The Importance of Connection

A Tool of Sustainability

By Ann Houck • 3 min read


“You cannot lead a child to a place of healing, if you do not know the way yourself.”

—Karyn Purvis, Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development—

Connecting with a child is the very foundation for the development of trust. Creating a trusting connection develops a relationship that is full of love and needed structure. Establishing trust may be the first and most important step in being prepared for skilled orphan care.

Often, however, developing the same skills and relationships for the adults is completely overlooked. It is all too easy to forget that we still have that inner child needing connection and correction. This is not a process only between adult and child, but should also be growing and developing amongst the adults themselves.

It’s easy to recognize the need for finances, training, staff, etc. But we also need emotional support and structure. Why? Because the children won’t learn connection if we do not model it and live it ourselves. And just like those children, we can’t survive without it.

By the time a child comes to our institution, our home, our shelter, they are most likely frightened, distrusting of any adult figure, terrified that harm will come to them, yet again. They may be angry, withdrawn, unable to hold eye contact or indeed make eye contact at all. They frequently reject our loving advances. They do not know how to communicate what they need.

And, we can become frightened, frustrated, distrustful and terrified as well. We want to reassure them, give them hope, identify and take care of their needs and above all, love them as a parent. But do we know how to do this ourselves? And, can we do it alone?

My opinion is that we cannot do it alone; or, at least, not for long. Working with children of trauma in isolation will lead to burn-out.

So, we need to take a look at ourselves. To begin assessing our own health in connection with others, here are a few key questions to ask ourselves. Being honest about the answers can help guide us into better sustainability:

Questons to gauge my connections:

• What do I need to become more sustainable?
• Do I know how to “use my words” to ask for what I need? • Am I connected to my coworkers as well as my kiddos? • Do I trust my coworkers? • How can we help one another in getting our needs met? • Can I open my heart to those around me? • Am I capable of doing a “redo?” • In short, am I able to do what I hope the children can learn to do?

As skilled caregivers, we need to know how to ask for what we need. We need to learn how to “use our words,” how to ask for a “redo,” how to say “I’m sorry,” to both adult and child alike. These skills are what will give us the healing and energy to keep going!

Oak Life teaches and supports the practice of Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) not only for working with our children, but for our relationships with one another. TBRI works with everyone, regardless of age and life circumstances. At Oak Life, we strive to provide a trusting, nurturing environment for all; children and staff alike. This process takes commitment and self reflection with the end result being a more skilled caregiver, and one who is able to wholly connect with the children in our care and take them to a place of healing.

Imagine a world where modeling our beliefs and processes for the children is possible. A place where the children can see and feel the trust and love of their caregivers. They can see and feel the relationship skills they are learning being used daily amongst their caregivers. That is the goal. Connecting with others in an environment of felt safety is paramount to our sustainability and healing. And, it is all for the benefit of those that we serve: the children in our care.

Ann Houck

Licensed clinical social worker; volunteer social work supervisor for Oak Life interns; experience working with children of trauma in child protective services and school social work settings.

Ann Houck

Ann Houck

Licensed clinical social worker; volunteer social work supervisor for Oak Life interns; experience working with children of trauma in child protective services and school social work settings.

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