Imagine there is no escape. It’s uncomfortable to do. In fact, we strive to be alert and to always have some control. There is something within each of us telling us of threats that swirl around us. We are primed to “be prepared,” “drive defensively” and “stop, look, and listen.” When confronted by a threat, our hearts begin to race, our muscles tighten, our breathing becomes rapid. Our minds and bodies respond by either preparing to fight or flee. Trauma occurs when these options are taken away, when we are powerless to change our circumstances.
People experience some level of trauma in their lifetimes –– an automobile accident, the death of someone with whom we are very close, being fired from a job, losing a home and belongings to fire or flood. Although there is great emotional pain, most are able to return to some level of normalcy in time.
Children who come to live at Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) have suffered a wide array of trauma –– violence, abuse, neglect. BCH has utilized a program model called CARE (Children and Residential Experiences) for more than eight years to better respond to the children in care who have experienced trauma.
“The CARE model emphasizes the ‘what,’” says Sandy Perry, BCH’s Statewide Director of Family Interventions and Training. “To effectively help a child who has experienced trauma, one must begin by asking questions. ‘What has happened to this child?’ ‘What has he/she experienced?’ ‘What pain is the child feeling emotionally and mentally?’”
CARE stresses that each child is unique and embraces an “attitude of understanding.”
Perry says all behavior has meaning. Something that may be perceived as “bad” behavior can be a good place to begin asking questions.
“It’s like an iceberg,” says cottage parent Roy Bingley. “What you see is only one
tenth of an issue. That one tenth is revealed through a child’s behavior. The ninety percent below the surface is where the pain resides.”
All behavior has meaning. Some behavior is disruptive. It can be loud and impact the other children in care. And other behavior is more private. A child may withdraw from the others in a cottage, show signs of depression, or neglect everyday routines like personal hygiene.
Disruptive behavior may actually be a coping device. BCH’s trained staff members discover that the child’s “normal” is living in chaos with noise. His behavior attempts to recreate that environment. Often after tensions have heightened, one may see the child relax and turn his attention to other activities.
Another child neglects bathing and personal hygiene. It is discovered that her behavior developed as a coping defense to ward off attention.
Finding the “what” for the pain is the starting place in helping a child who has faced trauma.
“Terrible horrors have been brought upon these children,” says cottage parent Sandra Bingley. “Being aware of the trauma in their lives is essential. We must open our eyes to their pain, step beside these children, and love them like Jesus loves them.”
Sandy Perry says that BCH’s emphasis on training makes the difference. “Knowledge is liberating. Equipping our staff with the knowledge and the right tools helps them meet the challenges they face.”
Training is motivational, helping staff members become more self-aware. They are able to face daunting tasks with “Yes, I can.”
“CARE changed how we work with children,” says Sandra. “Rules and consequences are limiting. Children push back and the road to building helpful relationships become rocky. CARE is about understanding the child. We begin the first day a child arrives.”
For a child, being forced to leave home and family members is traumatic in itself. Even if the environment is unsafe and the relationships are broken by abuse or neglect, a child is overwhelmed. Her “normal” has shifted.
“If it is mandated for a child to be removed from a home setting, a social worker arrives, often without notice, and instructs the child to put some belongings in a plastic bag and the child is taken away,” Perry says. “Our cottage parents go into action as soon as a child arrives.”
Sandra Bingley says she is prepared to offer simple choices to the child as soon as the child enters the cottage. It is a way for the child to feel she has some control in what is happening to her.
“When you feel all choice has been taken away, making the decisions about which bed you would like to sleep in or what color towel and sheets you would like to use goes a long way.”
“We immediately turn our focus to laying groundwork for a relationship,” says Roy Bingley. “It’s the beginning for everything. From day one, children must see that you care, that you love them despite what has happened to them before they arrived, and that they know they are safe.”
“CARE allows us to see children actually turn the corner,” Sandra says. “CARE helps us get it right. That’s the reward.”
“I can’t imagine not using CARE or working where I was unable to share the hope of Jesus,” Roy says. Together, these effect lasting change.
Learn more about the many services Baptist Children's Homes has to offer children and families at www.bchfamily.org