Webinar presenter Duane Bowers answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Working with Childhood Trauma: Tools for Justice Professionals. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Are there ways that justice practitioners such as victim advocates probation, probation officers, the people that we have on this webinar can help their traumatized clients without crossing into practices that are more intended for licensed clinicians?
Duane Bowers: Yes, and I would say that I go back to those basics. I need to feel safe. I need to feel I’m in control. I need to feel heard. Giving people choices is one of the best ways to really start. Giving a child choices in your environment, whatever your environment is, to the degree, that you can you know if you’re meeting with someone, the probation officer, for example, if it’s possible giving them the choice. Do you want to stay here in the office? You want to go for a walk while we’re talking and while you’re checking in? Do you want to sit here, or do you want to sit on the floor, if you’re working with kids? The more choices, you can give a person the more they feel in control, the more they feel in control the safer they feel and the more they feel they’re being heard. So, choices are a number one way to help reduce the traumatic effect of a person who is sitting in front of you. You may scare them. In this situation, you may have power over them all of that sort of thing because of your authority. So, to help reduce that the more choices you can give the better their response is going to be as far as those three key elements. That’s my go-to all the time giving choices, giving choices, giving choices.
Audience Question: How can we provide trauma-informed care to children when they return to school after the pandemic especially since we may not actually be safe or in control?
Duane Bowers: Oh, wow, that’s a big question. I think we get caught up in looking at oh my God, here’s a whole big thing that’s going to happen. I think if we start looking at children individually and thinking individually, how do we reduce their stress? And again, those three things I keep coming back to, you know, how do I help this child to feel like they are in control in this environment? How do I help them feel safe? I think safe is probably number one. What are the things we can do to help them feel safe in this environment? You know and again giving them a voice. I think it’s going to – I think coming back from the pandemic is going to be difficult in so many ways in reestablishing structures. I think in some ways we’re going to have to re-establish structures differently than we did before. So, everybody’s going to be learning. Everything’s going to be new and everything is going to be a risk. So for a child coming back into an environment that they left where they were told, okay, you’re not going to school because there are germs at school and they may make you sick and now I’m telling you you have to go back to school. Oh my God. Automatically. I’m going to be afraid. Automatically I feel like I’m being forced into an environment that’s going to make me sick, etc. So, I think everything we do at coming out of pandemic is going to have to sort of unteaching how unsafe the world is. You have to stay in your house because the world isn’t safe. Well, now it’s time to go back out in the world. Well, a young kid can’t comprehend all of that. So, helping them to okay, how can I make my child feel safe when we go out? Well, maybe the child wants to wear a mask, maybe the child. Maybe the child wants to stay in the car. Okay, we can let that happen for a while and slowly ease that child into situations where they can take on more risk and they can feel more and more control and safer. That’s a really big question and I don’t know if I even came close to answering it. But I think when you sit back and look at the job in front of us when we come out of this is going to be immense as far as helping kids feel safe again. So yeah, that’s what I got to offer
Audience Question: Can the genetic aspect of trauma be reversed with effective treatment?
Duane Bowers: Good question, not so much with treatment as with environment because it’s the environment that caused the genetic – I’m not going to call a mutation, but the genetic event let’s say. So, if I am in an environment of trauma, for example, I was raised during the Holocaust or I’m indigenous and I was raised on a reservation where they did the scoop and took kids to a white school and took them out of the reservation whatever. if I’m in an environment of trauma that’s going to affect the way that like I said the way that my genes use proteins to build the neurons and neural networks. So, it’s going to have to be the environment that helps change it again. I’m not sure that treatment by itself. That’s my answer treatment by itself can’t do it. It’s got to be an environmental change so that again my genes are responding to, my brain’s responding to the environment. Then gene starts using the proteins differently to build the neuron neurons and neural networks in a different way. So, it’s more than treatment. It’s got to be an environmental change because it is the environment that causes the genetic event that I was talking about.
Audience Question: Does spending time with an emotional support animal help children overcome trauma?
Duane Bowers: It helps me. I’m sorry I made a joke. Absolutely. Remember what I talked about feeling nurtured and of course, caring animals, support animals absolutely. Got to tell you that I know many environments of adults who bring in helping animals and adults who work with trauma every day where the animals are brought in for them, for their support and you know, just having an animal that is nurturing to you that makes you feel like it cares about you and it loves you and whatever and it’s not going to talk back to you. It’s not you know. It’s going to be there and love me. We talked about the ways to release endorphins to reduce cortisol level and one of them is to be in an environment that’s nurturing, being around someone who nurtures you. Well, being around a caring animal a support animal is absolutely that. It will really help a child to flood with endorphins and bring down the cortisol levels. So, absolutely it is an excellent technique. Anything with animals like Equine Therapy and all of those things where I can relate to this animal and get a sense of nurturing from this animal is going to be beneficial.
Audience Question: Why is relative size not as important to the assessment of trauma?
Duane Bowers: So, the questions were based on the information that I gave, and then the information I gave we didn’t talk about relative size. Well, I’ll be honest with you. I’ve never and I do a lot of reading on trauma and trauma assessments. I have never seen size – I’ve never read about size as being an indicator usually traumatic events that happened to children early on, don’t affect the size of the stature of the child. It may affect the size of parts of the brain and how they grow and develop. Let’s put it this way, I have never come across in the research I have done that relative size, size of the body is an indicator of trauma. I’m not saying it’s not, I’m just saying I have never come across it. So, I guess the answer to the question is I’m not saying it’s not but, in my experience, and from the research I have done, I’ve not seen it as being one of those indicators.
Audience Question: You mentioned using child-appropriate language in describing certain concepts. Can you recommend a primer or a resource on this?
Duane Bowers: Wow, no I can’t but I would be happy if you would contact me through my website. On my website, there’s a button that you can click that will send an email to me and ask me that question I will do some looking for that. That’s a really good question and no one’s ever asked that. That would be a great resource for anyone wouldn’t it to just a listing of child-appropriate language. I’ll do some research on that. If you would contact me through my website, I’d be glad to do some research in that and see what I can find. That’s wonderful.
Host: Margaret did message back and she said that she will do. James did share that “The Body Keeps Score” is a great resource. Thank you, James. I love it when our audience shares their experiences and their knowledge. That’s just fantastic.
Audience Question: Dwayne before we close out for today. I wanted to give you a chance for any closing remarks.
Duane Bowers: Well, I have enjoyed doing this three-part series. It’s the first time I’ve done a series here for Justice Clearinghouse, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope it’s been helpful. And again, I got to go to those three main things if you hear: I am not in control. I’m not safe. I don’t have a voice. Let your red flags go up that’s telling you something right there. And anything we can do to help a child feel that they have some empowerment is going to help them on their road to recovery from trauma. So that’s thank you for allowing me to be part of your afternoon.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Working with Childhood Trauma: Tools for Justice Professionals.