Trust Key to Childhood Trauma recovery
By Sheila Allen
December 15, 2022
A continual litany of issues afflicts some of today’s children, resulting in anguish for them and those involved in their care, according to two women who’ve seen up close the impact of childhood trauma on families.
A recent short course offered at the CM52 children’s conference sponsored by the Northwest Baptist Convention sought to address healthy relationships with those struggling through significant life issues.
Abby Spence, children’s director at Pathway Church in Gresham, OR, and Megan Logue, a maternity nurse in Portland, OR, joined to inform workshop participants about trust-based relational intervention strategies.
“I have dealt with kids in hard places and after meeting their families I wanted to find ways to step in and help in any way I can,” Spence said. “We based our course on a series called ‘Hope for the Journey,’ a Christian-based conference which we have both gained from and hope to share with others in the church and community.”
Logue first became acquainted with trauma informed care in her professional capacity and found it useful in dealing with a regular flow of patients who have experienced various traumatic circumstances.
“This information crosses over all spectrums of healthcare, and even terminology or touch can cause a patient to shut down if we are not mindful of our approach.” Logue stated. “We often make snap judgements of people without knowing anything about their past.”
Spence and Logue both are on their own journeys of learning ways to look at relationships differently, which focuses on seeking ways to discover what each child needs instead of solely looking at behavior as a problem. Simple play time could result in a bump, which might trigger fight, flight or freeze mode in traumatized children, not because they are “bad,” but simply because their brain has formed with one of these responses.
“I have seen it present as simply difficult behavior, which can be embarrassing for parents who might be reluctant to bring their child to church,” Spence said. “We must let go of this idea that we have to always be well-behaved or perfect at church.”
Spence has instituted small, but intentional changes to the Sunday routine, including making snacks available every hour, as some children don’t choose to eat before coming to church, resulting in low blood sugar and less than ideal behavior.
“We are slowly training our volunteers to see a child as a person, instead of just reacting to behavior, and are using situations that present themselves to guide new leaders,” Spence noted. “There are so many children with special needs and we want our churches to be known in the community as a place that is accepting of everyone.”
Trauma comes from many sources and can even begin in utero, according to Logue.
“Women can experience violence or a difficult birth which can affect an infant in an ongoing manner,” she said. “Early hospitalization for babies, such as being admitted to the NICU, being physically abused or seeing a parent abused, separation from birth parents because of imprisonment or substance abuse, being placed in foster care or an adoptive home all can produce trauma. The question often asked is ‘what is wrong with you?’ But instead we should reframe the question to inquire ‘what happened to you and how can we help you heal from the wounds you’ve experienced?’”
Trust-based relational intervention is an approach for responding to every child anticipating what they might need, even if they are disruptive.
“Our approach can help educate other children to treat everyone with kindness and respect,” Spence added. “Every man for himself is counter to what we are called to as Christians. I’ve had parents and volunteers give quizzical looks when I’m not disciplining a child like they might expect, but this helps me manage a classroom better.”
“It has been stated that the kids who need love the most will ask for it in the most unloving ways,” Logue said. “Even the ones who push us away need a most consistent love. This is not a quick fix, but the relationships you create with these kiddos can change a life forever.”
The key is building trust, according to Spence, which must be earned for those who’ve had that trust broken. For children’s leaders, it does not have to begin with huge changes, as even small steps can be beneficial.
“Give space if a child doesn’t want to participate by letting them hang out in a different part of the room but still hear the word of God,” Spence said. “Find out what a kid likes and engage them with questions about it. The church can be a healing place for those who’ve experienced trauma. Punishment doesn’t solve the problem, as it’s a temporary fix. The goal is growth.”
“I have lived a very quiet experience when it comes to my son. Since he was a toddler no one ever gets what I go through,” said Stephanie Burch, who joined the conference with others from Clackamas Valley Baptist Church in Estacada, OR. “I have felt like such a failure.
"After hearing Megan speak, I think that was the first time I ever heard someone say how I felt. While I'd never want another parent to go through what I go through, it felt so comforting to know there is someone else out there that goes through what I go through. My son isn't a bad kid, he has a heart of gold. He has been recently diagnosed with ADHD and we are just learning a lot now that I didn't know when he was younger. But I just really feel that God put me in that class. Now I can't wait to apply what we've learned to grow.”
Spence has scheduled the Hope for the Journey video conference, an evidence-based learning experience, to Pathway Church April 21-22, 2023 as a resource for those at Pathway and throughout the Northwest Baptist Convention. Children’s leaders interested in more in-depth guidance in working with children who’ve dealt with difficult life situations may join the conference by contacting Spence at email@example.com.
Another suggested print resource includes “The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to your Adoptive Family.”
“My hope is to inspire everyone to approach each child or person with ‘what does this person need – even if they are disruptive,” Spence concluded.