I spent a lot of last week reading about the foster care system (400,000 U.S. minors are involved in it each year (pdf)) and I’m going to be talking about child welfare reform for a few months. Following up on 6 months working on Safe Harbor laws which enable the criminal justice system to direct child trafficking survivors to mental health, educational and other forms of support rather than warehousing them in jails (around 100,000 youths and children are in commercial sex in the U.S), I’ve been thinking about how do we as a society handle hurt kids.
Trafficking isn’t the only thing which hurts kids, but since it’s the thing I work on I know the most about it. If you want to know more about what child sex trafficking looks like, you can check out the #SafeHarbor #tag since I put at least half-a-dozen new articles out about it a week.
Thanks to a friend on Facebook, I got some numbers and more importantly, some approaches that work for the broad category of hurt kids, or children with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). That term, ACES comes from a study which showed the correlation between negative health outcomes (everything from heart disease to death) and childhood trauma.
But my friend didn’t point me to the CDC report, she sent me here. It’s an article about how a high school principal in Walla Walla Washington used the ACES framework and some basic human compassion to rework school discipline and help the hurt kids he came into contact with.
I don’t have a specific action with this post, or a particular lesson I learned, but I will be thinking about what it takes to help someone who is young, whose brain is still cooking and it’s cooking in a toxic chunky stew of fear and anger and loss and resentment and depression and all of the hormones everyone’s sautéed with between 12 and 22. I think it has something to do with talking, with switching into their perspective, with being as kind as possible.
I think that’s where the answer lies.
“Children with toxic stress live their lives in fight, flight or fright (freeze) mode. They respond to the world as a place of constant danger. They can fall behind in school, fail to develop healthy relationships with peers, or develop problems with authority because they are unable to trust adults. With failure, despair, and frustration pecking away at their psyche, they find solace in food, alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamines, inappropriate sex, high-risk sports, and/or work. They don’t regard these coping methods as problems. They see them as solutions to escape from depression, anxiety, anger, fear and shame.”–Jane Stevens, author of the article mentioned above