Ask Ann

"Connecting is Everything"

By Ann Houck

3 minute read

Connecting with all the children in my shelter is so difficult. Is it really necessary if their placement is probably temporary?

I am thinking about the challenges orphanages face and am overcome with gratitude for your work. Providing safe shelter for children from hard places is perhaps one of the most selfless jobs one can do.

These are children who have suffered unbelievable trauma in their short lives and are still surviving. These are children that have developed behaviors that have allowed them to survive. These are children that deserve the very best that we can offer.

And, I am sure that each and every one of you have come to this work with that commitment: to provide the best for these children, to walk with them on their journey to growth and empowered development, to step into the place of parent and to love them unconditionally.

Ultimately, your job is connection.

Tall order? I’ll say it is!

When these babies came into the physical world, the work of attaching to their caregivers (parents) was just in its infancy. Relationship begins before birth, but it is not obvious. It is primarily the work of the mother, she who carries the fetus, she who nurtures the fetus, she who prepares the fetus for its entry onto the world stage.

It is OK to assume that the mother who carried this kiddo probably experienced trauma during pregnancy, and so did this baby.

We guess that they have not had happy childhoods, bonding to their caregivers and moving along a continuum of fruitful development. After all, just the fact that they are in an orphanage tells us there has been severe trauma in the separation from parents and being left alone and in the care of strangers.

And so the work of re-teaching authentic connection must begin with us.

How do we create a real connection with these kiddos that will give them and us the opportunity to begin that walk towards healing?

We begin with ourselves.

Quick check: Am I calm? Am I ready to listen to this child without judgements? Do I need to take a few deep breaths and let go of my mind chatter? Am I ready to be fully present to what this child is communicating?

Now, can I look at the child and see a need? Some needs are obvious. Are they hungry? Hurt? Uncommunicative? What does your experience tell you they may need? Offer it. A hug? Nope? Child does not want to be touched, so don’t touch them. Offer soothing words, then, just a silent presence, a look, a gesture, and watch yourself as well as the child to see what is happening.

This practice of connecting is a skill. Practice requires repetition, and goal setting. A practice is a thing, a noun, a procedure, a routine. But also it is a verb: To practice, meaning to repeat, to develop something, to perform, to execute, and hopefully, always to improve. We want to get better at this practice of connection. It is core to being able to help children in our care overcome their traumas.

And, becoming skilled requires knowing ourselves.

In this work of orphan care, we are the boss and we need tools to do our work. And that is not an easy task. Can we become aware of our responses? Can we notice our feelings when interacting with our kiddos? What do we need to do (know) about ourselves when we are trying to identify the need? When we are trying to create an environment of felt safety? How can we become the caregiver these children deserve/need?

They need caregivers who create a connected family!

So many questions; no quick answers. Maybe we begin by knowing that we have come to this work with a heart full of love and compassion, but few tools in our tool box. That is OK; we can build that tool box and become skilled at providing trauma-informed care and connection to these beautiful children.

 

No one, ever, said this would be easy work. We are here to support you and walk with you on this journey of orphan care. We are a safe place for you, the caregiver; we come beside you as you provide felt-safety and connection for the orphans in your 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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