Creating a trauma-informed youth ministry requires intentionality, compassion, and a commitment to learning and growth.
Jamie Aten and Kent Annan
Christian youth leaders have been called to love and serve the next generation. Unfortunately, many young people have experienced trauma that may profoundly affect their emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. A trauma-informed youth ministry can create a safe and healing environment for all students.
Below are several practical, research-based recommendations to help those who serve teenagers and young adults understand and respond to trauma. As our congregations strive to be compassionate and loving communities, let’s also seek to understand and support those who have experienced trauma.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we are comforted by God.” - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
A trauma-informed youth ministry understands trauma and its effects on young people.
Trauma is an event or experience that overwhelms a person's ability to cope. Various situations such as abuse, neglect, violence, natural disasters, or loss can cause it. Trauma affects individuals differently and can cause long-lasting emotional and psychological symptoms.
Here are some fundamental principles to keep in mind:
Trauma is not the fault of the person who experiences it.
Trauma affects every part of a person—including his or her emotions, thoughts, and behavior.
Trauma can be healed through supportive relationships and treatment.
Trauma survivors need safety, control, and empowerment to heal.
Creating a Safe Space
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” - Psalm 18:2
A safe and supportive environment is essential for youth who’ve experienced trauma. Here are some recommendations for creating a safe space:
· Be welcoming and non-judgmental.
· Use positive and encouraging language.
· Create clear and consistent boundaries.
· Allow for choices and autonomy.
· Be attentive to triggers and offer coping strategies.
· Encourage healthy relationships and boundaries.
“The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” - Nahum 1:7
Building trust is crucial for youth who have experienced trauma. Here are some recommendations for building trust:
· Be honest and transparent.
· Respect confidentiality.
· Follow through on commitments.
· Be reliable and consistent.
· Focus on strengths and progress.
· Validate emotions and experiences.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by renewing your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” - Romans 12:2
Youth who’ve experienced trauma may display various behaviors that can be difficult to understand. Here are some recommendations for understanding behaviors:
· Recognize that behaviors are a coping mechanism.
· Look for patterns and triggers.
· Be patient and compassionate.
· Provide structure and routine.
· Offer alternatives to negative behaviors.
· Seek professional help when necessary.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 4:7
Supporting healing is a crucial aspect of a trauma-informed youth ministry. Here are some recommendations for supporting recovery:
· Encourage self-care and healthy coping strategies.
· Provide opportunities for creative expression.
· Foster positive relationships and social support.
· Offer trauma-focused therapies or referrals to professionals.
· Incorporate mindfulness and relaxation techniques.
· Create a culture of resilience and hope.
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” - Philippians 4:13
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and thrive despite difficult circumstances. Here are some recommendations for promoting resilience:
· Encourage positive self-talk and a growth mindset.
· Offer opportunities for leadership and personal development.
· Provide meaningful community service opportunities.
· Foster a sense of belonging and purpose.
· Incorporate spiritual practices and faith-based support.
· Celebrate successes and milestones.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” - Romans 15:13
Creating a trauma-informed youth ministry requires intentionality, compassion, and a commitment to learning and growth. By understanding trauma, creating safe spaces, building trust, understanding behaviors, supporting healing, and promoting resilience, we can create a community that fosters growth, healing, and hope. As we seek to love and serve the next generation, let us be a community that honors and supports youth by showing them God’s love and mercy.
The Better Samaritan podcast is produced by the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, which offers a M.A. in Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership and a Trauma Certificate. To learn more and apply, visit our website.
Jamie Aten, Ph.D., and Kent Annan, M.Div. co-direct the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College and are also the co-founders of Spiritual First Aid.