Trauma-informed Eval Week: Situating Yourself in Trauma-informed Evaluation by Lisa Raphael

Lisa Raphael
Lisa Raphael

My name is Lisa Raphael, and I am an independent consultant. Until recently, much of my work has not explicitly considered trauma in the evaluation process. This is partly due to the fact that most education funding is tied to academic achievement and ignores other more holistic aspects of healthy child development.My own narrative has shaped my relationship with trauma and the space it holds in my evaluation practice. Although mental health trauma dominated my family (e.g., my uncle’s suicide, etc..), as a young person, I was told to never talk about these challenges with anyone outside of the family. As an undergraduate, I remember a psychology professor who emphasized the “neutral” researcher. The bottom line — leave your authentic self at home.

As a white woman, my privilege enables me to set aside trauma when it’s uncomfortable. Because trauma is situated racially and collectively, as well as individually, my evaluation practice has reinforced power and privilege, causing harm, even if unintentionally. I remember an interview I conducted with a school administrator, a member of the Navajo nation. She noted how white evaluators often visit the community, diagnose the problem, and then leave. I often replay this conversation in my mind – thinking about the footprint others have left and the footprint I leave. I think about how evaluation often adds to and compounds existing traumas.

When I led evaluation for Communities In Schools (CIS) of Central Texas, I landed directly into trauma-focused conversations. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, at least two thirds of all children have experienced trauma by age 16. Each school year, CIS staff (predominantly social workers and counselors) assess student needs, plan services, and determine progress at the end of the school year. When the state education agency introduced new assessment guidelines, I facilitated a participatory process involving program leaders, staff, and students around how certain items could retraumatize students. For example, the Clinical Coordinator shared that items such as “I get in trouble” could trigger traumatic responses in PK-2 students. Our redesigned assessment carefully considered potential trauma responses to specific items as well as the manner in which CIS staff introduced the assessment and asked questions. We created examples of follow-up questions and developed strategies for responding to triggered students.

Although I am still stepping in and out of my discomfort with trauma, I strongly believe that trauma must center our evaluation work. Ignoring trauma of any kind is harmful. My current journey involves establishing new partnerships with organizations that focus specifically on trauma-informed care for mental wellness.

Hot Tips:

Reflect on these questions. How has trauma shaped your practice? What have you ignored? What have you paid attention to, and why? How does your personal narrative affect how trauma shows up (or doesn’t show up) in your evaluation work? When trauma sits outside your practice, how does your evaluation work cause harm?

Rad Resources:

Relationship building and power balancing in research with Native Youth

Trauma-informed evaluation that empowers all individuals

This week, AEA365 is hosting Trauma-informed Eval Week during which blog authors share lessons from and principles of trauma-informed evaluation. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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