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Since the initiation of our Trauma Pathway Model in 2015, Pebbles Care has acknowledged, and embraced, the positive influence of a trauma informed approach and how it can offer young people a positive looked after experience.
The appointment of Head of Care Joy Wakenshaw, an experienced practitioner of, and passionate advocate for trauma informed practice has initiated an exciting new phase in the organisation’s journey towards excellence in this area.
In a storied 30-year career in support of children and young people, Joy has been a lead on the implementation of a trauma-informed approach, working and training directly with The Sanctuary Institute in Yonkers, New York.
We asked Joy to discuss her journey with the organisation so far and the positive impact the trauma informed focus is having on our team and, of course, our young people.
Pebbles Care is committed to the continuous improvement of residential child-care through a trauma-sensitive approach. This started in 2015 with the introduction of the Trauma Pathway, which we are further developing to offer a comprehensive trauma assessment tool, aimed at informing how we can best intervene to meet the needs of those we care for.
In the context of residential child-care, we work with many children and young people who have developed maladaptive coping mechanisms. These can be in stark contrast to the healthy adaptive behaviours that many children have been supported to learn throughout childhood from positive attachment experiences.
Our residential child-care team’s often find themselves caring for children and young people whose experiences have taught them that the world is an unsafe place, and that adults can’t be trusted. We aim to support such individuals to make sense of how their own stress response systems have become easily and acutely activated by their past harmful experiences, resulting in harmful coping mechanisms.
At such times, we can see their fight/flight/freeze responses as they feel under threat and unsafe. In such circumstances children and young people can see the simplest and most innocent of gestures from those around them as a threat to their basic sense of safety. These threats trigger basic instinctive survival responses rooted in how they have learned to cope and survive in social situations thus far in life. In the case of a traumatised child, sadly these coping mechanisms are often rooted in fear-based harmful behaviours. Change, such as a new living environment can create a further sense of loss, which can exacerbate these behaviours as their sense of vulnerability increases. We recognise how overwhelming such a move can be and why developing an understanding of trauma is making a difference to the way we care.
There is a strong and clear evidence base that adverse childhood experiences can affect us across the lifespan if not addressed. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) study conducted with over 17,000 employees in southern California in the late 1990’s clearly reflects the correlation between such adverse childhood experiences and poor health outcomes in later life.
We have learned that trauma doesn’t always emerge from a one-off serious incident. It can happen when adverse life circumstances terrify and overwhelm us and can be further compounded by other things such as neglect and, or, abuse in childhood. Everyone is different and resilience levels and protective factors are different within individuals, which is why individuals can respond differently to trauma.
At Pebbles Care, we aim to support individuals to make better sense of how what happened to them in the past, has impacted on their current behaviours. In doing so we can then support them to develop new ways of living and learning. The evidence is compelling in terms of what can happen if we don’t.
By better understanding trauma and its impact on children and young people, and those who care for them, we are becoming more able to create the level of safety they require, respond appropriately and ensure that their needs are well informed through evidence-based assessment, underpinned by well researched trauma theory. We recognise that we are on a journey in this regard and have a clear vision moving forward with our Trauma Pathway model.
We are committed to offering a nurturing, safe and familial environment for those we care for at Pebbles Care. However, we also understand that we need to be able to support children and young people to make sense of why they behave the way they do at times of stress. This is where understanding trauma becomes imperative, and it often means working in a way that is cognisant of the emotional age of our children and young people, and not necessarily their chronological age. Once children and young people understand themselves and their responses more, we can support them to learn healthy coping mechanisms rooted in self-care as opposed to self-harm. This is our goal.
Whilst we are continually learning about the wealth of information relating to working with traumatised individuals, we also know that it is only through the power of a trusting and nurturing relationship with carers, that safety can be established, allowing change to occur. Achieving this whilst ensuring that children and young people are safe remains our priority. Providing healthy childhood experiences and creating fun-based positive memories, where individuals feel safe, is what fuels our passion. This will always remain at the heart of our provision.
Understanding trauma helps us to see beyond the harmful behaviours of a child or young person. When we do this, we stop judging and personalising behaviours and can focus on empathising with the life story of every individual. In doing so we connect more deeply with them and understand the way that pain-based thoughts and feelings can often be either expressed or suppressed through their behaviours. This knowledge allows us to continue to use relationships as the conduit for change, healing and recovery and ensures that the need to create a safe and healthy child-centred environment remains paramount.
As an organisation we are learning and developing every day. I feel privileged to work in an environment where there is great enthusiasm to continually improve our care standards. We are realistic enough to know that change doesn’t occur immediately, but through an inclusive way of working with our staff. We are excited about what we will achieve in order to further improve the quality of care we provide for children and young people.