Creating psychological safety within a large family violence crisis service

Organisational case study: Safe Steps

Wednesday, 23 November 2022 at 5:49 am

After going through a period of significant change, Safe Steps decided to embrace a person-centred trauma and violence-informed model. To achieve this, the workforce and its leaders received training in trauma-informed principles in early 2020. Enhancing everyone’s understanding of trauma and violence-informed systems, particularly at the leadership level, has positively impacted workforce wellbeing.

To commence the cultural shift, Safe Steps facilitated a group discussion about the behaviours that signalled that workers and managers were becoming dysregulated and operating outside the window of tolerance (a term used to describe normal body/brain reactions to high stress and adversity with the window being within our optimal arousal level). Grounding mantras such as ‘reactive to responsive’ and ‘assumptions to curiosity’ arose from these discussions. The group acknowledged the importance of being able to sit with the unknown and remaining contained within chaos and uncertainty. Describing what was occurring helped people to connect to their experience and develop a mutual understanding.

Central to the cultural shift was also an understanding of attachment concepts of ‘secure base’ and ‘safe haven’. Workers and managers agreed that these approaches help to contain fears and anxieties and assist in keeping the workforce regulated. Managers acknowledged the importance of adopting a ‘bigger, stronger, wiser and kinder’ approach. This approach was grounded in a culture where triggers were openly discussed, and self-reflection are actively encouraged.

Through this process, Safe Steps was able to recognise the importance of conversations and narratives. Discussions among the workforce highlighted that psychological safety is enhanced when we recognise our own assumptions and biases and can be genuinely curious to help people make sense of diverse perspectives.

Safe Steps accepts that workers and work environments will have different wellbeing needs and preferences. To accommodate this, workers are asked how they like to receive support and feedback and offered a variety of supports such as live supervision and informal debriefing. This notion of ‘power with’ rather than ‘power over’ is central to all their relationships.

Safe Steps gauges the success of these initiatives based on the current climate. There have been far fewer complaints from service users and less interpersonal issues for HR to manage. Perhaps more importantly when a worker approaches HR for support, their understanding of what might assist and the openness to having discussions has improved dramatically.