supporting children for life success
We'll step back in this unit to look at the big picture and to understand the responsibility that being an early childhood educator includes.
Notice that as a professional, you are responsible for what goes on at your center, even if you're not the boss.
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Supporting Children for Life Success
Before we get started. Let's talk a little bit about this unit’s focus here. We're going to talk about events that can happen that can derail a child's future. These sorts of events affect a great many children and you or children you love may have experienced the sorts of events were going to talk about. These events are not uncommon, but they are disturbing.
So I want you to be aware of your own feelings about what we're going to talk about today. This may trigger old memories old memories that are kind of uncomfortable, that are painful, that are sad. These might be your own memories or you might become painfully aware of current problems in your life. Things that are not memories at all.
You know, most of us have had these experiences and have difficulties even today as adults. You're not alone in this and if you start to feel uncomfortable during this session, you won't be alone in that either. So I want to warn you that if you discover that in the course of this session, you need help, please do ask for it. Take a deep breath, try to keep things in perspective; as we walk through this, talk with a supportive friend. But if you need more help, if you really feel overwhelmed, please let me know so I can reach out to you. When we recognize our own struggle, we are able to help children more.
All right, let's get started. The title of this unit might seem a bit disconnected from the content, you know, “Supporting Children for Life Success.” Sounds like happiness and light, doesn't it? But here it means “supporting children who have experienced trauma,” because trauma is the thing that derails life success. We need to support children so that they can get back on the path. That's our focus in this unit and it's also an important part of your work.
Here's the thing: trauma happens. It happens every day to somebody. Natural disasters: in Washington state, there was a tornado last week. That's a natural disaster - it blew people's roofs off. All right, that's not something we expect. Man-made disasters: a train car derails, something bad happens like toxic stuff gets into your water. Private implosions: things that go on in the family that cause things to fall apart. Government-sanctioned disruptions: problems in the legal system, problems with immigration, all kinds of things like that. Trauma happens all over the place. It happens to you. It happens to people you know, it happens to children you work with. It does it happen to children, but not only the children you know, but also the children you only hear about.
All kinds of trauma happens to children because of accidental events - things that nobody planned like a tornado or mental illness in the family - and also intentional ones - things that we can say “somebody, this specific person or policy or entity, caused this problem” – these traumatic possibilities matter to children and they should matter to you.
They should matter because trauma creates what are known as adverse childhood experiences. They're called ACEs. The ACEs study was conducted by Kaiser Permanente, the big health insurance company, and the Centers for Disease Control. They conducted a study of over 17,000 American adults and these were adults that were chosen at random. So there was a cross section. They're not necessarily people who are struggling or people who are doing well. They're a cross section of 17,000 adults, forming a large-scale study. The purpose of the study was to find out what it is that adults who suffer from specific chronic medical conditions or social dysfunction have in common. Remember Kaiser Permanente is a health insurance company. What factors do adults share that that have these kinds of medical conditions?
Researchers found, to their great surprise actually, that what was shared by these ailing and dysfunctional adults were experiences that happened to them before they were age 18 - adverse childhood experiences.
What they found was that children from birth to 18 who experienced upsetting events are deeply affected by these events and these upsets include everything from parental job loss to the death of a sibling to all kinds of problems that might happen to a child that were emotionally devastating, What's more, the more of these adverse experiences that happen to a person before age 18 the worse were the health and social function outcomes for adults later. This stuff follows people throughout their lives and affects their success in life as adults.
So what sort of experiences are we talking about? Well, here's a little chart all kinds of abuse physical abuse emotional abuse sexual abuse neglect physical neglect emotional neglect. Have you thought of emotional neglect as a thing? It is where someone makes it clear they just don't care about you. All sorts of household dysfunction like mental illness, incarcerated relative, domestic violence in the home, especially against the mother, substance abuse, divorce. All sorts of experiences were found in this ACEs study the study of 17,000 adults have affected them as adults when these things happened as children.
So let's take a little quiz.
Let's just let's just look. Okay. Let's just take a look. Are you feeling kind of okay right. Now? Let's take a quiz when you were growing up, you know before you turned 18 did a parent or other adult in your household often swear at you or insult you or put you down or humiliate you or act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt do this happen to you.
Just make little checkmark if it did.
Did a parent or other adult in the household often push or grab or slap or throw something at you? Were you ever hit so hard that you had marks or injured? Yes or no?
Did an adult or a person at least five years older than you ever touch or fondle you or have you touched their body in a sexual way or try to actually have any kind of sex with you? Yes or no?
I remember this is before age 18. So this includes your teen years when you're in high school an adult or a person at least five years older than you.
Or did you often feel that no one in your family loves you or thought you were important or special or was it the case that your family didn't look out for each other or feel close to each other or support each other. Was that the situation in your home the home where you grew up?
Did you often feel that you didn't have enough to eat or had to wear dirty clothes or had no one to protect you or your parents too drunk or too high to take care of you or to take you to the doctor if you needed it.
Were your parents ever separated or divorced anytime up to age 18?
