At the end of October we welcomed back Tony Bloemendaal with his colleague Roland Verdow to Scotland to support us as we explored trauma-sensitive care giving and workforce wellbeing.


For us at Staf this was the next step in a journey we started some two years ago learning more about trauma and attachment and how a well-supported workforce is essential in our sectors ability to love and care for our young people.


We know that services across Scotland are providing services to young people who are often traumatised and have faced a disproportionate level of adversity in their young lives. We also know that workers who build relationships with young people come with their own histories and stories which may contain trauma and adversity of their own.


It’s important of course to begin with an understanding of core principles of neurodevelopment and neuroscience so the first session focused on how our brains mediate all of thoughts feelings, actions and connections to others and the world. By better understanding this, Tony and Roland argue, we can better understand ourselves and others.


But what is that shapes us a person? Nature or nurture? Tony explained that we are nothing without both – we require both and are products of both. It is not a competition but a dance.


With this understanding, we looked at the impact of relational trauma and neglect on human development. Tony and Roland explained that exposure to unpredictable, severe and prolonged stress can lead to vulnerability but stress that is predictable, moderate and controlled builds resilience.


Dr Bruce Perry’s six core strengths of healthy child development, explored in the video below, showed us how the work we all do impacts on the recovery of traumatised young people – turning the focus away from adversity and an ACE score to connectedness.


Here’s Dr Bruce Perry discussing the six core strengths of healthy child development.



Tony and Roland were clear that connectedness is the key – our relational wealth or relational poverty is a better predictor of our health than our history of adversity. Indeed, as Tony Bloemendaal stated, "Experiencing relational wealth is the only antidote to adversity."


This really powerful video was shown by our speakers, demonstrating the importance of connectedness.



With an understanding of the neuroscience of development, stress and relational wealth, Tony and Roland then explored how we can use ‘trauma-sensitive caregiving’ as a model for caring for ourselves as we care for young people.


But what is trauma-sensitive care giving and how do we use it in our own individual contexts?


Trauma-sensitive care giving aims to prevent the unintentional negative influence of the care givers own developmental history of the care givers contact with the young people they ae supporting. This is in recognition that those who support young people can suffer from vicarious trauma and also potentially be reminded of traumatic incidents which might exist in their own histories.


What does this mean for care givers? Supporting delegates to think about the characteristics of a good care giver Tony and Roland shared some of the work they are doing with their teams which has led to staff feeling more supported in their roles.

Tony Bloemendaal talked about how to begin this work with the workforce, they had to first begin by creating ‘safety’ for staff. This process took longer than they anticipated – a year – but the result was that staff were able to develop their own initiatives for creating opportunities to regulate in the care environment. This recognises that you cannot provide the best level of support to the person you are working with if your own relational health is low.  


In concluding, Tony reiterated one of the fundamental messages of the day: “Any investment in staff pays off one thousand fold.” In short, if we support the wellbeing of the workforce, we can ensure young people have the care and love they deserve.


If you want to find out more about our work on trauma or relationships, or would like us to provide training or consultancy services on the issue then please speak to our Head of Learning and Development, Pamela Graham.