By Ann Houck, LCSW
“You cannot lead a child to a place of healing, if you do not know the way yourself.”
(Karyn Purvis, TCU Institute of Child Development)
So, we want to work with orphans? When did we decide that we wanted to do this? Were we arriving at this moment from the deepest part of our being? Did our hearts know that this was for us? We knew there was a need and we wanted to be a part of filling that need. We have come into this work full of joy, hope and love. But, do we come to this work from “a place of healing” for ourselves?
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 They may be angry, withdrawn, unable to hold eye contact or indeed make eye contact at all.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. They indeed most likely do not know 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, can we do this? Do we know how to do this? And, can we do it alone?
My opinion is that we cannot do it alone; or, at least, not for long. 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:
What do I need?
Do I know how to “use my words” to ask for what it is that I need?
Am I connected to my coworkers as well as my kiddos?
Do I trust my coworkers?
Can we help one another in getting our needs met?
Can I open my heart to them?
Am I able to correct them if they are not doing their work skillfully?
Am I capable of doing a “redo”?
In short, am I able to do what I hope the children can learn to do?
Connecting and correcting a child is the very foundation for the development of trust. Creating a trusting connection develops a connection 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, putting the focus on the caregiver and developing the same skills and relationships for the adult is overlooked. It is all too easy to forget that we still have that inner child needing connection and correction. This is not a process that is only between adult and child, but it is also between adults. 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.
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 of 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 place where modelling 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. Providing a safe, nurturing environment in which the children see and feel that safety reflected in the behaviors of the caregivers is the goal. We strive to provide that support and training for all staff, regardless of their role. Connecting with others in an environment of felt safety is paramount. And, it is all for the benefit of those that we serve: the orphans.