Helping Children Navigate Trauma – A Community Conversation

In July, local community members and service providers came together for a community conversation led by Megan Beers, Ph.D, Wellspring’s senior director of Early Childhood Services and Bevette Irvis, the director of Wellspring’s Early Learning Center. The two spoke about trauma and the negative effect it can have on children facing homelessness, and how Wellspring’s Early Learning Center trauma-informed approach counteracts those negative effects.

At the center of the discussion were relationships and how they can be used to buffer children against trauma. Megan explained that while learning to deal with stressful circumstances is a healthy part of growing up, children who experience high levels of stress for prolonged periods of time, without adult help, can have stunted brain development. This can have long-term negative effects on learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health.

Many of the children in Wellspring’s Early Learning Center have experienced trauma--either through their experience of homelessness, domestic violence, or living with a caregiver with mental health challenges. While these traumatic experiences often have a negative effect on the children, the ELC’s trauma-informed approach can buffer the child against negative outcomes by surrounding them with supportive relationships. These relationships can then help the child to process their trauma and emotions.

Bevette shared a story from the ELC that demonstrated that powerful approach.

“Malik came to us at two-and-a-half years old. He’d been kicked out of nine or ten early learning programs. Everywhere he went, he had to leave. He didn’t understand why he was always being asked to leave. He had some challenging behaviors. As he grew, those behaviors came out more. He and his mom had left a domestic violence situation. He came in one Monday morning, kicking things, throwing things, knocking things off tables. His mom was very quiet that morning, too. That day he took a plastic knife and held it to a little girl’s throat. When his mom came back that afternoon, Malik’s teacher had a conversation with the mom to share what she had observed, as well as the emotional support that she provided to the child. Mom shared that the dad had found them that weekend and had held the mom at knifepoint. Neighbors called the police who rescued the mom. All of that was coming out in Malik’s play--he was trying to make sense of his weekend.”

Malik and his mom accessed therapists through Wellspring’s Early Childhood Therapeutic Services. With that help, Malik was given play therapy and learned to understand his emotion and process his trauma. His mom was given the support she needed to help her process her own traumatic history.

Malik’s story is a powerful example of how Wellspring’s Early Learning Center supports children impacted by the negative effects of trauma by providing much-needed emotional protection around them. The trauma-informed approach works!