Was your mother or step mother often pushed or grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her?
Was she sometimes or often kicked or bitten hit with a fist hit with something hard? Was she ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes? So if there was a pattern of being hit like a pummeling okay, or was she ever threatened with a gun or a knife your mother or your stepmother any time when you were growing up?
Did you live with anyone who has a problem drinker or an alcoholic or used street drugs? Not just your parents, but anyone who is in your household?
Was a household member depressed or mentally ill or did a household member attempt suicide?
Did a household member go to prison? Yes or no?
So add up your yes answers.
This is your ACE score.
Before we get your score, what did you notice in those questions? I noticed that domestic violence affects children, even if they themselves are not the target. Someone recently was saying well at least the children are not affected, to some sort of incident of domestic violence. At least the children were not being hurt. No, no, no, the children were affected. Children who see domestic violence going on especially domestic violence against their mother. They are deeply affected. It is an adverse childhood experience and also that loss of a family member for any reason - separation, divorce, incarceration, anything like this - affects children, even if the family situation seems unaffected, even if this seems like a positive… “oh good that person's out of the picture.” It still is a traumatic event.
Okay, let's get back to your score.
What does it mean? Well, what do you think it means? What does it feel like as you are going through those ten questions and you are saying yes or no to those possibilities? How do you feel this has affected you? There is not a single number that dooms a child. We can't say, “Well if your score is this you are doomed. All right, they're going to have all kinds of horrible problems.” That's not the way it works.
But how high your ACEs score is indicates your level of risk. So the more adverse childhood experiences you can count up the greater your risk of some sort of serious health problem or social dysfunction as an adult. What sort of risk are we talking about?
Increased incidence of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, substance and alcohol abuse. These have been directly linked to a high number of ACEs in childhood. Reduced levels of education, reduced levels of employment, reduced financial stability, having a struggle to be successful. A reduced ability to create and maintain relationships with other people. Reduced ability to be mentally healthy.
These are the problems that adverse experiences in early childhood have. This are the root of the problems we see in adults today. It goes back to what happened to them before age 18. Adult outcomes like these: behavioral outcomes, lack of physical activity, smoking, alcoholism, drug use, missed work. Things that people do or don't do that are bad for them. Problems with physical and mental health, like obesity, diabetes, depression, suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease, cancer, stroke, trouble breathing, broken bones. Even broken bones
Here's some specific examples on the y-axis. There's the percent of lifetime history of depression and you can see that we have men and women: men are yellow, women are red. And the number of ACE experiences is across the bottom. So if you had nothing bad happened to you as a child you still have a risk for chronic depression? Okay about what is that? Maybe 17% of women and 11 % of men? Okay, even with no adverse childhood experiences, but as you go along, one adverse childhood experience to three adverse childhood experiences, once you get to four or more your chances of experiencing chronic depression as an adult increase. If you're a woman exceed 50% almost 60% of people who have a lifetime history of chronic depression 60% of women had four or more adverse childhood experiences. And more than 30% of men who have a lifetime history of chronic depression.
Now let me be clear. This is not 50% of women in the entire population. It's 50% of women who have depression. They've been diagnosed with depression. If we ask those women how many adverse childhood experiences did you have before age 18, 60% of them, or almost 60%, would say they had four or more. Let's look at another one smoking. Smoking as an adult and here again, we have the percent of people who are smoking as an adult on the side over here. The number of ACE score reports across the bottom and here again, you can see an increase. You're more likely to smoke if you have had a greater number of adverse childhood experiences. It doesn't mean that you have to have had adverse child experiences; if you had just 0 you still have a chance of becoming a smoker, other things that might enter into this decision, but if you have six or more adverse experiences, your likelihood of becoming a smoker are greater.
Here we have teen sexual behaviors. Okay. Now here you have to kind of look at this. This is kind of a complicated chart, with the percent of a target experience. So here again, this is not all teens. All right, we're not talking about the percentage of teens. We're talking about percentage of teens who had the target experience.
And we have up here the key to the color bars. The light green is the least and the purple is the greatest: four or more. Okay. So we're looking at people who report having intercourse by age 15, so early intercourse. Okay, the percent of people who report this problem, had, you know, like almost 30 percent of them had four or more ACEs experiences. So if you have this report, it's likely that you had some adverse childhood experiences. Teen pregnancy. So women who report being pregnant as teens. Look at that. Okay? Oh certainly if you had no adverse experiences, you still might have gotten pregnant as a teen, but people who became pregnant as teens are more likely to have gotten pregnant if they had four or more adverse childhood experiences. And the same thing with teenage fathers - pretty much the same pattern. The more adverse childhood experiences, the more a person is likely to have some of these sexual behaviors at an early age.
