Jon Clements, Executive Director of Development
Wednesday 6 September 2023
Public inquiries come in different shapes and sizes. Some investigate a single fatal incident, others examine multiple deaths over many years, a complex injustice or a long-standing policy issue or scandal.
There’s no one-size fits all and every inquiry we’ve worked for has had to tailor its approach to its own unique circumstances.
But, in our experience, there’s at least one common force or factor which an inquiry must take into account: trauma.
“Individual trauma results from an event or series of events, or set of circumstances, that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and that has lasting adverse consequences on the individuals functioning and mental, physical, social and emotional or spiritual well-being”.
Defined like this it’s not hard to see how relevant trauma is to a public inquiry.
That’s why we’ve been investing in training on trauma for our communications, engagement and policy specialists who work on public inquiries and reviews. We believe it’s essential that the advice we give and the practical hands-on support we provide to inquiry teams is trauma-informed.
At a recent workshop, Dr Rebekah Eglinton, previously chief psychologist to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), led our team through some of the key themes people experiencing trauma feel and invited us to consider how we’d advise reflecting this in our work.
A feeling that they should have done something to prevent it from happening.
It’s easy to see how relevant these feelings could be to the people whose trust and confidence an inquiry needs to gain - victims and survivors and other core participants, including those from institutions such as hospitals or the emergency services.
Dr Eglinton set out the trauma-informed approach adopted by the IICSA and how trauma can manifest itself in different ways, with a deep-dive on traumatic loss arising from neo-natal bereavement and from non-recent acts of terrorism, for example in Northern Ireland.
We believe it’s important that inquiries seeking to communicate and engage with audiences who may be suffering from traumatic loss or complex grief know that the teams helping them are properly trained and equipped for this unique challenge.
Can they recognise trauma when they see it?
Are they sensitive to language as a potential trigger?
Do they understand the importance of active listening?
Are they thinking of people’s journey through the inquiry process and what they might need to avoid re-traumatisation?
We know from our polling how much value the public places on an inquiry carried out in their name winning the trust and confidence of the people most affected. So we think it’s best for any inquiry to be assured that the people they trust to help them secure this understand the impact and legacy of trauma and are able to reflect it in their work. And we know from our wider work on justice and public safety how important it is that our team can look after themselves too (we’ve written about this before).
In the coming months, we’ll be further developing our trauma-informed approach to inquiry communications and engagement and look forward to sharing more information about this.
Dr Rebekah Eglinton is registered as a practitioner psychologist. She is a Clinical Psychologist specialising in child protection and psychological impacts of trauma. Rebekah has 20 years experience in mental health settings and public protection, working across a range of service contexts including public inquiries. Dr Eglinton was previously chief psychologist to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and is currently consultant clinical psychologist to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.