Children Haven't Changed, Childhood Has
Action Options for:
Children Haven't Changed, Childhood Has --- By: Barbara Oehlberg
Childhood, the essential foundation for wise, empathic adulthood is very
changed in America as we enter the 21st century. Despite our reluctance, as
adults, to acknowledge it, these combined changes within out society are prompting
youngsters to make adaptations, albeit maladaptations, for their self-preservation.
The ability to understand the unseemly maladaptive conduct of youth as survival
fortitude, not a character weakness, requires forthright introspective reflection.
The personal paradigm shift that can evolve from such intentional contemplation
is essential before and inclusive national dialogue will evolve for addressing
the root causes of juvenile violence as opposed to the current policy of reacting
primarily to these symptoms. It is such objectivity that can unlock the barriers
that keep out society and our families from real breakthroughs in making a
difference for children and youth.
The insights afforded to youth, and the adults who care about them, by new
research that confirms structural brain changes that can result from early
childhood stress and traumas, offers hope to us all. Finally, the pieces of
the puzzle fit together, resolutions that address the root causes, rather
than symptoms only, are within reach. The blaming game played so often by
public and private institutions can now be sifted out of community discussions
and full focus can be placed on prevention. However, translating these new
insights into policy, programming, and public awareness remains incomplete,
and often, controversial.
The stunning brain research now available clearly reveals that the opportunity
for an attitude and policy shift is imminently essential. The prognosis is
clear: we cannot threaten, punish, or shame children and youth out of their
maladaptive survival strategies, we will never successfully talk then out
of their fears and featurelessness.
We cannot train them into violence-free behaviors--without first healing
them into resiliency, trust and hope.
The opportunities for making a difference are extensive. By collaborating
and collecting our voices, we can interconnect and reconnect the threads of
the fabric of our neighborhoods and communities. Once again, the vision that
we can create environments in which all children feel more secure is possible.
No one child is safe unless every child feels safe.
- Promote trainings or informational outreaches on topic of trauma and trauma
transformations by your own staff and denominational leadership, especially
all those serving children and youth in any educational or camp setting.
- Promote Trainings on trauma for area Parish Nurse and Steven Ministries
- Support April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, including discussions on
- Initiate informative discussions on issue of Restorative Justice.
Child Care Providers & Early Child Educators
- Initiate/advocate for staff trainings on trauma and classroom healing
- Reframe behavioral issues into issues of safety for everyone in the classroom
- Be attentive to the needs for trauma interventions for special needs students
who have experienced invasive medical treatments.
- Consider Restorative Discipline as classroom management tool for responding
to the relationship issues of teasing and bullying.
- Intentionally incorporate repeated, multiple experiences for enhancing
- Enhance conflict management and peacemaking skills by diffusing and healing
Public and Private Schools
As with early childhood education, the educational strategies and policies
used in most school systems today were designed for students who had experienced
nurturing, unstressed childhoods. For stressed, anxious students to meet the
academic achievement standards now demanded of them, educational reform will
have to accommodate the neurological changes generated by their early childhood
The level of stress and perceived helplessness that accompanies many students
into classrooms was exasperated by 9-11. Research clearly shoes that anxious
students are not free to access their neo cortex, an essential for the learning
Current federal and state policies, intended to elevate academic standards,
place these students at great academic risk. In the current focus on all things
intellectual accompanied by diminishing resources for counseling, these students
are destined to repeat grades and drop out early. The need for alternative
delivery systems for symbolically transforming helplessness into resiliency
is paramount and elementary teachers are a natural network already in place.
SUMMARY OF ACTION OPTIONS
- Advocate for building relationships between staff and students.
- Advocate for smaller schools or subdividing large facilities into units
- Incorporate local, societal or community issues into the curriculum framework
to enhance meaningful relevance for students.
- Avoid the use of threats as a school or classroom strategy.
- Provide trauma-specific life interviews for every suspended or expelled
student to gain insights into causes, possible resolutions and referrals.
- Advocate for restorative discipline as school policy.
- Include students in process of establishing a school safety plan.
- Advocate for a Buddy Program for all new students or those re-entering
following health or remedial lengthy absences or reassignments.
- Develop a crisis plan that incorporates trauma specific interventions
and debriefings with access to ongoing counseling readily available for
- Incorporate classroom-healing activities into pre-school and elementary
curriculums as a violence prevention policy.
- Advocate for integrating trauma transformation into conflict and anger
- Advocate for intentional programs and protocols that address student-body
unity and reduce social discriminations.
- Advocate for establishing the arts as integral to all curriculums.
Recreational Programs, After School Programs and Summer
- Initiate trauma specific trainings for community agencies, institutions
or individuals providing after school or summer programming.