One more thing here impaired worker performance. Okay. So here again we've got the percentage of people who have already been noticed to have job performance issues. I don't think we can see this diagnosed but people who've been identified as having impaired performance. So people who are absent a lot or have serious financial problems or have serious problems performing on the job, serious problems holding a job. Okay here again, the color bars. That's what they mean: four or more is the purple one. So people are absent a lot from work. They're more likely to have more adverse childhood experiences. It's a pretty big percentage of people who have serious financial problems who had a significant number of adverse childhood experiences serious problems on the job. Having trouble getting along with coworkers. Having trouble performing job duties, keeping a job, just being unreliable, getting fired often. The connection to ACES is not quite so strong as serious financial problems, but people who have problems holding a job are more likely to have had a large number of adverse childhood experiences. The picture is here. The trauma has long-term effects.
This stuff matters. It matters to Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control not so much because it affects children, but because it affects adults, it affects the economy. It affects our ability to get along to make progress as a society. And here's the thing. No child is too young to feel the effect of adverse childhood experiences. Babies do not just bounce back from this. They are also affected and children don't get over it. It's not that, you know, they forget and you know, we can count on the lack of development of the memory centers in the brain that children just won't remember. No, this is traumatic stuff. This goes in to the amygdala. This is sticky. It never goes away.
What positive factors do help a child to become more resilient more able to bounce back? You've noticed probably is some people seem able to bounce back from adversity stuff. Just you know washes off doesn't seem to leave a mark and you'll notice that not all adults who experienced even five adverse childhood experiences as children lead troubled lives. Lots of them lead quite fine lives and are successful and have overcome all sorts of adversity and we admire them for it. There are factors in a child's life that support resilience this ability to bounce back from adversity. And we're going to talk about resilience later. So hold that thought for a while.
And while you're holding that thought tell me what you're thinking. We've covered a lot of ground so far. We've talked about adverse childhood experiences what they are how they affect adults and we've also sort of looked at our own childhoods and sort of evaluated how common these things are. Adverse childhood experiences are not rare occurrences. Certainly rare things like tornadoes are adverse, but
that's not in the quiz, right? It didn't say how many natural disasters were you flooded out of your house. Did you have a fire? These things certainly are adverse childhood experiences, but the most common ones are things that most kids have experienced. Most people have experienced at least one or two of those.
So here's the thing, you know some adversities just happen; domestic disputes happen, parental divorce happens, serious illness or death of family members. These things happen. Nobody plans for these to happen. Mental illness in the family, alcoholism or substance abuse. Nobody sets out to become an alcoholic. It just happens. Natural disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes and things like a fire in your house. These are things that just happen. Nobody's to blame.
Some adversities are systemic. They're built into the way society is set up to function. Racial and ethnic discrimination. This is a built-in adversity. It causes people to have adverse childhood experiences. The targeted incarceration of friends and family, when one group of people is incarcerated more frequently or is treated more harshly by the court system than other groups of people. That's a systemic problem. It's an adversity that is caused by the system.
Poor control of environmental toxins where things are allowed to leach into the ground that affect crops, that affect groundwater, that affect air. That's a systemic adversity that affects people. Unequal opportunities for housing, unequal opportunities for credit, for getting a mortgage, for banking. All of these kinds of things that have been built into the system that are just accepted as the way we do business, unequal especially based on race or ethnic heritage. These things keep families in crisis. They are built into the system and they are adversities. They're not unintended. Somebody's intending them. They are purposeful.
Some adversities our political. They're caused by political philosophies and they're aimed at political gain. For example, fleeing one's country is traumatic, trying to find refuge in another country. That's a traumatic experience. Feeling at the mercy of lawlessness is traumatic, feeling that your neighborhood is unsafe, feeling that your country is unsafe, feeling that there's no place you can go where you will be safe. That's traumatic. These are politica. These happen because the political system in whatever location one is in has failed to keep its citizens safe.
Some adverse experiences are personal. They happen to children directly. So we might not even notice them happening. Adoption is an adversity. Certainly, it's a good thing but it also means that you are not growing up in your birth family and we have seen time and time again how this causes a disruption. Many adopted people feel out of sync with their adopted family. There are actually genetic reasons, chromosomal reasons, why they feel this way. Separation from a parent is an adversity whether it's a long business trip, incarceration, a deployment, divorce, separation, or hospitalization. Separation from a parent is in adversity for that child.
Foster care is an adversity. Here again, foster care is a good thing. It's better than orphanages. But foster care - this feeling of not belonging anywhere, of being sort of a an income stream for your foster parents, of not really feeling like you're part of the family - this is an adversity.
And, of course, abuse and neglect these are adverse experiences for children.
So here's what we know for sure. Infants and small children are dependent upon adults for their survival. Infants and toddlers are self-centered for good reason. They want to ensure their own survival. And so they are thinking always about themselves. So this means that children need to feel safe and secure. That means they need their own loving adults around them. They need to not be separated from their parents, not to feel insecure and unsafe, not to feel the pinches of neglect and abuse. Even little children feel this, because even little children know that their very survival depends on a safe secure environment.
