Abstract: Trauma Informed Wayfinding: Advocating for Spatial-Based Practices with Refugee and Migrant Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Trauma Informed Wayfinding: Advocating for Spatial-Based Practices with Refugee and Migrant Youth

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun D, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Irene Routte, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, MI
Background and Purpose: The concept of this paper is based around experiences of delivery of case management services with unaccompanied minors and unaccompanied refugee youth. Through the lens of this practice experience the question arises of how trauma impacts wayfinding and spatial understandings. This paper draws on the connections between ethnographic studies of forced migration and displacement and anthropological understandings of wayfinding as an embodied and sociocultural way of knowing different spaces. Yet wayfinding also includes the manners in which people orient themselves in physical space and navigate place to place including orientation, route decision and monitoring and destination recognition. Recent empirical research has shown that those who have experienced complex trauma and/or PTSD often suffer cognitive impediments that impact spatial navigation, particularly the practice of wayfinding as it connects to egocentric and allocentric spatial processing. Therefore, this paper questions how we hold the role of space and place in our creation of trauma informed practices. Holding together both the embodied socio- cultural ways of knowing space and place together with understandings of the impact of trauma on cognitive function and spatial ability - may contribute to new forms of practice with individuals and communities who have experienced displacement.


This paper uses a critical framework analysis as its main method. A scoping review of studies in the last ten years around trauma and PTSD and cognitive spatial processing was completed. The author then identifies anthropological frameworks on wayfinding, space and place, as well as ethnographic accounts in forced migration identifying and formulating a thematic framework. This framework is applied to the literature on cognitive spatial processing as a way to draw out theoretical orientations for useful practice modalities with those who have experienced displacement.

Conclusion and Implications:

By emphasizing place and space in how we as social work researchers attend to the cognitive impacts of trauma, we can better ask how wayfinding strategies could be included in trauma-informed care. As the paper elaborates, this can be particularly true when working with youth who have experienced complex trauma and prolonged displacement. Confidence in wayfinding for those who have experienced trauma and displacement, may increase social interaction, assist in self-regulation, increase agency and autonomy as well as decrease the potential for further negative cognitive changes. This preliminary research opens up new questions and pathways for addressing the manner in which wayfinding is impacted by trauma, and how these understandings can contribute to furthering social work practice with refugee and migrant youth.