Trauma In Children's Ministry

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Abby Koontz

Abby and her husband Jay live in Indiana with their two children.  They are blessed to be licensed foster parents as well.  Abby has an undergraduate degree from Moody Bible Institute and a Masters in Social Work from Indiana University. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  She has worked with children and families involved with the Department of Child Services and Juvenile probation for 11 years.  Abby loves her local church and serves in a variety of ministries there including working with children and teens.  

How many of you have experienced that certain child that seems to create distraction, ignore redirection, and generate chaos in your ministry?  A few faces come to my mind that meet those dubious criteria.  Behavior always communicates and sometimes it shouts at us from the back row during worship time!  Unfortunately, many times these undesirable behaviors are conveying trauma that too many children in our world have been exposed to in varying degrees. 

One definition of trauma is something that “Occurs when children and adolescents are exposed to traumatic events or traumatic situations, and when this exposure overwhelms their ability to cope with what they have experienced” (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network) There are three aspects to trauma. 1.  The Event 2. The Experience 3. The Effects. We, in KidMin, are often experiencing the effects of the trauma which present in attachment and relationships, physical health, emotional responses, behavior, and thinking and learning.  There are many different forms of trauma from natural disaster to school violence to neglect and abuse at home.  Often our attitude, after continual frustration and struggle, can become “What is wrong WITH you?”  We must seek and experience a paradigm shift which will allow us to ask the better and more effective question of “What has happened to you?”.  Does this negate or excuse all negative behavior? No. This question can lead to explanation and a refined approach in shepherding this child’s heart.  Psalm 34:18 says “The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”  A practical step you can take is seeking to become Trauma Informed in your ministry.  Here are the Four R’s of becoming Trauma Informed:  (SAMHSA)

1.     Realize – the prevalence and impact of trauma 

2.     Recognize – the signs and symptoms of trauma

3.     Respond -  by integrating knowledge

4.     Resist Re-traumatization – by being careful, informed, and intentional with our responses to children and their behaviors. 

The needs of children and our sense of responsibility to that child and the others in our ministries can be overwhelming.  Here’s some encouragement.  Do you know what the single most common factor is for children who develop resilience and are able to manage trauma?  It is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or Other Adult!  That “other adult” can be YOU!  So you may not have all the answers, you may feel discouraged currently, you may feel you have nothing to offer or any solutions.  BUT you have the opportunity to build and cultivate a relationship with that child and THAT can make all the difference in the world.  So look for ways to be intentional about building that relationship and be encouraged that God will use you in that child’s life to speak love, safety, and HOPE.  “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” Romans 5:5.