Collecting demographics from clients in crisis

I’m interning in a victims’ services role at an organization, and the staff have been hesitant to collect demographic data from the victims/survivors that they serve. However, they are hoping to operationalize the collection of this information for the purpose of grant-writing and reporting. The staff worry that asking traumatized clients questions about their demographics will seem insensitive when supporting them during their time of crisis. I’m wondering if anyone has seen about resources specific to trauma-informed approaches to collecting demographics or ways to frame the request for the information that won’t be offputting? Thanks for any input on this!


Hi Susan,
I work in a human services org and our team was able to find a way to help the staff get a little more information from our clients and also respect their wariness to share. We ended up with a 2-part intake form, where the top third asks sort of bare-minimum questions and the bottom begins with the statement “The following questions are optional, but help us connect you to programs and services.” I don’t know what percentage of forms are partially vs all the way completed, but I do know that we have very basic info for almost everyone that comes in now. Perhaps something like that might work? We also make it super clear that folks don’t need to answer, but lots of times they do. Your bare minimum questions can be whatever you like. We have found that sharing details is usually more re-traumatizing, but asking basic demographics is generally more expected and received well by clients.

Examples of top half/required questions:
What would you like us to call you if you don’t want to share your legal name?
What is your birth year if you don’t want to share the full date?
What are your immediate health, behavioral health, or safety needs?
Do you want to speak with someone on our health team?

Optional questions are race, gender, contact info, ongoing health concerns we should be aware of etc.
It’s not the same context, but I can see about sharing our form if that is of interest.

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Hello Susan,
This is a topic that is front and center for our work in the Oregon Dept. of Human Services as well. In fact I’m leading a “How to ask questions…” training in a couple of weeks. It is a first attempt at addressing these questions so we’ll see what happens!?
In addition to drawing on some excellent colleagues’ material, I have found the attached pdf helpful.
Feel free to share helpful resources!
Our-Identities-Ourselves-Frontline-Workers- (CSSP materials).pdf (1.1 MB)



Not an expert, but I’ve worked in infant mortality and have had to phrase very sensitive and difficult questions. A few tips I’ve learned:

  • Explaining why you’re asking the question. I’ve phrased things like this:
    “This next section asks you about your background. We ask everyone this because when we can show who we are helping, it helps us get more funding to help more people. If you don’t want to answer, feel free to skip.”

  • Using plain language at an appropriate reading level (7th grade-ish or lower). is a good resource to check the reading level of questions.

  • Pilot testing. If you have any connections to former clients who you can pay to consult with you and give you feedback on questions, that is a great way to hone your collection to your audience.


Thank you so much @ralebeau @matthewfriesen @ccadenhead for the excellent resources. These should really help.

I would second the suggestion to be very explicit in plain-spoken language about why the data is being collected. The person you’re collecting data from has already experienced a power-related trauma and emphasizing that you will collect data in a power-aware manner is critical.

Thanks again for so much excellent resources.

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