Trauma-Informed Communities

What makes a resilient community? A resilient community has the relationships, infrastructure, and resources to survive shocks like natural disasters or public health crises and to address individual trauma such as sexual violence or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). A resilient community not only survives adversity but is able to cope and recover.  

Communities that are resilient can recover from shocks because of a few reasons: the people in the community have the personal connections with each other to support healing and healthy behaviors, the community has structures in place like educational and job opportunities to keep things steady and moving forward, and the community has safe gathering spaces like parks to support positive interaction and community pride. 

Trauma-Informed Communities - 1
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How do communities build resilience? There are a few ways. First, communities can build resilience by becoming “trauma-informed.” That is, by understanding how trauma can affect the life and behavior of community members, and by working together to create a safe and supportive environment for everyone. Trauma-informed communities understand that being treated with respect and kindness — and being empowered with choices — are key in helping people build resilience and recover from traumatic experiences. When people are resilient, the community is resilient too. 

Second, communities can build resilience by understanding and promoting equity. This means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), regardless of their background or experiences. Communities can promote equity by listening to and targeting resources in support of those who have lived experience of trauma, such as many minority, rural, and other underserved populations. 

No matter what health priority a community chooses to focus on, whether connected to the community health improvement process or otherwise, it's important to be aware of the impact of trauma and work towards fairness and equal opportunities for all. By doing this, we can create a safe and supportive environment where everyone can thrive. 

By creating a supportive and inclusive environment, a resilient community can help to build a sense of community and belonging, which is essential for promoting well-being. This can help community members to feel valued and supported, and to experience a sense of purpose and connection to others, even in the face of adversity. 

For example, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many had experienced illness or loss of a loved one. Places of work, learning, worship, and entertainment were closed. Between mandated stay-at-home orders and self-imposed isolation, many individuals found themselves isolated from friends, family, coworkers, and community. The pandemic had a tremendous impact on community cohesion and quality of life. 

Many groups found ways to build connection safely and purposefully with others, whether virtually or outdoors, through art or comedy or other means, to restore hope and strengthen resilience and well-being among themselves and others.  

COVID-19 affected everyone from all walks of life. However, people in certain groups experienced traumas more intensely than people in other groups. Here are some examples of how COVID-19 trauma affected different groups in different ways: 

Children and Families 

More than 140,000 children lost a parent, grandparent, or other caregiver due to the pandemic, according to a study published in Pediatrics. Poverty, loss of a caregiver, and isolation from a community are considered ACEs, or things that contribute to childhood trauma. Exposure to these adversities increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Pandemic Caregiver Loss

African American Tennesseans COVID

Racial and Ethnic Minorities  

African American Tennesseans accounted for 20% of COVID-19 cases and 33% of deaths by the Spring of 2020, even though they only make up 17% of the total population in Tennessee.  

Rural Communities

Between April 13th, 2020 – April 27th, 2020, COVID-19 cases increased 125% in non-metro counties compared to 68% in metro counties, and COVID-19 deaths increased 169% in non-metro counties compared to 113% in metro counties, according to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation. People in rural counties face several barriers to accessing healthcare including lack of transportation, shortage of healthcare providers, poor broadband access for telehealth visits, and the high cost of healthcare for those in poverty in rural areas. All these barriers made it harder for rural residents to prepare for and recover from a community trauma such as COVID-19. 

Rural Healthcare Access

Health Councils can work on building community resilience in a few ways. First, they can choose this as a priority in their County Health Assessment (CHA) and implement trauma-informed projects and programs as part of their Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). Or they can take a different approach, and they can look at all the work in their CHIP through a trauma "lens," asking how each of their CHIP activities can be done in a way that is trauma-informed. Health Councils can use the resources below to choose activities to be a part of their CHIP that relate to trauma and equity. 

Activities and Programs: Evidence-informed, actionable, short-term steps that collaborative groups can take to address priority areas.

Policy and Systems Change: Systems change refers to how organizations or programs — such as school systems or health systems — are connected and work together to improve conditions to make change that lasts. This section contains evidence-informed, actionable, long-term steps that collaborative groups can take to address priority areas.

