*Again, this is my title for the licensing classes, clearly not theirs. To be more accurate, Session 3 was entitled, “Meeting Developmental Needs: Attachment.” It included a laundry list of the various types of trauma that a child can experience before being placed in foster care. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, medical neglect, emotional/psychological maltreatment, etc. Once defined, we went on to discuss how the traumatic stress from these experiences may manifest in a child’s behavior. It reminded me of reading the list of side effects included with a bottle of aspirin It was anything and everything that might go wrong and by the time you are done reading it you are convinced that you would rather suffer your headache instead of dying a slow and painful death that one dose of aspirin is surely to inflict upon you. It’s important to know but what are the chances of it all going wrong? Pretty slim. It was important to keep that in mind as we delved deeper into the subject.
We learned that acute trauma is just one traumatic event, chronic trauma is when a child has experienced multiple traumatic events, and complex trauma is a term used to describe both exposure to chronic trauma and the long-term impacts. Reading about trauma reminders was akin to learning about PTSD in soldiers that react to environmental triggers that send them back into the emotional state of war even though they are safe at home. I highlighted the quote, “Always remember to react to the context of a child’s behavior, not to the behavior itself.” in my handbook. I may need to tattoo that on my forehead so I can remember it as a mantra. (Maybe on Mr. Something’s forehead so I can read it at all times?)
Returning to the big idea of Session 3, we were told over and over that the key to developing attachments with children suffering from trauma is patience, consistency, and seeking out moments when positive attention and experiences can be shared. We learned of the jigsaw puzzle that is each child in foster care. It served as a reminder that even though a child may chronologically be 8 years old they could be academically a 6 year old, emotionally a 4 year old, but have the life experiences of a 16 year old. I’m no stranger to the jigsaw puzzle, walking into my classroom of second graders I am always aware that “second grader” is a loose label for most of them. Academically speaking alone, I can have a span of non-readers through students reading at a fifth grade level all sitting in my classroom. Constructing each student’s puzzle has become second nature to me and the prospect of discovering and nurturing my own children’s jigsaw puzzle intrigues me.
I’d like to amend my title. I wouldn’t say that Session 3 scared the crap out of me, but it was heavy. There really wasn’t any information that I wasn’t expecting, it was just difficult to get it all at once. Now that I am a week removed from it, I can file it away in my schema and access the pieces of it that I will need in the future. I won’t, under any circumstances, ever need it all at once ever again. One of our sassy, no-nonsense instructors reminded us plainly, “If you don’t think you can handle a child that has been sexually abused, tell your case worker, flat out. Don’t give the politically correct answer or the answer that you think will make you look the best. Be honest with what you can and cannot handle.” I need this one tattooed somewhere too. I tend to be a people pleaser but this is one case that I need to be honest with everyone, including myself about what we can and cannot handle.
Thursday was our 4th wedding anniversary. Pressed for time, as usual, before class we grabbed a quick dinner at Steak N’ Shake. Now, even though it’s been four years of marriage for us, it has actually been twelve and a half years together. (See our story here. Awww…) When we first met as broke teenagers, Steak N’ Shake was one of our places. There is one across from our movie theater. Dinner and a movie was a big night out even if it was shakes and cheese fries! So, despite the underwhelming culinary experience, we were still able to sneak in a place that held some memories for us.
<—I love this guy! 🙂 …and a good milkshake! 😉
The evening culminated in Session 4- “Meeting Developmental Needs: Loss.” Isn’t it romantic? Luckily class ended way earlier than normal, mainly because spending a session reflecting on loss and the grieving process often conjures up difficult memories for those in the class. Our instructor explained that there was no reason to beat the idea into the ground. Every child in foster care has experienced an unexpected loss. Even the loss of an abusive parent can be devastating because, as we learned in Session 3, attachments can be developed even when needs are only sporadically met. The woman sitting next to me, who returned after her one session hiatus leaned over in the midst of discussing the many manifestations of grief and whispered, “This is scaring me!” I told her that I’d be worried about her if she wasn’t scared. She later told me that she has already raised two children of her own and thought that it wasn’t so bad, so how hard could taking on a foster child be? I think she’s changing her tune.
Our homework was to complete a Loss History Chart, it maps the age at which we suffered a loss, the type of loss (an important person, health, sense of safety or well-being), what happend, how the loss effected us, and help that was received. It wasn’t exactly how I envisioned we’d be spending our 4th anniversary, but the bigger idea of moving forward with our “someday” plan seems like reason enough to celebrate.