We also know the trauma affects the brain. In trauma, stress hormones flood the brain, the brain is awash in cortisol and stress hormones and this chronic long-lasting exposure to s stress, to these stress hormones, can even cause physical changes in other areas of the body. These stress hormones are flooding the entire body, not only the brain, and so it's affecting not just learning and memory but all through the body. So it's affecting all kinds of bodily functions and causes long lasting damage. Now, we see how things like diabetes and stroke and high risk of cancer, high risk of COPD, and things like that might be caused by early childhood experiences because the stress hormones are in the body coursing through the body for a long time. And that's not the way the body supposed to function.
Not only that, we know that stress hormones can cause alterations even to DNA, to chromosomal functioning, just switching on and off of genetic material, so that even one’s DNA and one’s brain architecture are affected.
And traumas effects are immediate. Children in the midst of trauma, newly emerged from a traumatic experience, might act differently from other kids. They might regress to more immature levels. You might see a loss of toilet training, loss of speaking ability, even loss of the ability to walk. You might see increases in dependency if children have been affected by trauma, they might withdraw, they might act out, you might see Behavior changes. They might injure themselves by cutting, biting, pulling out their eyelashes, things of that sort. And of course traumas effects linger because traumatized children feel insecure, they feel vulnerable. They might inflict violence on others as a way to feel powerful and strong or they might feel helpless and be unable to learn or to act responsibly. Trauma affects the entire child.
And those effects go on for the person's entire life. None of this trauma ever truly goes away. All of it leaves a wound, leaves a scar. You might be feeling the twitch of your own emotional scars right now. And the more wounds the more trauma the worse the outcomes for children.
So this isn't something we can ignore. This affects the children we work with every day. It might have affected us as children. It affects not only who they're going to be as adults which certainly is important but it affects who they are right now. It affects their lives right now. It affects their success right now. This is important to us. The studies were done with adults trying to discover the basis for adult problems. But what they found was adult problems have their beginnings in childhood, and we know as Early Childhood educators that those childhood problems affect children in the present moment. We don't have to wait until they become adults to see the effect of Early Childhood adverse experiences.
Not only does trauma affect individual people but it affects the family as well. More than just a child is often affected by a traumatic event. Consider for example deployment or incarceration where the family is separated. Now, there's financial instability. Now, there's a worry about the person who is removed from us. There might be all kinds of processes that are ordinary sorts of routines during the day are all disrupted. So many of children's challenges are challenges also for the entire family, right? This becomes not just a personal problem, but it's a family problem. So the parents of children in your class might be struggling to with deep issues. This might also be part of the problem that we see and this can make it difficult for us to help their children because the families themselves are embroiled in an adverse experience.
We know that when things fall apart, things are difficult. Parenting is hard all by itself, but it can be even harder when there's not enough money, when someone's in poor health, when we can't figure out how we're going to get out of this, when we live in dangerous surroundings. And sometimes the moment that things fall apart for an adult is when the child is born. This is not the happy experience for many adults that it is for the rest of us. It's a life-altering negative event. What am I going to do now? I have this child. What am I going to do?
And we know that one issue leads to another. Teen pregnancy, single parenting, all of these things. You have one of these it leads to all of the rest right? Just pick one. If you have one of these it's going to affect everything else. So problems for families might start with just one issue. You know, we got kicked out of our apartment. But any one issue limits parents’ ability to manage everything else. Everything else in their lives now, suddenly, everything else is kind of disrupted.
And of course most problems start not just with one issue, but with multiple issues. You got kicked out of your apartment. That's a bad thing, but you got kicked out because you lost your job. You can't find another job because you can't find childcare and you don't have a really good education. Your neighborhood doesn't have good transportation, so you can't get to where the jobs are. Problems compound each other.
And of course this leads to stress: stress in the parent, which then gets picked up by the child. How does it make you feel when you experience just one of those things - job loss being kicked out of your apartment your significant other walks out the door and leaves you with the kids? There's not enough food on the table this week. How does it feel when you experience is one of those? All of us have experienced something like this. Makes you feel tingly, makes you feel sick ,makes you feel fuzzy headed. You can't think clearly.
Stress causes body responses. Your body reacts to stress. The stress hormones become an issue for adults and impairs their ability to function. It impairs the ability of parents of the children we see every day to function, to do what they need to do for their kids.
So this means that the consequences add up We have fear. We are frustrated. Problems are mounting up. There's a problem everywhere we look and then we feel this stressful tingling, sick feeling.
Confusion. These lead to poor decisions, impulsive responses, misguided actions. These are actions intended to provide some relief, but they wind up making things worse. This is how families get into real trouble. This is how the children you work with get into real trouble.
Parents didn't set out to be in this mess. We can't blame them. No adult intends to be homeless or jobless or undereducated or addicted. Nobody has that as a life goal. So, how does it happen? How do we get there?
Well for some of us on the edge, that's how we grew up as kids and we've always struggled. This is how it's always been and always was for my parents. This is how it was for my grandparents. This is all we know. Because systemic bias affects some people more than others: lack of housing, lack of public transportation, lack of city services, and unfair criminal justice system bias. All kinds of things. This always privileges some people and discourages others. Some people may have difficulty Imagining the possibility of a better life.
