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Trauma-informed practice in research

Insights Perspective


Jess Hull, Manager

Thursday 9 May 2024

At Crest Advisory, we value the ability of our research team to embed trauma-informed practice into our ways of working, and understand that this requires we give our researchers the time and space for this to be done right, from the very start. We have commissioned training from external providers for our public inquiries team and our research and consultancy teams within the past year to ensure these approaches are embedded at every stage - from project design to delivery. 

In this blog, Jess Hull describes how the principles of trauma-informed practice were applied in Crest’s latest research, funded by the Hadley Trust. 

Putting principles into practice

Crest has released its latest research report, funded by the Hadley Trust, which has gathered evidence on how trauma-informed practice is understood and applied in youth justice services. The research has a focus on how trauma-informed practices are applied with young people who have been involved, or are at risk of involvement, in serious violence offending. 

When designing our research methods, it was essential that we demonstrate the principles of trauma-informed practice within our own engagement with children and young people. This meant centering the principles of trauma-informed practice: trustworthiness, safety, choice, collaboration, empowerment, and cultural consideration at each stage of research design and delivery. 

Co-design session

An important part of getting our approach to these interviews right was a co-design session with the YouthInk Peer navigators group at Southwark YJS. The co-design session was an opportunity for us to test our planned approach to interviews with the group, which included young people supported by YouthInk and volunteer peer navigators with lived experience of the criminal justice system, and get their input on how to ensure that interviews were as comfortable and accessible for young people as possible. We held the co-design session as part of an existing YouthInk meeting, to fit with the group’s schedule. 

As a result of this co-design, we adapted our planned approach to build in more creative ways for young people to share their experience with us - including the option to create a visual timeline. We also adapted some of the language used in our discussion guides to ensure that interviews and topics were accessible for young people. 

Safety and support

Ensuring that each young person felt safe and comfortable throughout the interview process was paramount. Before each interview, Crest liaised with the caseworker of each young person who had expressed an interest in participating in the research to discuss the suitability of the young person doing an interview, as well as any relevant triggers or topics to avoid with that young person. 

We offered an introductory call with each young person before their interview; this was an opportunity for the lead interviewer to introduce themselves, and explain the purpose of the research and what the young person could expect from the interview. It was also a chance for the young person to ask any questions about the interview. Each young person who chose to have an introductory call was supported by their case worker during this call. Parental or guardian consent to participate was gained from all young people under the age of 16, as well as young people over the age of 16 where appropriate. All young people were asked to give consent following an explanation of the purpose of the interview, and privacy notice. 

Interviews were held in-person wherever possible and practical for the young person, at a neutral and safe location - usually in a familiar room at the youth justice service. Each young person was supported in the interview by a trusted adult - this could be the young person’s caseworker, peer navigator - who was able to provide support to the young person during and after the interview. A protocol for handling disclosures was agreed with each young person’s caseworker in advance of each interview. Following each interview, young people were provided with an information sheet with information on support services that they could access if needed.

Agency and empowerment

Interviews with young people were semi-structured, and focused on their experiences of the youth justice service - including relationships with caseworkers, activities and support they had received, and reflections on the impact of this support. Importantly, we did not ask young people about their offending behaviour, or anything outside of the parameters of youth justice service support. We explained the topics we would cover (and not cover) clearly to each young person before each interview, and reminded them before and throughout that they could skip any question if they didn’t want to answer, or pause or end the interview at any time without giving a reason. Taking this approach was important to ensuring that each young person had agency over their story and experience, and control over the topics that they chose to discuss and share. 

At the end of each interview, we shared a QR link with each young person, which they could access to provide anonymous feedback on how they had found the interview - including anything that they would have liked us to have done differently. Providing feedback in this way was optional, but was an important way to ensure that each young person was able to communicate directly with the research team regarding how they had found the experience of being involved in research. 

To acknowledge and thank each young person for their time, and for sharing their experience with our research team, we provided remuneration in the form of a £40 voucher for a shop of their choice. 

Impact on research

Demonstrating good practice in trauma-informed research design was as valuable as the findings themselves. Applying trauma-informed principles to our research design and delivery allowed us to improve the accuracy of our findings, by understanding how young people would prefer to engage in the research, and ensuring that they felt comfortable enough to share their views and experience. 


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