- Advocate for linkages between local government and community agencies
for community service opportunities for children and youth.
- Initiate "town meeting" informational exchanges on creating
cross-community linkages for service opportunities by bringing together
local print and telecommunication, Jr. Chamber of Commerce, adult service
clubs, and local foundations.
- Initiate support for linkages between schools, community recreational
programs and the local arts community.
Health and Medical Systems
The prescription for violence prevention, resiliency and hope requires that
the emotional needs for trauma-specific interventions be responded to as forthrightly
as the medical responses for physical trauma. A complete protocol for responding
to emotional traumas would include all shocking, overwhelming incidences of
terror for children, including preplanned medical treatments for proactive
or preventive health needs.
- Advocate for trauma in children trainings for all health and medical personnel.
- Advocate for inclusion of trauma specific services into the protocols
for all medical services to children, especially surgical and emergency.
- Advocate for family history interviews that incorporate drawing for all
children being examined for child abuse, ADHD or ailments for which there
appears to be no direct medical cause.
- Advocate all pediatricians incorporate the new guidelines for physician-patient
- Advocate for the protocols of providing information on trauma, behavioral
cues and transformation activities to the families of young patients upon
discharge or completion of intrusive services through ER or other outpatient
- Advocate for informational outreach services to the families with children
under age 10 when an adult family member or sibling has received intrusive
- Advocate for mental health services be integrated into all medical and
public health facilities.
- Advocate for providing trauma-specific services to all ER and EMS personnel
and their children as a prevention strategy.
- Advocate for any of the preceding issues with your local academy of medicine,
academy of pediatricians and area medical colleges.
Police Safety Forces and Juvenile Justice
Many, if not most, of the young perpetrators are victims themselves are virtually
all have been witnesses to violence at sometime during their childhoods. Understanding
the effects of unresolved trauma children/youth can therefore be of great
value to safety personnel, especially the sudden, fierce survival reactions
to any perceived or real threat by the youngster.
- Advocate for full community policing with training for all safety forces.
- Initiate community exploration of programming for Children Who Witness
- Extend Witness/Victim services to the children of adult victims that include
- Advocate for Witness/Victim services to Juvenile Court and Municipal Courts.
- Advocate for Restorative Justice to be integrated into Juvenile Court
- Advocate for all staff personnel within Juvenile Court attend trauma and
trauma transforming trainings.
- Advocate for greater emphasis on comprehensive prevention programs be
adopted and endorsed by Juvenile Court
- Assign a Guardian ad litum immediately to assure the child's needs, based
on experienced, are responded to. All Guardian ad Litum appointees receive
trainings in trauma and trauma-specific interventions.
- Assign pre-teen and first-time offenders to Diversionary program, averting
the trauma of the time spent in Detention Centers.
- Establish a protocol that incorporates immediate personal and family histories
for all youngsters and the parent(s). This process routine would routine
would include the psychomotor activity of drawing to facilitate memory access
and include queries regarding witnessing violence.
- Family or personal histories that indicate the youngster has been abused,
neglected, assaulted or has witnessed violence will automatically be followed
immediately by trauma-specific intervention services, regardless of the
time interval involved.
- Young, first time offenders be processed on a fast track but with full
access to assessment and intervention services based on their needs. Unofficial
cases and youngsters entering diversionary program would receive the same
intervention and treatment services open to those entering a direct course,
with services open to those entering a direct course, with services documented.
- When possible direct community service assignments to agencies that provide
services to victims.
- Collaborate with local or county Mental Health Board Services to formulate
a specific response protocol for children younger than those now served
as offenders by Juvenile Courts.
- Parents of care providers receive defusing and transformation trauma interventions
if the need is indicated by their personal and family histories. Child development
and family relation classes are provided after the intervention services
and include neutral and behavioral changes along with trauma information.
- Drug and Alcohol services are automatically incorporated, when indicated
for youth and family members.
- Initiate a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) program for children
and youth going through the system. CASA appointees need training in neural
and behavioral changes resulting for abuse or witnessing violence.
Children's Social and Mental Health Services
- Advocate for trauma and trauma interventions be included into all staff
- Advocate for crisis assessments and trauma interventions be included into
the protocols for all children immediately upon entry into custody of shelters.
- Advocate for trauma and trauma transformation be included in all foster
and adoptive parent trainings.
- Advocate with local Mental Health Boards for greater focus on prevention
and healing services for children, including automatic stress assessments
for the young children of adults receiving mental health services or substance
- Encourage protocols that would assign a personal advocate for every child
receiving mental health services
- Advocate for mental health services to be available to children directly
through schools and community centers.
- Advocate for a community-wide comprehensive program of mental health services
for all children who have witnessed or experienced violence.