Trauma-Informed America: What are Cross-Sector Community Coalitions & How Can Congress Support?

By CTIPP’s Dan Press & Jen Curt


The bipartisan, bicameral Resilience Investment, Support, and Expansion (RISE) from Trauma Act authorizes a new grant program to fund “Trauma and Resilience-Related Coordinator Bodies.”


This grant program, Section 101 of the bill, would be cost-saving, life-saving, and successful at tackling issues that the current siloed approaches have failed to decrease: overdose and suicide epidemics, workforce turnover, increased school suspensions, heart disease, cancer, and many more.


Why Trauma-Informed?


In their 1998 study, Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control revealed a powerful correlation between ten specific forms of childhood trauma – called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – and behavioral, health, and social problems.


ACEs include experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect and growing up in a household with domestic violence, substance use, or an incarcerated family member, among others. ACEs and developmental adversity cause an oversupply of stress hormones in the bloodstream.


How does one deal with chronic stress and overwhelming adversity? Without supportive, trusting relationships or healthy opportunities to cope, people are vulnerable to negative coping skills. Across the population, high ACE prevalence is correlated with suicide, substance use, poor school and work performance, incarceration, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, to name a few.


The good news is that social scientists and practitioners have identified solutions.


Trauma-informed strategies mean increasing protective factors for children that help them weather stress. These include having positive adults in their lives educated in trauma, supportive afterschool programming, and mental health resources that teach mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and other healthy coping skills.


These trauma-informed practices have been proven to reduce suspensions in schools, referrals to law enforcement, and health and educational outcomes for children.


The best outcomes result from the cumulative effects of the entire community and every sector becoming trauma-informed through an integrated cross-sector approach.


What is a Cross-Sector Community Coalition?


Researchers, practitioners, local organizations, agencies, and whole communities in our network have been developing trauma-informed solutions grounded in science and data. We have learned that trauma-informed science is most effective when it works across sectors instead of reinforcing the siloed approaches.


By itself, no single sector can solve the problems caused by trauma. While the sectors may be siloed institutionally, they are not siloed in people’s lives. Young people may move from the school system to the law enforcement system to the health system. If that child receives trauma-informed treatment in one of those systems, but not the others, the effectiveness of the trauma-informed approach is significantly reduced. Therefore, a trauma-informed approach must involve an integrated, cross-sector community-wide effort.


Cross sector community coalitions bring together diverse entities and individuals across sectors to create a shared language and understanding about trauma, coordinate strategies and services around prevention, intervention and treatment, and provide maximum support for children, families, and the community.


A growing number of people and organizations in every sector are knowledgeable about trauma science, interested in serving as trauma-informed advocates, and ready to mobilize in coalition participation.


Our workshop series on trauma-informed programs drew in more than 3,000 people from every corner of the country – from housing, child welfare, substance use treatment, and juvenile legal system representatives to large employers, parents, and teachers.


Cross-Sector Community Coalitions Work


Community-wide cross-sector coalitions are being built nationwide and have been proven successful. Presently, there are hundreds of coalitions, including:

  • New Jersey Statewide: The New Jersey Office of Resilience, housed within the Department of Children and Families, collaborates with stakeholders and community partners to improve outcomes for New Jersey children, youth, and families. They created a microgrant program to fund a wide range of community-based efforts to give power to the people impacted the most and mobilize grassroots engagement. The New Jersey ACEs Action Plan sets forth a path toward making New Jersey a trauma-informed and healing-centered state.

  • Pennsylvania Statewide: Resilient PA and Heal PA strive to foster resilient youth, families, and communities through promoting trauma-informed care and systems across sectors and promoting efforts to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors for youth and families to break cycles of family and community trauma. Resilient PA serves as the grassroots connector for local Trauma-Informed Coalitions and the communications vehicle out into communities. Heal PA is a collection of over 100 volunteers from various fields, geographies, ethnicities, and life experiences, including several former think tank members and multiple trauma survivors, assembled to serve on 13 action teams focused on implementing the Trauma-Informed PA plan.

  • Washington State Self Healing Communities Model: Between 1994-2011, the Washington State Family Policy Council implemented an education and community engagement plan that ultimately saved the state over $1.1 billion in health care, law enforcement, social services, and other costs, a return on investment of 35 times what was spent on the community coalitions. In one county, births to teen mothers decreased 62%, infant mortality decreased 43%, youth suicide and suicide attempts went down 98%, youth arrests for violent crime dropped 53%, and high school dropout rates decreased by 47%.

  • Ocean State Trauma-Informed Community Coalition (OSTICC), Rhode Island: Developed a collaborative of community stakeholders to provide the vision, organization, training, and leadership to actively promote an understanding of trauma-informed approaches and how to create a more welcoming community across the state of Rhode Island. OSTICC engages interested community members and stakeholders in Open Forum Meetings, by serving on Work Groups and Committees, and participating in relevant projects and programs.

  • Pottstown Trauma-Informed Community Connection (PTICC), Pennsylvania: Conducts community-based training in trauma awareness and trauma-informed practices, builds trauma-responsive service networks, develops community-wide messaging about trauma, and infuses trauma-informed practices in the school district. Eight sectors are represented on the steering committee and nearly 200 community partners at quarterly meetings.

  • Rural Opportunity Institute, North Carolina: Supports healing processes by educating, reshaping systemic practices, and fostering deep-rooted connections. Through deep listening and community engagement, Rural Opportunity Institute identified that the current system moves away from healing trauma because it segregates and isolates people in trauma. The Institute has a cross-sector training collaborative, a community accountability board, and design insights group of diverse community members, and other initiatives to engage community voice in developing solutions to heal the trauma experienced at the individual, family, and community level.

  • Fairfax County Trauma-Informed Community Network (TICN), Virginia: The Partnership for a Healthier Fairfax initiative is a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency effort to implement and support trauma-informed care initiatives across the Human Service System. Membership is open to anyone and creates a mechanism for collaboration and sharing information and resources among community members and stakeholders.

  • South Texas Trauma-Informed Care Consortium: A collaboration with over 750 members and 300 organizations, led by The Children’s Shelter, Voices for Children, and the City of San Antonio Metro Health Department. The consortium brings together community partners across all sectors committed to addressing the impact of trauma. The consortium’s initial priorities include gathering data to understand community needs, connecting with existing coalitions within the community, developing community training, and creating an advocacy plan.

The Status Quo is Not Working


The most significant barrier to creating coalitions in every state and community is the lack of reliable and sufficient funding. Time and time again, coalitions that operate on volunteer labor see extremely positive results, and yet, without dedicated, full-time staff, they soon run out of steam. Coalitions that begin with a one-time state or federal grant struggle to find replacement funding and are also commonly forced to shut down within the year.


ACEs cost the United States over $748 billion a year in lost productivity, and they are a major underlying cause of over 650,000 deaths a year in the United States. Since the 1998 ACEs study, Congress has failed to provide cross-sector community coalition funding, which is scientifically proven to address the nation’s most extensive health and social problems like opioid addiction, suicide, and heart disease.


Congress spends billions of dollars every year to address each of the issues that have trauma as a major underlying cause. Failing to direct funds to the primary underlying cause of the problem – trauma – means these investments are not yielding the results the American public needs.


The Path Forward on Section 101


Section 101 of the bipartisan, bicameral RISE from Trauma Act includes essential funding for cross-sector coalitions to address trauma through grants of up to $6 million for four years. Whether through the annual appropriations legislation, priority packages, or passing the standalone bill, CTIPP and our campaign of advocates in all 50 states stand ready to help get this funding across the finish line and into communities.