I personally have been in the field of human services for more than 26 years. During that tenure I have observed that caregivers of our children and teenagers also have a special sensitivity to their needs. Our staff at Lakeside are no different than others in society regarding how many adverse childhood events they have experienced in their past. In fact, evidence would suggest that many who choose our field have had even more adversity, which has resulted in special sensitivity toward those they assist.
A heart for helping to prevent adverse experiences
In a recent lecture at Lakeside, Dr. Sandy Bloom spoke about the typical profile of staff that work in the field of social services. She alluded to an informal survey and displayed the following outcomes.
In this survey of 350 individuals who are staff members in social service organizations, the following events occurred in their lives in these percentages.
- Psychological abuse (by parents) 37%
- Physical abuse (by parents) 29%
- Sexual abuse 25%
- Emotional neglect 35%
- Physical neglect 12%
- Substance abuse in household 40%
- Separated from one/both parents 41%
- Witnessed domestic violence 21%
- Imprisoned household member 10%
Empathy can be a powerful motivator and resource
It makes sense that people who have had adverse events in their childhood would want to help others who have experienced the same kinds of events. It is almost redemptive for them.
I am sure there are many kinds of adverse events in the lives of employees in any organization, but I think it is interesting to find these kinds of events in the lives of those who are assisting children and youth through these same issues. I think it is significant that these professionals not only deal with the stress of building relationships with children who have a lot of needs, but they do so in spite of carrying a lot of personal issues. I see our staff giving therapy while sustaining themselves—that is quite a heavy load to bear.
“Trauma lens” environments for staff who help children grow past adverse experiences
It is also a strong challenge to all of us about the kind of support we should be giving to professional staff who are dealing with children. Their work environments need to be consistently resonant, democratic and supportive because these types of environments reduce stress and help staff feel safe enough to process their issues while dealing with the needs of our youth.
We attempt to provide that kind of nurturing support to our staff at Lakeside. And while I am sure there is much that we can improve upon, in a difficult economy with significant funding cuts to our human service organizations and schools, it is more important than ever to give our wonderful staff members the organizational environment that provides a stable and caring place for both our staff and children.
The right type of environment will make a huge different in the quality of relationships that our staff members will be able to provide to the children and families we serve. We all win when we have trauma lenses for staff, parents and children.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network