A caregiver’s protection, nurturance and guidance speeds recovery and supports the child’s coping in the face of trauma.

Several years ago, I worked in a residential treatment facility housed to over thirty boys and girls with a wide range of emotional and behavioral problems, such as: conduct disorders, reactive attachment, PTSD, victims of abuse, etc. The facility treated children who were dis-regulated and seemingly ‘out of control’ kids who had histories of abuse, neglect, failed adoptions/placements and more. These children who were often afraid, disruptive, sad, cutting themselves and destroying property, are also very un-trusting of adults.

These children present a high level of emotional volatility, often observed by bouts of depression, hopelessness and feelings of shame and/or self-deprecation. Multiple failed placements in foster homes leave these children parentless and feeling abandoned. They have a tendency for pushing away positive relationships when they become to intimate and consequently struggle to form genuine relationships. Most of these children do not have the coping skills required to function within their own family system.

A therapeutic milieu is a structured group inpatient setting, in which children learn healthy patterns of living through constant exposure to role models and expectations. The predictable routine and structure is chaotic at first but over time, the children on the milieu begin to regulate and respond to directives and therapeutic techniques.

Living in residential care is the most stability, some of these children have ever had.

The experience gained from working within a trauma informed agency has supported my understanding of the impact of trauma and the potential for recovery. Using a relational model of care, staff on the milieu would build trusting relationships with each child by engaging in age-appropriate activities, patiently setting consistent boundaries and limits, and discovering different ways to have fun together. If a child is in crisis, the staff used de-escalation skills such as, speaking calmly or giving statements of understanding, i.e. “I can see that you are frustrated right now.” Staff encourages the child to take space safely while staff members keep a safe distance from the escalated child. If the situation requires a higher level of intervention; once the child is back to baseline, the staff members involved processes with the child and attempts to heal the relationship right away.

Healthy relational interactions with safe and familiar individuals can buffer and heal trauma-related problems.

The ability to see the children begin to heal and learn new ways of coping was remarkable! A child who is successful in residential treatment, achieve their individual treatment goals and subsequently develop satisfying relationships with adults and their peers. Residential treatment is not a fit for all children and behaviors. However, for some families, residential care is their only hope for healing.

Did you know?

  • The experiences of early childhood have the profound ability to shape the infant, child, adolescent, and ultimately the adult
  • Adverse events in childhood can have a negative impact on early brain development, including social and emotional development
  • Although negative early life relational experiences have the ability to shape the child’s developing brain, relationships can also be protective and reparative

Are you struggling to develop a genuine relationship with your CASA child?

CASA is partnering with Trauma Informed Agencies, stay tuned for education, resources and trainings!

Submitted by: Kizzly Blue, Case Supervisor, Child Advocates-Denver CASA