I’ve just completed my Trauma Informed Schools diploma which I’ve been doing since February. To say it’s been an eye-opener is an understatement. Trauma is such a big emotive word. To me it conjured up thoughts of abuse, which is horrifying enough in itself, but trauma encompasses much more than that.
Trauma is any event that causes physical or emotional harm to an individual and results in adverse effects on their wellbeing and ability to function healthily in day-to-day life. So whilst this does include physical, mental and sexual abuse, it also refers to grief, divorce, neglect, poverty, separation, discrimination, illness, incarceration, an accident, natural disasters and more.
The Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) study of 17000 adults took place between1995-1997 and uncovered that children are exposed to an astounding amount of trauma, and that the more trauma they experience, the greater the impact. The effects of it seep into every area of an individual’s life, from physical and mental health (including physical changes to the brain), to school, to relationships, to society. Ultimately trauma can lead to an early death.
Whilst this all sounds hopeless, it really isn’t. With the intervention of an emotionally available adult before the age of 18, a child is able to overcome the effects of trauma. The positive impact of an adult who is available to give their whole self to a child by supporting them and actively listening to their story, is just incredible.
I never realised this. As a youth worker and coach, I never truly understood the impact that I was having as somebody who just showed up and listened. I’d leave some sessions thinking I hadn’t really achieved anything, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! Active listening is massively important and massively powerful and I really underestimated this. Creating and maintaining meaningful relationships with trauma-affected children is the cornerstone of recovery and literally changes a young person’s brain chemistry. Allowing them to tell their story in whatever way they are comfortable with, shows them that they matter, which they’ve likely never felt before. It builds trust, offers them hope and empowers them.
After three years of working with one young person, it really warmed my heart to hear her say this recently, “I really feel like the way Jo has treated me has really helped me come out of my shell. She has treated me with respect and care throughout some of my trickiest times. Overall, she’s been an amazing youth worker and a really important person in my life.”
This highlights to me the importance of supporting trauma children long term and that the diagnosis or behaviour of a child doesn’t tell you anything about who they are, it just tells you where they are. Meeting them where they’re at, listening to their story and building a strong relationship is everything needed to set an individual on the road to recovery, and for me, being a part of that journey is priceless.