Those of us who have enjoyed privileges, we just say “well pull yourself up by the bootstraps.” Right? Just change your attitude, change your life. It's not that easy. If on the edge is all person knows, if that's your whole experience and the experience of everybody around you, it's not possible to imagine a better life and the sort of change that would be useful.
And history repeats itself. Poverty, poor parenting, poor health, low achievement: these tend to be generational so that if a child is affected by this their parents likely were also affected by this and the child's grandparents were also affected. This stuff goes back a person's ability to overcome family history. This is limited. We know that people who are poor tend to always be poor. Poverty is inherited. Low education is inherited, maybe not genetically, although there is indication that it might actually be genetically inherited because of those DNA changes we talked about. But certainly, if that's your worldview, that's your family culture. This is how you've been raised up. This was the experience that you and everybody in your entire family as far back as you can remember has had. Your ability to overcome that is limited.
And what we know is that generational progress - the notion that one generation is going to do better than the previous generation - this really only happens when people already have advantages. It's the rare person who is able to break out and totally change the trajectory of family history. History repeats itself. Trauma is not only lifelong, it’s generational. This means we have to break the cycle. Redirecting family patterns is one of the goals of your work with parents. One of the things we're trying to do is helping parents to see other possibilities because we know that brains and bodies to health can improve with new experiences.
These experiences have to be consistent and they have to be positive. They have to not only be positive but they have to be powerfully positive. We're trying to upend a lifelong trend, maybe an intergenerational trend. It’s take some real doing.
What are you thinking right now?
As you think back to your own childhood and your own family history does this make sense? It is difficult to forge a new path, to be the person who abandons whatever baggage has been carried around in the family for years and years and years. It's not easy. We expect an awful lot of parents and of children when we expect them to just forge a new path, overcome years of trauma.
One trauma that's especially salient in our state and throughout the country is homelessness. One in 45 children in the United States is homeless. That's a lot. If you think of the average second grade class as having, say, 28 kids in it. So 28 and 28 is 56. So you would have one and a half homeless kids in the average second grade class. That’s a lot of kids. Over half of children who live in federally funded homeless shelters are 5 years old or younger. Little kids - when we talk about “over half the children,” children means up to age 18. That's the legal definition of what a child - is so over half of children who reside in homeless shelters are 5 or younger little kids. And many more young children live in other sorts of homeless situations, not just federally-funded shelters. They live in the car. They're bunking with somebody but not in their real home.
In 2016, there were 39,000 homeless students in Washington state. These are students who are enrolled in the public school system. So these are not preschoolers but 39,000 kids homeless in Washington state. That's a large number of kids. This is a serious problem.
And of course homelessness is one of those systemic things right? Sometimes it arises from the birth and care of young child. This causes homelessness because it disrupts family routines. It increases the need for more financial resources. So that actually having a child is the tipping point that pushes someone over the edge. We know that homeless babies are significantly slower to develop than other children. And homeless children older than babies - babies and up - have higher rates of serious illness than other kids. Being homeless affects children's health and sometimes the birth of the child itself is the thing that tips the family into homelessness.
How do we define homelessness? Homeless children, or homeless families, for that matter, lack a nighttime residence that is fixed, in one place. We know where it is. It's regular it's not like we're somewhere on Monday and another place on Tuesday and Wednesday. We're going somewhere else on Thursday. We're in another place in Friday. We're back to where we were on Monday. It's fixed and it's regular.
It's adequate. We're not, you know, living in an abandoned building somewhere. We're not living where there's rats and mice and mold and water leaking in. It's not substandard housing. Isn't that interesting, that homelessness means your home is actually an adequate home? We know that lots and lots of families live in substandard housing, and qualifies them as being homeless because it's not adequate.
And also people are considered homeless if they're sharing space with another family because they can't find their own home. Families crowd in together, pooling resources and whatever, so that you've got two or three families all living in one space because they can't afford an apartment of their own. That means that the family who's living with another family in their home is homeless. They don't have a fixed regular adequate place to be of their own.
In addition of families are homeless if their living conditions are, as we said, substandard, inadequate, if they live in a homeless shelter or emergency shelter, if they live in a motel. Here again, because they can't afford first and last month's rent to get an apartment. They don't have credit to get an apartment. They live in a hotel, a trailer park and campground, they live in a tent somewhere, they live in their cars. They live in public spaces, they’re living in the airport, kind of going from space to space :abandoned buildings, bus or train stations, the park. These are homeless people, but they're also homeless children and homeless families.
The thing is you might not know. You might not know if a family that you work with is homeless or becomes homeless. Almost any of your friends might have financial problems you’re not aware of. They might have trouble making tuition this month or ask for an extension or something like that. They might have a personal problems. You might notice that they're not washed or that there's a problem with something else that's obvious to you. They might move frequently so that they're here one day and then suddenly go so you don't see them again. These are signs that a family might be homeless, but you have to sort of put two and two together. Certainly not every family that shows noticeable financial problems is homeless, not every family that you know that has a personal problems you can put your finger on is homeless, not every family that moves frequently is homeless. Although that's probably a pretty good indicator that something's going on, but you might not know, you might not really know, if a family's living out of their car, if suddenly they got kicked out and are living at Grandma's for a while. You may not know. People hide this from you.
