The Importance of Moving Towards a Trauma-Informed World
A couple in Milwaukee faces multiple charges after their two children were found roaming the streets naked and covered in feces on Thursday, July 13.
A criminal complaint states the children have never been to school and they cannot read or write. Their house and room were filled with trash and there was feces on the walls. The door to their room had a lock to keep them inside. They haven’t been to a medical appointment in at least three years and had not been bathed in a week.
Many in the community are now wondering what kind of impact this traumatic experience will have on the children long-term, and what their future will look like.
Trauma Informed Care specialist and senior consultant at Wellpoint Care Network, Tim Grove, tells TMJ4 News that after working three decades in child welfare, there is hope.
“What I have learned over my years in the field is change is possible, recovery is possible. For these kids and kids who experience things like these kids did, recovery, healing is possible. We have seen it time and time again. Sometimes in the face of pretty overwhelming horror,” said Grove.
In fact, he says if something this terrible had to happen somewhere, at least it was Milwaukee.
“Milwaukee is full of people and systems who understand trauma,” added Grove. “Over the past 15 years, lots of people in the Milwaukee area have been part of a movement towards becoming more trauma-informed. That creates a lot of optimism that these kids, and others who experience trauma, will be fully seen and understood by many in our community. That is exactly how hope gets nurtured.”
The first step is finding the children proper care, like therapists and counseling. However, he cautions recovery comes from not just getting the right caregiver, but also having an entire network in the community who supports these children like teachers, bus drivers and even club leaders.
“Kids start to learn if the world is going to be unsafe and I need to keep those fear systems on in my brain and body, I just turn those fear systems on all the time. And part of what happens is when they are removed from that situation they struggle with, ‘Do I need to have them on again or can I shut them off?’” said Grove.
He says oftentimes those children are then labeled with behavior issues instead of the mental health issues they are facing.
According to the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health, one in five children in the state are living with two or more adverse childhood experiences. Grove says experts now believe a third to half of the population of children are living with trauma following the pandemic.
“We dream of a world where everybody in the community says, ‘What can I specifically do?’ Maybe not to address specifically these kids, they may never interact with them. But I promise you there are many, many other kids with similar stories that they do interact with,” said Grove.
Grove says besides community members getting Trauma Informed Care training, the most basic steps anyone can do is, if they see a child acting out or acting differently, look at them in the eyes and have a look of compassion and understanding on your face.
“Part of how the trauma-informed playbook starts to help kids feel safe and begin to try and turn off those well-worn fear response systems is anchored in all people seeing their behavior for what it is — an adaptive/ normal response to a very abnormal experience,” adds Grove. “They then see out-of-control anger and defiance as protective, lack of concentration or zoning out as protective in a different way. When that new way of seeing and understanding people gets coupled with activities that are calming, you can get a powerful effect.”
Now, more than ever, is a vital time to become trauma-informed.
“The past few years have been not just about COVID, but a combination of global or macro factors that have exponentially increased the burden of stress for everyone,” adds Grove. “Unfortunately, this macro stress is not evenly distributed or experienced — meaning the disenfranchised and vulnerable will bear the greatest burden. If ever there was a clarion call for the importance of equity, this has to be it!”
If you are looking for more examples of hope and resilience, Grove recommends “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog” by Dr. Bruce Perry. Wellpoint Care Network has been utilizing Dr. Perry’s teachings and the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) for more than ten years.
“That leaves us cautiously optimistic that we can help, even in the most dire circumstances,” says Grove.
For more on Wellpoint Care Network’s Trauma Informed Care training, click here.