Trauma-Informed Care: A Community- and Peer-Driven Model

The impact of trauma on physical, mental, and emotional health can be significant and far-reaching, and today, Native people are leading the way in bringing healing to their families and communities.  Southcentral Foundation’s Family Wellness Warriors (FWW) has a goal of “returning to the strengths and values of Alaska Native and American Indian culture to build healing relationships, community connection, and resiliency to trauma.” An Alaska Native created and led program, FWW is a community- and peer-driven model that uses the power of story to break the silence of trauma and build healthy families and communities for future generations.

Through learning circles and training intensives, people are sharing their stories while building relationship and resilience – underscoring the Indigenous and human value of community. While connecting in the safety of small groups, individuals are coming alongside one another using a non-hierarchal, peer driven approach that provides holistic support and education on topics such as recovery, generational healing, understanding post-traumatic stress, grief and loss. Participants return home to their families and communities with tools to end unhealthy cycles and strengthen family relationships.

Evidence shows that FWW’s approach is changing lives. Through robust evaluation, participants show a 55% reduction in emergency department visits (visit count ratio 0.45, 95% CI 0.25-0.83) and a 79% reduction in substance use related visits (visit count ratio 0.21, 95% CI 0.07-0.64). Evaluation data has also shown significant reductions in unhealthy substance use, trauma symptomology, depression, and anxiety in FWW participants, with significant increases in protective factors, such as family cohesion and cultural connectedness.

The healing impact of FWW continues to ripple across families and communities today. FWW’s implementation model demonstrates successful replication of the program across diverse communities. In addition to supporting rural villages across Alaska, FWW has worked internationally with Indigenous tribes to culturally adapt the program to fit community and cultural strengths. “FWW nurtured our team and went above and beyond the expected and helped us achieve our goal to bring this program to our First Nation communities,” said Cheryl Hankard of Mamaweswan North Shore Community, in Ontario Canada. FWW also works within and without the prison system in Alaska, supporting inmates and re-entrants in addressing trauma and ending cycles of harm through spiritual healing and cultural connectedness. FWW continues to work with diverse tribes, organizations and healthcare systems to continue the implementation model and the ripple effect of healing.

The upcoming Virtual Nuka Conference will feature a session on FWW and SCF’s approach to trauma-informed care. If you would like more information about trauma-informed care at SCF, or the Virtual Nuka Conference, feel free to contact the SCF Learning Institute.