Homeless children might be unusually tired because they're sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings. There's a lot of stress. They can't fall asleep. They're having trouble. They might be underfed. They might not be clean. So you're watching for signs of neglect. They may seem insecure. They might seem uncertain, just kind of worried, full of free-floating anxiety. It's just something seems off. They might be absent frequently as their parent is trying to negotiate some sort of better living arrangement. These are clues that children might be homeless. You might not ever really know.
Here's the thing though the Mckinney-Vento ACT protects the right of homeless children to a regular education. This means that a permanent home cannot be a requirement for a child enrollment. This is certainly true in public schools, and it is also true in any sort of federally funded child care centers like Head Start centers. It might very well be true for you. What this means is that you can't say “we have to have an address. Where are you living?” We can't we can't require that. And discrimination against homeless children, saying that you can't attend school here anymore because we aren't certain that you live in the district, that violates federal law. It violates this Mckinney-Vento act.
So what's your center’s view with regard to homeless children? Do you have any homeless children? Do you know of any homeless children that are in your center? If one of your families became homeless, what would be your center director’s reaction? Are there written or unwritten policies that make it harder for homeless children to enroll and to stay enrolled? Do you require a permanent address? Do you or your center advocate in any initiatives that help homeless children? Is this something on your radar screen? Is this something that you care about? Is this something that you have devoted any sort of advocacy to? Homeless children are all over - there are lots of them - and they risk a real adverse childhood experience.
So what are you thinking? What do you know about homelessness? Do you have a personal experience with homelessness? Do you know right now of children in your classroom who are homeless, who are in danger of becoming homeless, who have been homeless in the past? This is a huge problem. Affordable housing is a huge problem. But other things go into being homeless than just the lack of affordable housing.
Well, what can we do about it? Well, here's the thing: it is okay to help. Sometimes we in the so-called helping professions we feel it is our job to blame people and to shame them into doing better. That that's somehow our role to tell people that they should just do better. “You have these kids; you should do better.” It's not that easy, though. Positive change needs positive talk. People need support. They don't need to be blamed. They don't need to be ashamed. So parents who are in trouble need our help and you know what? It's okay. It's okay to give parents help. It's okay to give children help. It's okay to give families help when people need help. That's not the time to be judgmental and sort of crabby about it.
First of all parents need to feel safe with you. They need to feel that you can be trusted with their confidential information. That you won't blab about it, that you won't get them into trouble with it. They need to feel safe in confiding in you.
We need to apply principles of unconditional positive regard. We can offer safety without permissiveness. We're going to let people know that no matter what they've done, no matter how deep the hole that they find themselves in, we still believe in them as worthy human beings. We believe in their children as worthy human beings. They have a right to a safe, warm environment. They have a right to be free from violence and worry in their lives, things that are bad for them and bad for children.
Unconditional positive regard can be summed up in the thought that you are a worthy human being and nothing you can say or do changes that: you are always worthy. I will always look upon you as a worthy human being no matter where you come from, no matter what language you speak, no matter where you live, no matter your financial situation or your legal situation or anything else. People are people. Every person is worthy. This is what being unconditionally positive is.
And then what the child needs from you is to be an ally for her in her growth. You have to communicate that you have her best interests at heart. I know you do have her best interests at heart but it has to be obvious to the child. You're going to guide her parents in acting in the child's best interests too, because sometimes parents don't know what is in the best interests of this child.
And you're going to be a motivator. You're going to be an encourager. You're going to help build this child up so that the child can gain resilience, which we're going to talk about. The parent needs you to be his or her ally also and in their work at overcoming these challenges you provide strength and optimism. You provide expertise. You provide a referral to people who can help.
So while you're focused on the child, you understand that you have to improve the parents’ experience too. That is part of the child’s success: turning around the situation at home so that the child is affected by fewer adverse experiences and more positive ones.
We have to remember that family dysfunction is not abuse. Being poor, being homeless, being addicted, isn't abusive or neglectful on its face. So we have to be careful of criminalizing the family situation, of just saying, well, those are awful parents: look at what's going on here. They might not be awful parents. They might be very fine parents who just can't get out of the hole they've dug for themselves. So parents who fail to meet your standards - we have standards in our own lives, so parents who fail to meet those standards - they need your help. They don't need punishment. We should be careful that we don't communicate our disapproval. Because being a dysfunctional family is not the same as being an abusive family. Those are two very different things.
We know that children respond to trauma in a lot of different ways. They feel that life is out of control. They've lost faith in the future. In trauma there's often a break in relationships. They lose their friends. They have to move away and things are disruptive. They feel the lack of empathy. They have a hard time, feeling sympathetic to other people. They lose self-confidence. They feel confused. They feel fear. There's difficulty in regulating emotions. So they might act out or act in ways that seem nonsensical. Children who have experienced trauma may feel they can't trust adults because adults are supposed to keep them safe and they're not doing it.
