News at WilmU

WilmU Trailblazing Professor Propels Trauma-Informed Approaches Into the Spotlight

Dr. Debra Berke

Dr. Debra Berke

Dr. Debra Berke is marking a milestone, celebrating more than five years since Delaware became a trauma-informed state.  

“This work is so important, and the fact that a lot of agencies, organizations, individuals are recognizing that is amazing. (It’s) truly incredibly valuable,” says Dr. Berke, the director of Wilmington University’s psychology programs and Center for Prevention Science, as well as a professor in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences 

Job loss, violence, racial injustice, accidents, natural disasters, illnesses — some degree of trauma affects almost everyone at some point in their lives. That’s why in October 2018, Delaware Gov. John Carney signed an executive order calling for trauma awareness and training.  

“In the last five years, things have been so chaotic and so divisive that even small things that before people may have been able to manage stress-wise have just been magnified,” Dr. Berke says.  

Studies show individuals who experience trauma at any age may suffer long-lasting effects. Organizations using a trauma-informed approach promote productivity, resilience, strengths, and healing, and prevent re-traumatization in both employees and clients. 

“The vision is to help all Delawareans to not just survive but thrive.” — Dr. Debra Berke

“It’s a shift in mindset. It’s a shift in the way we think about approaching and working with individuals,” Dr. Berke says. “It helps us understand why people might be reacting the way they react (and) how we can be more effective in our interactions with them.” 

A 2023 report examined the initiative’s effectiveness, giving the state “a comprehensive view of this important work over the last five years — and where more work needs to be done,” Dr. Berke says. “The vision is to help all Delawareans to not just survive but thrive.” 

One key success has been initiating trauma-informed care training at state and outside agencies, such as the Department of Health and Social Services, Department of Labor, Choir School of Delaware, Henrietta Johnson Medical Center and Catholic Charities. Delaware also hosted its fifth annual Trauma Awareness Month and Compassionate Champion Awards, which honor people and organizations excelling at trauma-informed services. Past winners include the Wilmington University team (Dr. Berke, Adjunct Professor Marilyn Siebold and Adjunct Dr. Rebecca Ghabour). 

Serving as the “backbone for trauma work” is Trauma Matters Delaware, a nonprofit hub for education and advocacy. Dr. Berke, a board member, joined the organization in its grassroots days.  

Erin Mitchell

Erin Mitchell

“Dr. Berke’s involvement has been absolutely critical,” says Erin Mitchell, the executive director. “Her expertise, her perspective, her level of intellect really brings a richness to Trauma Matters Delaware.” 

Dr. Berke also leads the Higher Education Workgroup, “equipping our students to be empowered and be able to navigate their journey,” Mitchell says. “Her working group actually produces products that we can use as resources and other schools can look to as models.” 

Wilmington University is at the forefront of trauma-informed care, offering an Undergraduate Certificate in Trauma-Informed Approaches and a Graduate Certificate in Trauma and Resilience along with training for students, faculty and staff. 

Dr. Laverne Harmon

“We are committed to serving Delaware and the surrounding region, and we have purposefully aligned our institutional priorities to support this strategic initiative,” says Dr. LaVerne Harmon, Wilmington University’s president. 

Likewise, Dr. Berke is dedicated to making a difference inside WilmU and out. 

“I’m passionate about creating, sustaining a workforce for a society that is resilient and strength-based,” she says. “Together we work to make Delaware and the world a better, safer place.” 

Wilmington University logoGain the skills needed to promote trauma-informed care with a certificate from Wilmington University’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. 

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