due to Johnny presenting visibly stressed I agree to continue this discussion at our next appointment.  

It’s now 5.30pm; I use the next half hour to respond to emails that I view as urgent. My line manager is also in the office and this provides me with an opportunity to de-brief today’s events. Whilst I have regular scheduled supervision, she understands that informal clinical supervision is essential to assist with the day-to-day delivery of this job. We run through the actions and record the actions and discussions on the client’s file.  

It’s 6.30pm and I am now leaving the office for home. I’ll be back tomorrow at 8.30am for the next day in the life of a Ypva.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

Visit our Spotlight page for more blogs, resources and tools for supporting young people dealing with domestic abuse.

Stories from Young Survivors: Nisha

The following story is one of several accounts shared with us by a group of young people; all have experienced domestic abuse and have been supported by the Ypvas working at the Young People Violence Advisor (Ypva) Service in South Tyneside. They have shared their individual stories to raise awareness of domestic abuse in the hope that victims and services will be inspired to make change. For an audio version of this blog, visit our Soundcloud profile or scroll to the bottom of the page. 

*Names have been changed to protect identities

I was 13 years old living at home with my family. I was suffering verbal (getting called names) and physical abuse from my parents and older brother. The physical assaults were mostly from my oldest brother who felt I should respect him and my parents and do everything they wanted me to do, even if I didn’t want to do it.  They used to make me wear my hijab and try and control everything I did. I would sometimes be locked in the house so I could not go out to see my friends after school as my parents felt it would look bad and shame my family if a young Muslim girl was out on the streets alone or just with friends. 

I didn’t understand as my other friends were allowed to go out with their friends and wear what they liked to wear.  It went on for a while until I had to the courage to call the police from my house phone. My brother had hit me that day because I refused to wear my hijab and my parents supported him to do this, as they thought I was being disrespectful to them and my culture.  I was taken into care for my own safety and placed with a foster carer.

Claire then contacted me from the YPVA Service and I have been supported by them since. I have completed lots of work including making safety plans, learning about healthy and safe relationships, including cultural issues such as honour based violence and forced marriage, as well as legal orders and how the police can help me. The police did lots to help me and worked with Claire to help me better.

We also talked about how to stay safe online, protecting my phone and stuff. Claire also helped me with school, my CV and my plans for employment when I leave school. And she supported me to meet other services, such as social workers, Connexions workers, cadets etc so I felt supported as I would not have gone on my own.

If I’d stayed at home and not reported it, and not got help, I feel I would have less confidence, no future, most likely to stay at home and cook and clean, (my culture), maybe have married too young.

Staying out of the home means I have more confidence, know my rights as a person/human, and police/court help for the assaults/abuse. I know about protection orders to help keep me safe and have lots more knowledge for the future, I’ve made personal improvements and have more career opportunities. 

Listen to an audio version of this blog:

Keep an eye on our Spotlight page for more information and resources around supporting young people experiencing domestic abuse.