So have you ever felt this way? In your life as a child, did you ever feel this way? Maybe now, maybe then, have you ever experienced a traumatic event, the sorts of things that we talked about earlier? If you did, when you did, did you feel any of those feelings when these things happened to you? Did you feel fear and confusion, loss of confidence? Loss of faith in adults? How old were you when that happened? Now that you're thinking about this, can you still feel now what you felt then?
Trauma results in behaviors, of course, impulsive, even aggressive, behaviors are what we see in children. Irritability. Outbursts of anger. Increased jumpiness, anxiety. Heart rate and breathing go up. There’s difficulty sitting still, difficulty paying attention, sleep difficulties, eating difficulties too. Difficulties concentrating, difficulties paying attention, foggy, inaccurate memories, which all means inability to learn. Age inappropriate behavior, acting like a baby, difficulty understanding directions. Children who act in ways that drive us crazy as teachers may be acting that way because they are so deeply upset by what's going on in their lives.
And here again. Was this ever your experience? If you experienced trauma, did you struggle to get through the day as a child, as an adult? Did you experience sleep difficulties, disrupted eating patterns, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, increased heart rate? Any of these things happen to you? Did you withdraw from others? Did you withdraw from ordinary activities? Did you not want to talk to other people?
If little children are feeling this way, the ways that you understand that you have felt as an adult experiencing a sudden disruption in your life, kids don't have as many resources to rely on. They don't have as much life experience. They don't know that things are going to get better. They don't know that this is just a bump in the road for them. This is their whole life.
Children get affected. The hurt is deep. It's all-encompassing. It takes over the child's life. It's not something children will forget or will just get over. Children in crisis need our help now and they're going to need it for a long time afterwards. It takes time.
So what do we need to do? We need to be patient, a good listener, kind, helpful, alert, observant. We need to be flexible. We need to cut this kid some slack a little bit. This kid just can't function right now. We need to not insist. We need to find a workaround for this child. We need to be non-judgmental. We're not going to call this child names or label this child as a baby. We're not going to send this kid out of the room. It's not easy to support children who are struggling with trauma.
There are lashing out at other kids in the room. We're having trouble. It's natural that we should feel upset. But we do have to be the adults, the grown-ups, in the room. We have to help this child process is feelings process. What's going to get them feeling more safe. That's our job. And if we can remember what it feels like to be really upset and worried, we can understand how children might not act very well when they're upset and worried.
One of are the things we can do is to build children's resilience. That's the ability to weather adversity. Trauma still is going to have an effect. It's going to become part of the child's life experience. But resilience means we can sort of get over it and it does seem to us that some people are more resilient than others. Right? For some people it just seems like things just wash off and they just carry on. Why is that? What's different about the resilient people? What helps a person to be resilient in the face of adversity?
Well, let's take another little quiz. Circle the most accurate answers is going to be like a multiple choice, okay.
Can you say that this is true? I believe that my mother loved me when I was little.
Definitely true, probably true, not sure, probably not true, definitely not true?
Do you believe that your father loved you when you were little? Definitely true, probably true, not sure, probably not true, definitely not true?
When I was little other people helped my mother and father take care of me and they seem to love me. Was there a network of support for your family? Yes, maybe no.
Did you ever hear stories about when you were a baby? That somebody in your family enjoyed playing with you and that you enjoyed it too? Are their family stories. Happy family stories about when you were very, very small.
When I was a child there were relatives in my family who made me feel better if I was sad or worried. This is true for you?
When I was a child neighbors or my friends parents seem to like me. Other people, not just in the family, but other people, seemed to think you were a nice person. When I was a child, teachers, coaches, youth leaders, or ministers were there to help me.
Other people further out. Remember the Bronfenbrenner circles? Remember those circles of influence? You know a while back? This is where we're going, isn't it? We're talking about the most inner circle of mother and father, and then other people in the family ,and now neighbors, and now even people in the community: teachers, coaches, youth leaders. This is what we're getting at: those circles of influence build resilience.
My family, neighbors, and Friends talked about making our lives better. Was there a positive vibe going on in your neighborhood, in your family? Did people feel hopeful, did people feel that? There was a good future ahead?
How about this? We had rules in our house and were expected to keep them. Is that true for you or were there no rules. Just do whatever you want.
When I felt really bad as a child, I could almost always find someone I trusted to talk to.
As a youth, people noticed that I was capable and could get things done. As a youth means, you know, as you were an older child and a teenager: did people have confidence in you?
Did you feel like you could do important things that other people noticed? Were you, as an older child and a teen, were you an independent person, a go-getter, someone who if there was a job to do, you were the one to do it? When you had those group projects in high school, were you the slacker who let other people work or did you actually step up and do it?
When you were a child a teenager, did you believe that life is what you make it? That you have control, that you have agency, that you're able to make your life into what you needed to be?
There are 14 things. Those are all protective factors, things that protect people from feelings of adversity. How many of those could you say were definitely true or probably true? All 14 of them?
