Back2Back is continually learning and growing in how we care for and nurture children. Since the children we serve have been abandoned, neglected and abused, they have experienced trauma. Trauma impacts the normal development of a child, impacting how they feel, attach, communicate and behave. So, we must find and learn the best ways to understand and care for each child.
A few weeks ago, Back2Back Ministries hosted a training facilitated by David and Jayne Schooler for local children’s home caregivers and directors at the Back2Back Haiti ministry site. The training offered research-based information and strategies on best practices to use when caring for traumatized children. This information was brand new to the Haitian caregivers. With more than five ministries represented, the two separate 3-day trainings educated and equipped the participants with unique skills needed to provide “trauma-competent care.”
So, what is trauma-competent care? Trauma-competent care is based on the fundamental truth that trauma (e.g. neglect, abandonment, abuse) impacts normal development. When trauma occurs, a child’s developmental age can be up to half the true chronological age of a child. Therefore, the child feels, attaches, communicates and behaves differently often using negative behavior as a means to communicate a need or feeling.
Likewise, those trained in trauma-competent care understand a child’s belief system is formed through words and experiences. From this belief system stems a child’s feelings and from feelings stem behavior. If a caregiver wants to change a child’s behavior, he must first change a child’s belief system. How do you change a child’s belief system? By using new words and providing new experiences. Trauma-competent caregiving does not focus first and foremost on behavior modification. It values connection – until connection with a child is made, correction will not be successful.
“A trauma-competent caregiver is willing to journey with the child into their story,” shared Jayne Schooler, training facilitator. “For healing to occur, the child needs to be connected to a safe adult.”
Lastly, trauma-competent care has a framework based on seven essential skills:
- Understanding the impact trauma has on a child’s behavior, development and relationships
- Maximizing the child’s sense of safety
- Assist the child in reducing overwhelming emotion (e.g. give voice, connecting strategies)
- Help the child understand and modify overwhelming behaviors
- Support and promote positive and stable relationships in the child’s life
- Help the child develop an understanding of their life story and to make new meaning of his trauma history
- Encourage caregivers to understand their need for self-care and to ask for help
Though the training provides valuable information and applicable strategies, it is more than a training – it is an experience. The content is delivered with compassion helping the participants to feel validated and supported. Community is built within the training group helping each person feel safe to ask vulnerable questions.
The participant’s response to the training was overwhelming. “I have worked for 14 years, and grew up in an orphanage myself, and have not received training to help me work with the children as I have here at this training,” reported a caregiver from a local orphanage. “This training is like water to dry land. I was parched for information to help me in my work. This training has refreshed me,” shared another caregiver working with 12 children.
David and Jayne Schooler, now on Back2Back staff, have traveled to two of the six Back2Back ministry sites to conduct similar training for Back2Back staff and local children’s home workers. They plan to travel to India in March and Nigeria in April to facilitate similar training. As we grow in our understanding and capacity to invest deeply in the children’s lives, we are already witnessing positive changes in the homes, caregivers and children we serve.