Trauma-Informed Architecture is Becoming a Reality

Architect drawing with ruler on house plan

I was recently asked to speak to a group of architects about how trauma-informed care can be featured in secure youth program facilities. I presented a national lunch-and-learn which demonstrated how to bridge programmatic elements of trauma-informed care to building design for youth facilities.

It is unusual to find engineers and architects who are interested in such a venture. Yet with so many systems of care demanding something different as they are investing in projects and designs that need to be constructed, the reality of trauma-informed facilities are beginning to take root all over the country.

I created a presentation to educate an entire state about this option for a secure juvenile justice state-wide facility. I was so impressed to sense the energy, the passion and the hard work of these designers and architects as they were eager to join in on building a model trauma-informed facility for kids to have more appropriate surroundings benefitting them in overcoming the intense trauma they endured.

What we know is that it is not just about creating a facility and an environment. It is about changing the entire approach to how we manage kids who have found themselves in dire circumstances to the point that they committed criminal and/or dangerous acts. They need to escape their life circumstances and live in a new environment that is sensitive to their trauma history, their need for sensory regulation, their ability to identify the impact of their trauma and to process it in such a way that they are attuned and aware of its impact. 

What also is essential is to provide training to the staff in these facilities so they can sustain the approach over time. Buildings house the program and staff implements the program. If a program design is not contextual and the staff not trained to know how to help kids in regulating their emotions and behaviors, then a newly designed building is of little use. 

I always enjoy building replicable models that will genuinely change our systems of care! We need to provide opportunities for youth to become aware of the impact of their life trauma, to learn how to cope, manage their emotions and behavior and find a path to healing and hope.  In that process, we need to bring together a unique and safe facility design. That design needs to have an approach that will facilitate this process and a staff that are trained and equipped to teach, process and provide hope to our kids. This can be an exciting opportunity to make a huge difference in the lives of our youth. I feel extremely privileged to be a potential part of the process.

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