Extending ministries

How Child Sponsorship Can Address Trauma

Trauma-informed care is helping children understand God’s love

Created in the image of God, we are relational beings, designed to thrive in healthy, safe relationships. But when a person experiences trauma at the hands of another person, the very thing we were designed for—relationship—becomes the very thing that scares us the most.

This is especially true for children. How does a child learn to trust when others have caused harm?

Four foundational needs

God designed humans with four foundational needs. We need:

  1. To be seen: The inner world of our personhood, our hopes, dreams and beliefs; this sends the message that “You are important.”
  2. To feel safe: This refers to being protected and taken care of; this sends the message that “You are loved.”
  3. To be soothed: This refers to being calmed, regulated and heard; this sends the message that “Your feelings matter.”
  4. To feel secure: The ability to be free to be yourself, uninhibited; this sends the message that “You belong.”

Unfortunately, the pain of the world—and trauma in particular—hits right at the heart of these foundational needs. We can feed children. We can send them to school. We can provide them with medical care, and we can even teach them about the Bible. However, if a child doesn’t feel seen, safe, soothed and secure, the care we provide runs the risk of becoming more transactional than transformational.

Our life experiences significantly impact the way our brains develop.

In light of this, and in order to best serve children, it’s critical to understand the impact of early childhood trauma. Developments in science and psychology increasingly prove the global negative impacts of adverse early experiences on children. Those experiences impact a child’s brain, body, biology, behavior and belief systems; in fact, this is how trauma impacts any person.

Although designed with intricate specificity, our brains also grow and form based upon the world around us. Our life experiences significantly impact the way our brains develop.

When a child’s life experiences teach him or her that the world is unpredictable and unsafe, that child’s brain is predisposed to live in a state of survival and fear. In turn, that child’s belief systems are developed and reinforced by these traumatic experiences.

In His perfect design, healthy relationships point to the Creator...to see us. To save us. To soothe us. To secure us in relationship with Him.

It’s important that all who work with children understand the impact that life experiences have on the way we relate to people and the world around us. With this understanding, we can be the body of Christ, His hands and feet, in a way that transcends the physical care we provide.

Simply put, relational wounds can only be healed by healthy relationships. In His perfect design, healthy relationships point to the Creator, the Creator God who Himself came to earth to be with us.

To see us.

To save us.

To soothe us.

To secure us in relationship with Him.

He doesn’t teach us with words alone. He doesn’t stop at meeting our physical needs. He envelopes us with life-giving experiences and relationship—He created us with brains, bodies and souls that will thrive in the presence of both.

Recognizing vulnerability

GlobalFingerprints, the child sponsorship ministry of ReachGlobal, cares for children in great need–the physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual needs of each child sponsored. Everything done within GlobalFingerprints aims to express the love and compassion of Jesus to children in great need.

When we understand the developmental impact of trauma in a child’s life, we can learn to interact with that child differently on a daily basis.

When GlobalFingerprints care workers see a child in need and learn to see his or her circumstances through a trauma-informed lens, they can enhance the help that is already being provided.

For example, GlobalFingerprints care workers in Haiti have been trained in the basic principles of child development and trauma-informed care. Their work is challenging and often messy, but with this understanding, it has allowed them to meet needs at a deeper level.

Rosita, one of the care workers in Haiti, shared this story of a boy named Daniel*:

At five-years-old, Daniel didn't smile much. He always appeared sad, and he hardly played at all. The GlobalFingerprints care workers didn’t know whether he was sick or if he had a serious problem of some sort. They tried to talk to his mother and a few neighbors about this child. They learned that Daniel’s mother mistreated him. She would hit him; she seldom made food for him and he didn't have a relationship with his father. In other words, Daniel was hungry and traumatized. After training on how to care for children who’ve experienced trauma and the developmental needs of children, Rosita and her staff knew how to better approach Daniel. They took time to talk to his mother and gave Daniel special attention. Now Daniel is very happy. He plays and smiles more often, and his mother is treating him well.

Daniel’s situation is not uncommon. There are parents who don’t have enough food for their children and sometimes withhold food as punishment. Many kids don’t know one of their parents. This is a single snapshot of the trauma children experience. GlobalFingerprints operates in the context of childhood trauma, and our care workers are committed to bringing practical and transformative love and care over time.

New experiences bring healing

When we understand the developmental impact of trauma in a child’s life, we can learn to interact with that child differently on a daily basis. This is where the change will take place. New experiences. Healing experiences. Rewiring of the brain. An ability to accept love again. Transformation from the inside out.

This is what I’m passionate about. This is why I do what I do.

“You’re safe here. Come to life.”

I truly believe that if we do not understand the relational impact that trauma has on the lives of vulnerable children, we may miss opportunities to connect with the inner world of these children.

Children who have experienced deep pain and trauma learn to protect themselves. Understanding this preservation mentality sheds new light on behaviors, gives new meaning to words and provides new direction for interventions. Seeing children—who are trying to protect themselves—and understanding the impact of their wounds can help bring our care to a new level. Ultimately, it can help a child understand the love of the Lord, a love that is different than anything that child has ever known on earth...a love that will never fail. A love that is secure. A love that will protect. As Dr. Karyn Purvis so eloquently expressed, a love that in relationship says, “You’re safe here. Come to life.”

*Daniel is a pseudonym 

Other recommended resources:

Adverse Childhood Experiences International Questionnaire, World Health Organization

Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development

Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising connections between neuroscience and spiritual practices that can transform your life and relationships, by Curt Thomson, M.D. 

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma, by B. Van Der Kolk

Tiffany Bobendrier

Growing up in a family that did foster care, Tiffany Bobendrier has spent the majority of her life living with children from hard places. Although her developing years helped shape who she is as a person, her trauma-informed journey got a jump start when she became an adoptive mom. Certified as a Trauma Competent Caregiving Trainer, Tiffany follows her passion in a variety of ways, including leading an orphan care and adoption ministry, serving as a lay counselor, working as a trauma specialist for GlobalFingerprints, training local church leaders and speaking at moms groups. She’s working toward her Masters in Counseling at Bethel University. Tiffany lives with her husband and four children in Minnesota.

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