  • Conduct trainings, distribute informational materials, and hold community events that help audiences to better understand trauma and community resilience. Using a trauma-informed mindset to approach any health goal chosen by Health Councils can strengthen community cohesion and prioritize equity in the pursuit of the health goal. 
  • Host a movie screening of The Resilience Film, a critically acclaimed documentary that discusses how ACEs can be linked to poor health outcomes later in life. Public screenings of the documentary offer an engaging and informative way to introduce the public to ACEs and could initiate a successful public education campaign about the connections between trauma and health outcomes.   
  • Engage local leaders and service providers in discussions about trauma-informed policies and practices within any sector. While each group may carry out these practices differently, the principles of trauma-informed care can benefit workplaces, school districts, government programs, medical facilities, and more. 
  •  Initiate listening sessions with people who have lived through trauma, disaster, or discrimination to increase understanding about the effects of lived trauma on health and life outcomes. Focus on identifying stories that may intersect with community priority areas for the CHIP to better understand the overlap between community health and trauma.  
  • Build community relationships through community meals and service projects. A connected community helps establish a foundation of trust that unites members during difficult times and supports shared interest in community goals. Host events that simultaneously focus on bringing the community together while highlighting a CHIP priority area. 
  • Revitalize neighborhood gathering places, such as a park or community center, to encourage interaction with neighbors outside of home and work. Hosting events such as movie nights or cookouts build community relationships and help residents feel safe seeing their neighbors utilize the space during day and evening hours. that are quick and easy for working families or seniors using groceries available through SNAP and WIC. 
  • Connect with local decision-makers in your community to discuss how you might work together to meet mutual goals by addressing trauma and equity. Facilitate a power mapping exercise to help you determine who has influence and will be most supportive of your ideas. 
  • Support policy initiatives that address root causes of desired health goals. Conduct a root cause analysis to explore the factors that contribute to a particular health challenge for communities. Analyzing root causes can help communities to identify and tackle the underlying causes of health issues, strengthening the community.  Additional tools are available here and here.
  • Adopt Trauma-Informed Workplace policies, which encourage workplaces to commit to trauma-informed principles, such as promoting collaboration and transparency. Trauma-informed workplaces lead to communities skilled at implementing trauma-informed care, increasing community resilience and cohesion.  Health Councils can learn together how to adopt trauma-informed workplace policies in the organizations they represent and can promote trauma-informed policies for their local governments. 
  • Promote a trauma-informed approach in all community plans, including health improvement, economic development, and emergency preparedness plans. Embedding the principles of TIC within community planning ensures that communities take action to promote equity and resilience within standard community plans. 
  • Work with local healthcare providers, schools, and community organizations to adopt a trauma-informed approach to services. This will help ensure that professionals who interact most frequently with the public will be able to realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand paths for recovery; recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in those that they serve; integrate knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and actively avoid re-traumatization. 
  • Enact long-term public education campaigns to engage the public to shift mindsets about developing community resilience. Effective public education campaigns point out a problem while focusing on the solution.  
  • Connect community members to financial assistance programs such as SNAP, WIC, and childcare subsidies. Understanding eligibility, collecting documentation and paperwork, and appropriately applying for government resources is often overwhelming and can stand in the way of accessing care. Providing community resources, workshops, and partnering with organizations that help access these programs can remove this barrier, allowing more individuals to access resources that can lift individuals from poverty and contribute to resilient communities.   
  • Partner with TN Resilient Collaborative, the statewide public education initiative focused on promoting culture change regarding early childhood and preventing and mitigating ACEs. The initiative aims to increase the potential of all children in TN to achieve thriving through public awareness, sustainable funding, and policy change. The collaborative funds community initiatives and projects each fiscal year that support their overall goals and offer a variety of training opportunities to increase public awareness.  

