I recently completed a webinar presented by the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence called Trauma Informed Care for Foster and Adoptive Parents of Sexually Abused Children. The training was produced by Laurens Kids, Inc. and Florida Council Against Sexual Violence for the State of Florida, Department of Children and Families, Office of Child Welfare. You can find the 3-hour webinar here .
There were three things that stood out for me in the webinar.
First of all, it included a 20 minute video by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network called The Promise (of Trauma Informed Care). This video outlines the three major components of providing trauma informed treatment for children who have been sexually assaulted: parental involvement, coping skills and the traumatic narrative. The video made the point that putting a child into counseling alone without the parent(s) being included can make the child feel as if there is something wrong with him/her and that the family somehow blames him. Coping skills should be taught within the sessions which can then be reinforced and used by the parents at home. Through the combination of parental support and coping skills, the child will then be able to unravel the traumatic narrative, be able to tell the story of the assault in small stages and receive valuable feedback that the assault was not her fault.
Secondly, I was moved by the focus on teaching the parent rather than changing the child. When the focus is on teaching the parent to engage with the child in a positive, strength based and supportive approach the relationship between parent and child will eventually change, resulting in changes in the child’s behavior. Often parents (and some teachers) feel that the focus needs to be on the child’s behavior. Children cannot regulate their emotions without support and care from the adults in their lives. I encourage you to check out the Circle of Security program for more information on how focusing on the parents’ responses to the child impacts the parent/child relationship leading to a more emotionally regulated child.
Finally, when I heard this statement I wrote it down and have been thinking about it ever since, “respond to the emotions beneath the behavior.”
The webinar had a panel of foster parents discussing some of the behaviors that were present in the children they were fostering or adopting. They had been watching a role play of a teenager who had stayed out past curfew and was being confronted by her foster mother. In the first role play, the mother was angry and the teen became defensive. In the second role play, the mother focused on the feelings of fear of abandonment the teen was feeling and was able to join with the teen in trying to work through the problems that they were facing together. The foster parents who viewed the video were struck by how focusing on the teen’s underlying emotions changed the energy of the conversation.
I think that as advocates we can also remember this statement when we are working with adults. Often we have our own internal responses to the behaviors of people with whom we are working, but when we seek to understand the underlying emotions and take the focus off of the behaviors (which may just be skills they are using to manage their trauma response) we may be able to start a new healthier and more productive relationship. It takes practice and an ability to be able to calm our own internal responses but it is well worth it in the long run.