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CARE model emphasizes grace, focuses on healing child's pain

Children laughing making paper boats at lake

The class gathered and took their seats. Twelve Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) staff members settled in to begin a week-long training. Cornell University’s Frank Kuhn was presenting CARE (Children and Residential Experiences), the model of care BCH adopted for use in residential cottages.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is not going to work,’” Mills Home residential services supervisor Rusty Bunker says. “I thought this guy had lost his mind.”

Bunker sat through the first two days somewhat defiantly. But each evening, he would dig into the day’s material, examining and researching, and return the next morning with a list of questions.

“My mindset was changing; I wanted to understand,” he recalls.

By Friday of that week, he was a convert. Bunker had been a childcare professional since 1996. He had been trained at every agency where he served. His heart was in the right place and he thought he understood the best way to help a child. He set boundaries and believed “the way” was rewarding a child for following the rules and passing out consequences when rules were ignored.

That’s what he thought until CARE changed his method of helping children.

“What won me over is how it aligns itself with Scripture,” he says. “What we do with CARE demonstrates grace. It depicts the importance of relationship – like the relationship God desires to have with each of us.”

In the eight years since adopting CARE, it has become a way not only to promote healing but also to share Christ with children and families.

Bunker says CARE drives home the importance of relationship. He said one must take on a mindset that is more long suffering because the focus is on the “why” of a child’s acting out. The focus changes from “what is wrong with you” and becomes “what has happened to you.”

When a child feels safe, less threatened, a child wants to learn and trust the caregiver more. CARE changes the caregiver’s focus to understanding the child.

“I grew up in a strict home and learned right from wrong,” Bunker says. “But the pain I carried as a child after being abused tore at me.”

Bunker remembers feeling the shame and thinking he could have done something to avoid the abuse. “I thought it was my fault. I acted out because of my pain. I understood the punishment I experienced was because of my pain.”

With CARE, a child is helped to meet and realize expectations. It is done by building on a child’s successes and not becoming mired in his failures.

“You realize that not every child knows how to sweep, clean his room, or even bathe,” Bunker says. “Once a child learns and understands an expectation, then he can succeed. A child’s behavior may be perfectly understandable once you learn where that child comes from, what experiences he has endured, and what environment he comes out of.”

Bunker says children learn to scream, fuss and fight because they are hurting inside. Children need someone to stand beside them and help with the pain.

“We learn not to condone actions,” he says, “but we focus our attention on understanding a behavior. A child may act out simply as an expression of fear.”