South Cumberland Learning and Development Center

The South Cumberland Learning and Development Center is a one-stop shop for community resources and support located in the Old Grundy County High School in Tracy City, Tennessee. In 2011, a group of collaborators from various sectors came together around the idea of transforming the abandoned high school into a resource hub for community members. Championed by Emily Partin, the planning committee recognized that improving overall health for residents in their county requires resources to meet basic needs, improve mental health, increase job security, and promote physical health. They thought that the recognizable Grundy high school building may be the perfect place for this vision to play out. By bringing together funding from government and private channels, the building was renovated and updated for its new purpose. South Cumberland Learning and Development Center is now home to a variety of services for community members, including:   

  • American Jobs Center 
  • Mental health center 
  • Free medical clinic  
  • Family and Children's Services  
  • SAFE Communities Coalition  
  • Child tutoring   

Community members can pop into to the SCLDC to receive these services, visit their old lockers, or simply say hello to familiar faces in the halls. The project is in the process of renovating the school's gym and second floor to accommodate other resources that will support the community. Through the one-stop shop model housed in a recognizable and beloved community setting, the Tracy City and Grundy County community is able to support communities with necessary resources to improve life conditions and improve health.  

For more information, contact Emily Partin at or check out this news article from 2019 featuring their SCLDC plans.  

Tennessee Department of Health  

  • The Resilient Communities domain of the emergency preparedness office focuses on enhancing the day-to-day health and well-being of communities to reduce harm from disasters. The team supports communities to increase community preparedness for emergencies and community recovery in the aftermath of hardship. Read more about Resilient Communities as a factor of Emergency Preparedness. 
  • The Tennessee Health Disparities Task Force addresses disparities which were highlighted during the pandemic through examining data, monitoring trends, and listening to those living, working, and serving in both minority and vulnerable communities to generate responsive solutions and policies to reduce these disparities.  

Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth

  • Resilient TN Collaborative is the statewide public education initiative focused on promoting culture change to emphasize Positive Childhood Experiences and prevent and mitigate ACEs. The initiative aims to increase the potential of all children in TN to thrive through public awareness, sustainable funding, and policy change. 
  • The Building a Trauma-informed System of Care toolkit was developed through TN’s Building Strong Brains collaborative. It provides a guide on how to begin developing a trauma-informed system of care. Click here to view the toolkit.

Office of Criminal Justice Programs

  • Family Justice Centers are community-wide collaborations of public and private agencies in a centralized location that serve victims of family violence, sexual assault, and elder abuse. The center is one place where families can go to receive wraparound services to promote their safety and well-being, a “one-stop shop” for domestic violence and other victims of crime seeking assistance. See a list of TN counties with Family Justice Centers.

Department of Human Services

  • SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – provides qualifying households with a grocery stipend to support nutrition accessibility. See a list of family assistance offices that support SNAP applications here.
  • The 2 Generation program – 2Gen – focuses on providing a service delivery model that aligns programs towards a “whole family” approach that supports both parent and child. DHS has fully implemented a 2Gen model throughout programming and engages in cross-agency collaborations to promote systems change with the 2Gen model. 

Nurture the Next

East Tennessee State University

  • The ETSU Strong Brain Institute works with organizations to educate employees and individuals served on the effects of traumatic stress and ways to promote resilience. This may include program development, evaluation strategies, grant development, training, and ongoing consultation. 

Chattanooga 2.0

  •  This coalition is committed to ensure youth receive quality education and therefore the opportunity for quality careers. Chattanooga 2.0 provides their strategic plan for 2021-2030 with high impact actions to focus on. The website includes reports and publications such as the 2025 Early Childhood Action Plan.  

Strong Accountable Care Community

  •  STRONG ACC is a collective impact initiative that gathers partners from different sectors to improve the well-being of Northeast TN.  Faith-based groups, educational insutitutions, healthcare organizations, and local businesses come together to work toward resilience and opportunity for the next generation.

BLDG (Build Live Develop Grow) Memphis

  •  Toolkits for leaders and residents who want to make changes to their community environment are provided by BLDG Memphis, a coalition supporting the equitable redevelopment of Memphis neighborhoods.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAHMSA)

Trauma Informed Care Implementation Resource Center

The National Fund for Workforce Solutions

Center for Community Resilience

  • The Center's Resource Page offers various frameworks, webinars, and modules about community resilience and equity, as well as specific information about coalition building and communications. 

Prevention Institute