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It’s tragically easy for a child to slip through the cracks. Dr. Allison Sampson-Jackson showed an audience how many different people and organizations could fail to help an abused child. During a workshop on trauma and resilience, Sampson-Jackson used a hypothetical boy named Henry to show how clergy, daycare providers, teachers, principals, social workers and law enforcement officers could unknowingly create more trauma for Henry by strictly sticking to their own jobs.

Handled With Care

Close up of pensive blond hair girlBut, she used a real-life example to show how collaboration, even in a vague sense, could help children. If law enforcement shows up at a child’s house for a domestic disturbance, they know that child will have a rough time at school the next day. But it would breach confidentiality to call the school and tell specifics. So in one locality, law enforcement calls the school and says, “This child needs to be handled with care tomorrow.” And the school employees are trained to know this means gentleness without prying. 

This simple example shows the importance of a community understanding trauma, Sampson-Jackson told the audience assembled last night at the John F. Fick Conference Center. Rappahannock Court Appointed Special Advocates hosted the trauma expert for a talk on helping children who have endured abuse, neglect, and other trauma. RCASA works with children who are in the court system because of abuse or neglect. Volunteers work with the children to advocate for them in the court system.

Often, these volunteers become a rare stabilizing influence for children who have experienced multiple traumas. So RCASA Director Janet Watkins wanted to offer training on ways to help children heal.

The training was offered with help from the Duff McDuff Green Jr. Fund of the Community Foundation and the Rappahannock United Way.

Trauma 201

Sampson-Jackson had recently been in the area to teach a daylong workshop and host an evening town hall on Adverse Childhood Experiences. That event helped community members learn to recognize the signs of trauma, and showed them how trauma could affect a child’s health, education, and behavior. 

“If that was Trauma 101,” Watkins said. “This is Trauma 201.”

The workshop focused on ways to help individuals heal from trauma. 

The first step was self-care, Samspon-Jackson said. 

“Sometimes if we breathe, the other person knows they’re OK,” she said. 

Relationship is the biggest key to healing. But building connections to someone with troubling behavior requires self-care and self-compassion. 

Calming Behaviors

Teenage African boy in headphones listening to the music and keeping eyes closed while sitting in lotus position on the floorPeople struggling to cope with trauma have two responses: Arousal or Dissociation. For both responses, interruption is key. Sampson-Jackson gave the example of a teen who cuts themselves. They often do this in order to feel, because dissociation creates an experience where they’re checking out. If you can catch the cycle before it gets too deep, an ice cube could interrupt the process. 

Arousal is the opposite of dissociation and often involves destructive behaviors. Sampson-Jackson said that coping skills include calming behaviors:

  • Taking time away from a stressful situation
  • Going for a walk
  • Talking to someone who will listen
  • Working out
  • Lying down
  • Listening to music

Not every child will respond to each calming behavior, so it is important to understand which ones will work. Some ways to create comfort include:

  • Sensory Input
    • Sound
    • Touch
    • Smell
    • Taste
    • Sight
  • Proprioception
    • Pressure to the body’s muscles or joints
    • Activities that require use of muscles
    • Weight–such as a heavy quilt or weighted blanket
  • Vestibular
    • Yoga
    • Air guitar
    • Video games such as Wii or Kinect

Self Care Kits

For the sensory input, Sampson-Jackson cautioned that what may be calming for some could be triggers for others, depending on the trauma. For example, a calming scent could bring back memories of an assault if it was associated with the abuse. 

She recommended creating Self Care Kits for Kids. These could include: stress balls, kinetic sand, ice packs, music, aromas, fidget spinners, mandalas, crayons, etc. 

We use similar kits at our Sunshine Lady House. They include one thing that helps with each sense. For example, a peppermint candy, a scented candle, a stress ball, a happy picture, etc. These help with grounding. When someone starts to become anxious, focusing on each sense can calm. 

Sampson-Jackson also suggested enrolling children or teens with aggression in recreational activities. They find a good outlet for their energies and learn to work as a team. 

“Trauma is a loss of power,” she said. “We should help them get back some control and develop connection.”

How to Help

If you would like to help local children who have experienced trauma, here are some ways to get involved:

  • Become a volunteer court-appointed special advocate. Call 540-710-6199 or at [email protected].
  • Become a foster parent by contacting your local department of social services:
    • Caroline County, 804/633-5071, ext. 122
    • Fredericksburg City, 540/372-1032
    • King George County, 540/775-3544
    • Spotsylvania County, 540/507-7898
    • Stafford County, 540/658-8720


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