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"Puzzle Pieces"

By Ann Houck

4 minute read

Clinical Social Worker, Ann Houck, discusses how creating thriving environments for vulnerable children means meticulously fitting every puzzle piece, providing safety and nurturing for growth and healing.

Social workers (well, this one at any rate) like to fit pieces into the whole puzzle and consider the “person in the environment.” So, when I ponder orphanages, children’s homes, places where children live outside the environment of their biological family, I tend to look at how all the pieces should fit together for maximum quality of care.

Namely, how do the children fit into their alternative environment, and how does the home fit into its community?

I suspect that most of us who are called to work in orphan care, are called because of the children. We see a great need: that of caring for the abandoned, abused and neglected children of the world. And, there are so many of them, and they are found everywhere. Maybe we start our own home and maybe we seek out a home that was started by another. Wherever we land, we need to know where the home fits into its environment and how we fit into the home.

How the children fit safely into the environment:

Let us begin with the children, which is our number one priority and focus. If you always ask before taking on any task “Is it in the best interest of the children?” chances are you will not go wrong.

Here are a few example questions we can ask to assess this puzzle piece:

  • Is there adequate space for all the children (each with their own sleeping space, adequate washing facilities, etc?)
  • Have I chosen and effectively implemented a trauma-informed method of working with children from hard places? (We recommend TBRI)
  • Is it safe to play in/around the home?
  • Are harmful objects, chemicals, etc. safely stored or locked away where children cannot reach them?

 

Here’s another example—take a close look at your food preparation. Is the area well equipped to prepare and serve healthy food to the children? Have the cooks been trained in proper food preparation so as to avoid food-borne illnesses? Are there written policies about cleanliness and food storage?

Not only that, you want personnel preparing the food to be well-trained in trauma-informed care, as well. Everyone doing any job or spending any length of time with the children needs to be well-informed about children of trauma and how to interact so as not to retraumatize them. Volunteers and staff should receive continuing training and support in how to work with these kiddos.

It’s our job to ensure that the home’s environment allows children to enter and fit like a perfectly designed puzzle piece.

How the home fits into the community:

Now, let’s take a look at how the home itself fits into the surrounding community.

When assessing the home’s relationship with its environment, look at its physical location, town, country, busy street, or quiet area. Here are a few questions one should ask—

  • What needs to be done to keep the children safe in this neighborhood?
  • Are there loud noises during the night that might frighten a child of trauma?
  • Are there local community/cultural events the children can engage in?
  • Where is the nearest park?
  • What local, state and federal laws exist for children’s homes? (And be prepared to go beyond those requirements).
  • Is the surrounding community encouraging and engaged with the home, or prejudiced against children from hard places?
  • Are local school teachers prepared to work with children of trauma?

 

Whenever you find that the best interest of the children is not being served, consider strategic ways of improving the situation. Is the home in a dangerous place for children; if so, what can be done about that? Are there supports available to make the area more safe? We probably never reach the ideal, but we can certainly strive for it.

Always keep those you are serving at the forefront of your puzzle assessment. Can you look around your home and feel confident that everyone, everything, fits into the whole puzzle and that the home fits well in its community? Keep asking, “Do all the pieces of this puzzle fit together, or are there gaps that I need to fill?” Each one of your children is precious and worth every ounce of moral, spiritual, accountable, reliable parenting you can provide.

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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