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Church moves to establish a centralised trauma resource

The Archdiocese of Port of Spain is now one step closer to establishing a centralised resource for trauma healing and care. The move comes 17 months after the submission of a report by the Catholic Care Homes Review Committee (CCHRC) which was set up by Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon in June 2022, to enquire into the quality of care and compliance within residential homes that are registered as Catholic institutions.

Recommendations by the CCHRC included initiatives to assure full compliance by all homes with the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago. The report showed that at the time of assessment, in all cases, there was no evidence of abuse or mismanagement.

However, the committee found that there was systemic inadequacy to cope with the types of traumas experienced by children being placed into care. This served as an impetus to provide better access to training and trauma sensitisation for Catholic organisations and services.

This resource challenge is also consistent with information coming out of the Children’s Authority which coordinates periodic training to caregivers across the care system.

Following the pandemic, Vandana Siew Sankar-Ali, the Authority’s Assessment Manager, had expressed concerns about capacity, “The demand for child protection services far surpasses what any single agency can provide. That is why we need a collaborative approach.”

The Authority has noted that since it became operational in May 2015, it receives between 3,500 to 5,500 reports of child abuse each year. The main types of abuses received are neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse.


What is trauma?

Fr Gerard J McGlone SJ, PhD, a Senior Research Fellow at the Berkley Centre for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, explains trauma and its impact:

Understanding and grasping the very term “trauma” might be helpful. Trauma is exposure to an event or series of events that cause immediate or prolonged distress, emotional disturbances often with life threatening consequences. The short- and long-term effects on children and adults can be debilitating and multifaceted. Naturally occurring events such as accidents, earthquakes, hurricanes, and or natural disasters are traumas. Physical or sexual abuse, neglect, poverty, racism, discrimination, and exposure to crime and violence are other forms of trauma.

At a national level, the increase in societal trauma has reached alarming levels with heightened numbers of domestic incidents and child harm, as well as person-on-person crime. This means that a growing number of people have experienced trauma of some sort and need counselling, support, and healing.

Among recommendations from the CCHRC, the most important one was that a centralised resource for trauma be established to provide a shared -service for trauma referrals, counselling, and training for Catholic organisations.

This led to the appointment by the Archbishop in February 2023 of a separate Committee to establish a Catholic Centre for Trauma Care (CCTC). A team of international and local experts were constitutive of this committee.


Survey and findings

In a cross-cutting survey by the CCTC which included data garnered from the 14 homes as well as data from 16 Catholic organisations, it was determined that on an annual basis, well over 657,000 persons were being served either directly or indirectly by Catholic-based services. The reach is exponentially greater when considered alongside unrecordable informal interactions.

The committee’s findings further underscored the necessity for a centralised system. The recommendation was made to establish a hub for integrating and sharing resources to optimise access to trauma care, educational programming, and counselling services.

The findings also revealed an expansive range and depth of various types of trauma across several settings within key age groups. Children experienced different types of trauma than adults. Teens aged 12-19 seemed to be most impacted, followed closely by pre-teens aged 0-11.

Most instances of trauma are sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. In cases of children in school, neglect and bullying were also causes of trauma.

The report showed trauma impact in five major categories of symptoms: depression, suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem, acting out, and self-harm. Other symptoms included rage attacks, promiscuity, substance abuse, sex/pornography addictions, anxiety, insomnia, and psychosomatic disorders.

Depression, suicidal thoughts, and low self-esteem were most common among school-age children.

These symptoms are prevalent among youth within the school system, with negative effects on learning and the ability to build healthy relationships.

Sharon Mangroo, CEO of the Catholic Education Board of Management explains:

The report of a trauma team that worked with the students of one of our schools revealed that many of the children experience deep trauma in their home lives. Some examples of such experiences are exposure to family violence and death of loved ones that the student felt safe with, such as mother, female relative, teacher or friend. Timely interventions will help students to resolve the impact of these traumas in ways that do not replicate the negative social behaviour experienced in their environments.

Need for resources

The biggest challenge to intervention and treatment across those organisations polled is that the number of persons trained to handle trauma remains very low. Just above 25 per cent of people encountering trauma as caregivers or service providers are properly trained to manage trauma.

Commenting on the recommendations of the Committee, Archbishop Gordon said,

What has been encouraging is that there are several Catholic organisations and groups which are already delivering trauma care to a significant number of persons–and some with replicable success models. Across the wider Church community, there are faith-based therapists, intercessory prayer networks, clerical resources, spiritual directors, retired professionals, teachers, community groups and leaders, that can establish a robust, accessible, geographic network. We believe that we could have a bigger impact if these were delivered as an integrated, shared service.

Given the urgent and immediate need, the CCTC has recommended an initial approach of consolidating resources into a virtual counselling centre with broad geographical reach, and then to build out to a physical space or spaces with on-site counsellors.

Sr Julie Peters SSM, Director of the Franciscan Institute for Personal & Family Development, and elected Assistant General Superior of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother in Rome, is an adviser to the CCTC and describes the importance of establishing a centralised resource for trauma training and counselling.

She said,

Researchers increasingly confirm that childhood trauma generally translates into increased risks for poorer adult physical and mental health issues. I have long believed that developing interventions to avert those outcomes must be a priority in any caring society. I applaud the initiative to expand the scope and efficacy of what already is being done. It is important that we all work together in partnership and collaboration to make this a reality.

Archbishop Gordon recognises that to meet the current need, the centre will have to rely heavily on sponsorship to deliver care and healing to a hurting society. In the months ahead, he hopes to meet with business leaders, government and non-governmental organisations to source qualified persons and funding to sustainably operationalise the centre.

To find out more about how you can support Catholic Trauma Resource & Services (CTRS) please contact Shirley Tappin: