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As part of our series on essential concepts in trauma-informed care today we look at teaching effective action.
Traumatic and neglectful experiences are characterized by the impossibility of effective action. There is nothing the child can do to change the situation and make it better. If the child has several traumatic experiences, this world view begins to generalize. The child believes that he or she cannot influence any aspect of his or her life, cannot speak up about anything. The child gives up on the possibility of effective action. The child does not learn how to solve problems, how to assert his or her own wishes, how to make up for wrong doing, or how say no. Therefore, the child resorts to more extreme measures or gives up. He has no hope.
Do We Make This Worse?
In our treatment programs, do we teach the child these essential skills? Or do we unwittingly replicate this sense of powerlessness by prioritizing rules, offering no choices, and punishing the child who wants change?
Let’s think carefully about how we can expand our children’s experience of effective action. Have a discussion within your team about:
- What do we do that discourages or prohibits effective action?
- What do we do that allows the child to practice effective action? (Student councils, involving the child in treatment planning, peer mediation, etc.)
- How can we give the child practice in effective action, to heal relationships, correct mistakes, and accomplish goals?
- How can we give the youth ways to help the greater community through volunteering and social action?
Questions to Consider:
- Why is it important to believe that effective action is possible?
- What would be the consequences of encouraging passivity?
- How can a child learn to stand up for herself in positive ways?
Some ideas for encouraging our clients to develop their voices are:
We can help them act for themselves through making their own phone calls, arrangements, advocating with their DCF worker, writing letters, attending meetings about their life, etc.
And when something goes wrong, through restorative tasks and making amends, the child learns how to solve their own problems and make up for the harm they caused.
A child who assaults someone and then has to spend hours alone in a room has just had one more experience of no effective action being possible, one more experience of “there is nothing I can do”. He feels more shame than ever. He is suck with all the danger action hormones with nowhere to go.
A child who assaults someone and then works it out with them, does a chore for them, works on a chart about what happened, and heals the relationship is left with a feeling of “there is something I can do”. He still feels bad about what happened, but feels he is a person who can accomplish something, and make things better.
What forums can be added for youth to have a voice in programming? Who will run? What decisions can they make? How will their decisions be implemented?
Are there any ways clients can be more involved in their treatment planning?
In what areas can we support the client in advocating for themselves in the larger system?
How can we involve families in program decisions?
How can we support families in advocating for themselves in the larger system?
Can we add former clients and/or family members to our Board?
As the saying goes, are we part of the problem or part of the solution? It is essential that clients leave us more able to advocate for themselves, and with a stronger belief that they can control their own lives.
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