Chaplain Gerry Griffith
Hamilton County Sheriff’s Chaplaincy
Many times Chaplains are called to support families in times of crisis and traumatic events. Too many times Chaplains are called to events not knowing what or whom they might encounter. This might be to give a death notification, be present for an unattended death response, or assist at an accident scene. There is always the possibility that children might be present and need to be included in the care given by the Chaplain. Understanding the basic needs of children in times of crisis or trauma and having basic tools can impact the way a child might deal with the event for the rest of their life. By having the basic understanding and tools, a Chaplain can give a child life long skills that will help them cope with the challenges of life and living. The child can learn to incorporate those life challenges into their life in a healthy, positive and life affirming manner.
Ethics of Working With Children – The first and most important issue when working with children is to remember that we have an ethical obligation to honor the faith or lack of a faith community when responding to a traumatic event. Our first goal is to ask about and respect their faith and worship rituals. Our role is to provide comfort and support and a compassionate presence at the time of the crisis or traumatic event. To challenge their faith or try to convert them away for the support system that is most familiar and accepted at this time would add more stress and confusion to an already difficult time in their life.
The Model: The National Organization for Victim Assistance has developed a crisis response program that allows for those in the caregiving roles to provide crisis care in a way that supports healthy caregiving and a psychologically strong method for giving victims of crisis and trauma a way of processing the event. Caregivers learn tools to give victims a language to express what they have experienced and to identify challenges that lie ahead of themselves and remember their support system. The model is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs as a guideline for the steps taken in the response.
What is Crisis: Each crisis and traumatic event might not be a crisis for everyone concerned. A crisis is defined by an event that occurs when a person’s stressors outweigh their adaptive capacities. When bad things happen, each child may be dealing with different life circumstances. There might be an illness, divorce, financial challenges or some form of abuse that is present that might impact a child’s ability to cope. It is important to remember that not all children will react or respond to a crisis in the same manner. This makes it even more important that each child is respected and cared for in a way that meets their individual need.
Adaptive Capacities: Some of the adaptive capacities in daily life that can impact our coping skills are our physical health, physical abilities, cognitive and emotional IQ, education or experience, community or family support, our spiritual connection and our individual personality. Life challenging circumstances in each one of those areas can influence the way we deal with life on an everyday basis. When a crisis or traumatic event occurs while we are being challenged in one or more of these areas it diminishes our ability to cope, think clearly or remember our strengths or support system. The crisis event can add a traumatic memory that is connected to our five basic senses and can be triggered by any of those senses when we least expect or are least prepared to cope.
Crisis reactions can be even more challenging when issues such as addictions, past traumas, family discord or physical or mental illness are a part of the current life surroundings. This is why it is important for a Chaplain to listen to the child and those around them to be as sensitive as possible to the needs of the child or children we have been called to care for.
Goals of Crisis Response: The goals of crisis intervention are to respond to the concerns and issues that are heightened by the traumatic event. Using the appropriate tools we can defuse the emotional memory so cognitive processing can take place. We are there to assist individuals in the integration of traumatic events into their ‘life story’ and to reconnect them with their positive coping skills. As Chaplains, our goal is always to reassure others and help restore and maintain a supportive and positive learning environment. Whenever possible, our highest goal is to prevent long-term maladaptive stress reactions.
Not Psychotherapy: When responding to a crisis intervention it is important to remember that this is not psychotherapy. Therapy in these situations is inappropriate because people have already been bombarded with overwhelming change. People in crisis are highly stressed by events and conditions around them and out of touch with their coping skills. People in crisis, many times do not feel safe. Therapy depends on people feeling safe enough to explore the possibility of personal change. This requires time and a working relationship. Crisis interventions are short and event specific. Our job when responding is to help the child find a way to express their reactions to a crisis or traumatic event. A Chaplain is to be present for the situation at hand and to have a list of resources for those that might need a mental health referral. After those impacted by the trauma have dealt with the most immediate complications of the situation for six months or more with no improvement, or if they have an immediate need for care beyond the scope of a crisis response, they will need to have the referral information.
Needs of Children: There are specific needs that young people in crisis have. Most of all they need to talk about what happened. It is important to note that not all children have the developmental skills that will allow them to understand and process what has happened. Children need to learn how to incorporate what has happened into their daily lives so they understand the changes that will come as their needs are being met in a new way. It is important that they be able to explain to themselves what has happened so that they can acknowledge it and then reconnect with their positive coping skills. It is also important to have a list of resources available for further help because many times the crisis responder is only present for a short period following the event. Encouraging the children and families to attempt to continue with their usual routine is important because it is a positive step toward resuming their life as it was before the incident. Continue reading Crisis Intervention and Working With Children in Times of Trauma