Trauma is not an excuse. It is an explanation.
ChildSavers embarked on a bold project in the summer of 2016 when we started our Trauma and Resilience Training and Consultation Program. Since then, we have trained over 23,000 people in the basics of trauma-informed care and 400 trainers to be leaders. Currently, we consult with organizations and communities to better respond to the needs of those they serve. Trauma-informed care helps people understand behavior and understand how we can respond effectively.
The Reach of Resiliency
The mission of ChildSavers tells of our commitment to guide our community’s children through life’s critical moments. But who is our community? We have redefined our community through our trauma-informed training as the demand has pulled it into the far-flung reaches across Virginia, from Northern Virginia to Southwest Virginia to the Eastern Shore, and even across the country to Chicago, North Dakota, Montana, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Iowa.
Understanding how the impact of trauma changes biology, behavior, learning, and life success is integral to helping children survive and thrive. For more information, I would suggest that you read a recent article by Dr. Sunny Shin, a professor of social work at Virginia Commonwealth University.
In the course of our training work, I get to meet some really amazing people. I want to share a story that took place recently.
Training the FBI
In September 2019, I enter a secure facility outside of Baltimore, Maryland. I’m brought to a room with no clocks and told I would be escorted if I needed to leave the room. Even to the bathroom. I wait until it’s my turn to speak…
I’ve been invited to speak with FBI agents from across the country, working in child victimization crimes. Their three main areas of work focus on human trafficking, kidnapping across state lines, and child pornography. Cases that come across their desks are certain to be intense and unpredictable.
In all honesty, I do not know what to expect. I imagine hardened, stone-faced agents who are “all business”. As we start, I find I’m in a room of 50 of the most compassionate and dedicated people imaginable. These individuals deal with some of the worst crimes imaginable. The secondary trauma they experience in their work is immense.
It is difficult to maintain a high level of compassion and investment in heartbreaking work and not experience compassion fatigue. I suggest they utilize a free tool to measure workplace compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction. It’s called the PROQOL or Professional Quality of Life Scale.
In working with people who have experienced trauma, we have to realize the toll it takes on us as the helpers, and maintain our own routines of self-care practices.
Shifting Our Perspective
When we work with people who have experienced trauma, oftentimes people are prone to see them as hurt and damaged. We need to see past the trauma and be very conscious of the resilience. What matters about resilience is not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up.
Despite the horrible experiences that these agents see in their work, we all need to have hope to sustain our work. One of my goals for my time with these agents is to help them see the kids they work with in a new light.
One of the activities I lead them through is an opportunity to re-envision the lives and experiences of the children they work with. It’s a mindfulness exercise to hold the balance of weakness and strength, the pain and relief that they see in their work every day. It is important to see the whole person.
As we end the exercise, many of the agents express they’ve never truly understood the immense strength and resilience they see. They speak of the value of holding that sacred space. Being able to see beyond the “victim” label and into a “survivor” perspective. Many even talk about how they now see the children they serve as role models and people they admire.
Look for The Helpers
Walking on a journey with people who have experienced pain is an amazing privilege. In my own experience, I have worked in hospice holding the hands of people as they breathed their last breaths. I have worked with men and women who were homeless and addicted. I have worked with children who have experienced a magnitude of horror than most can ever imagine. Each moment that we get to spend as a helper, and a healer, as a teacher, is an opportunity to change a life.
And that is what we do here at ChildSavers. Whether our Virginia Quality providers helping early childhood teachers to care for a 4-year-old. Whether our mental health clinicians working with a child who has just lost a parent to violence. Or whether it is teaching a school district to see their students through a trauma-informed lens, we are fulfilling our mission of guiding our community’s children through life’s critical moments with trauma-informed mental health and child development services.
John Richardson-Lauve is a licensed clinical social worker with 25 years of experience working in community mental health. He is committed to strengthening individuals and communities that struggle with adversity. He is the Mental Health Director at ChildSavers, an outpatient mental health clinic serving children and families in the Richmond community, and travels the country training in the area of trauma-informed care.