During our nearly 36 years of caring for children from stressed families, we’ve learned that the children in our care have four primary needs: safety, control, connection and worth. Home life for many of these children can be chaotic and uncertain – even traumatizing.
An eight year-old child, “Henry” recently came to Vanessa Behan with a bullet in his pocket. Throughout the morning, he constantly talked about needing a knife in his pocket to protect himself. Our House Parents continued to reassure him that it was their job to keep him safe. Henry’s single parent is going through treatment for a serious medical condition so his home life is stressful. His time at Vanessa Behan is spent with caregivers who are completely focused on his needs. He is able to get a break from the stress at home and to participate in normal childhood activities.
Poverty is a common denominator with nearly all of the children we see and that creates enormous stress in the family. These children may not have enough to eat, or proper clothing. Their parents may be less engaged with them as they are constantly juggling scarce resources.
At Vanessa Behan, children move through a variety of rooms throughout the day, each designed to involve a different developmental aspect. They can dress up in costumes, shoot a basketball, read a book or make slime. Many of these are activities that they haven’t had an opportunity in which to participate due to the lack of resources within the family.
Our caregivers are trained in trauma-informed care and support children with social and emotional learning. They help children identify and name their emotions, which is the first step in learning to manage them. We know from brain science that stress and trauma physically change children’s brains. It changes how they respond to life. Our work in social and emotional learning helps re-wire their brains so that they can have healthier responses to life.
Earlier this month a mom called and asked if she could bring her daughter, even though it wasn’t an emergency. It was her daughter’s birthday and when she asked her daughter where she wanted to go for her birthday her daughter replied Vanessa Behan! We’ve always strived to make Vanessa Behan a place that is restorative and fun. Knowing that we are birthday-level fun is a validation of our approach.