Systems-Induced Trauma

System-Induced Trauma is a relatively newly-coined term within the mental health field. It can be defined simply as “exposure to traumatic systems,” or as “situations in which organized systems create trauma, including those designed to mitigate trauma” (Stewart, 2021; Lucero and West, 2017). These systems can include the criminal legal system, foster care system, school system, shelter systems, and the healthcare system. System trauma can be caused by: having police show up to an incident with the fear of being murdered, being forcibly removed from your home, the stress of not reporting to work or school, testifying or being present in court as a victim or a witness and repeating the facts of the a crime and being challenged on the validity, the isolation, neglect, and mental and physical harm that can occur in correction facilities and foster care placements, living with complete strangers, having multiple placements, potential for physical and sexual abuse, the neglect, dismissal, and misdiagnoses by the professionals meant to care for you, consistent suspensions and expulsions with little alternatives to finishing school, and being forced to comply with medication management. Navigating multiple systems throughout a lifetime can compound the impacts of this type of trauma. 

If you are a uniformed person that arrives at incidents, a case manager that decides the safety and well-being of children, or clinicians working with high-need clients, I challenge you to consider the fears and anxieties of the people you’re serving. I also challenge you to not be afraid to ask the family, the client, the person in crisis what they need at that moment. Reflect on how your decisions as the professional will impact the client and their families. Trauma-informed care is a term used in many fields and the goals are to recognize when the effects of trauma are showing up for clients and how to mitigate causing any more harm. Trauma-informed care will look different within the different realms of community support and helping professions. However, the goal for all of us should be to not cause any more harm. 


Lucero, K., & West, K. (2017, December 20). Moving Towards a Trauma‐Responsive Practice in Treatment Court Teams. San Diego; California Courts The Judicial Branch of California. 

Steward, N. (2021, January 29). What is system-induced trauma? Continued Social Work. Retrieved August 17, 2022, from

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