And of those that you circle of those, how many are still true for you today? Do you still feel that you have the support of family and friends, significant people in your life? Do you still feel that you're capable and competent? Do you still feel that? You're a go-getter, that you have purpose in your life, that the future is positive?
Once again, there's no magic number here. It’s not like there's something that we could say, “well, you're really in trouble.” Or that you're really well placed. There's no magic number but the more positives in one's life, the more resilient the person is likely to be, the more able they are to bounce back from adversity. And this is the key.
Another key is that resilience is learned. It's not a character trait. It's not something you were born with. You're not resilient and that person is not; that's just the way it is. No, resilience is learned. This means that lack of resilience isn't a character flaw. We can't blame people for not being resilient, for not being able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, for not being able to bounce back.
Resilience is learned. To be resilient children need to feel strong and supported. They need to feel that somebody cares about them. If not a parent or a neighbor then the teacher, somebody in the community. Someone has confidence in them. Someone thinks good thoughts about them. Someone warms their heart when they're feeling sad. We have to help children notice their own abilities and their strengths. Help them to see that they have resilience inside them if they let it grow.
Resilience is learned. We can teach children how to be resilient not by shaming them, not by telling them that they should just brush it off. But by telling them that we have confidence in them, that we know it's a struggle, we know things are difficult, but we believe that they can overcome.
This also means we have to allow children to be challenged by everyday happenings and not step in and fix things too quick. Let them be challenged. Let them be frustrated. Let them figure out how to solve their problems. Help them to resolve everyday challenges, to feel that “yes, I accomplished that. Wow.” And then help children to notice and appreciate that. Point out to them:, you solved that problem all by yourself. That's great. Wow, you guys settled that argument. I'm so pleased for you. Notice. Help children to notice. Help children to appreciate that. They just did something good for themselves.
And do this for all your children. It's not something to build in the face of trauma. It's not a first aid kit after the trauma happens. We have to build it before trauma happens or as traumas going on. Whatever the situation, we can't stop and try to apply resilience as a Band-Aid after trauma has occurred. It gets built before traumatic events happen, in a perfect world, or gets built in the face of trauma, but it can't be a solution to trauma. We have to build it now. Don't wait. Go ahead and help all your children see how competent and capable and strong they are, how much support they have from the world.
All of your children need this not just children that you feel are the most vulnerable. Because we've seen trauma can happen to every family any family any child.
And once traumatic events happen help all your children. Not just the children who are most directly affected, talk to everyone about what's happening. Honestly and based on children's questions. Don't shade the truth. Tell them honestly what's going on. Reassure children as truthfully as you can. Don't tell them that that will never happen. Some things we can't predict. We have to be truthful.
Sometimes it help, especially with older children, to talk about what's possible versus what's likely. When children hear about another family, another child, and some terrible event happening to them like being deported or having their parent die. These are terrible things that are children hear about. Talk about what's possible but also that it's not likely to happen. It's not likely to happen today. It's not likely to happen tomorrow. It's not likely to happen to you. Lots of things in life are possible. Very few things are actually likely and as children get older you can help them to sort through this. This keeps you from telling things that are untruthful, that that's never going to happen. But it helps to calm children's anxieties children. Listen to the news. They get anxious. We have to be sensitive to some children's special vulnerability, children whose parents may or may not be here with documentation, immigrant families. They may be especially attuned to the fact of deportation, to problems at the border, to other things that they hear about.
We have to be attuned to some children whose families are going through a rocky patch, and who might be particularly attuned to hearing about a divorce or separation in another child's family. All children are afraid that their parents are going to die, children who realize that death is a possibility. This is unnerving for children. So if there's something going on in the school community, in the larger community, in the world, we have to be sensitive to that and be aware that children might act out their anxieties in the classroom and that's the reason for it. Not just bad behavior.
Realize that reactions to trauma might be delayed for days or weeks or months or even years. There's not a time limit. There's not a point at which you can say, well that reaction to trauma didn't happen. These things have a way of brewing in a person's psyche and they can surface at odd times. They can, you know, come back to haunt us later. So we have to realize that trauma affects all children, but it affects all children differently. So we have to be aware of our children and be as supportive as we possibly can, children who are directly affected by trauma, but also other children who just hear about it.
Be careful about media exposure because children don't understand what they hear on the news and adults aren't there to sort of filter that and interpret that, and it's pretty hard to filter and interpret some of it. So limit children's media exposure to the extent that you can and also control your own anxieties so that you're not passing on to children your own feelings of anxiousness and unsettlement, especially around life events or things that are happening near to hand.
Child-centered practices are best practices always in the face of traumatic events concentrate on the child. What does the child need? Provide that. Be child-centered and remember that everyone needs love, everyone needs safety and security. Everyone needs that: troubled children and their families. Parents need your love expressed in your unwavering support, your lack of blame, your helpfulness. Children need your love, and you express that in your attention and your care. In being a secure, calm, stable place in their lives. With love, great change is possible.
Thanks a lot for thinking along with me.