Staff respond: Why do you do what you do?
November 14, 2018
I was recently asked by some friends, “Why do you do what you do?”
I always find this question a difficult one to answer, especially when I’m asked by someone who isn’t from my field. I always joke that ‘I could write a book’ about the things I’ve seen, but my answer is always about how I’m passionate about helping children. This answer is usually followed up with “but look what they put you through” or “you’re probably not making that big of a difference” – and I immediately shut that down with “you don’t know what those kids have been through.”
Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely days when I question my purpose, but the universe is always good at throwing me a ‘bone’ - a little reminder about why I do what I do. These reminders come in many forms, like when I’ve had a rough morning with my work kid and then, out of nowhere, he picks the hearts out of his Lucky Charms cereal and slides them across the table to me saying “to show you how much I love you!” Other tiny moments, like when he asked me not to leave the doctor’s office and reached for my hand, or when he laid his head on my shoulder during an awards assembly at school because he didn’t think he was good enough to win anything (and he did), constantly remind me of why I’m in this line of work.
Almost all of these kids have faced or are currently facing some form of toxic stress, which can include:
- Physical/emotional abuse
- Mental illness
- Chronic neglect
- Caregiver substance abuse/mental illness
- Exposure to violence
- Accumulated burdens of family economic hardship without adequate support
It’s hard to believe these kids have had to face these stresses in an environment that should be ‘safe’ for them. As a result, their responses to stressful situations are much different than someone who hasn’t faced those additional challenges. It doesn’t work to just say “go to your room” or “you’re grounded” – instead, I have to be the person who acts opposite of what they expect and say, “I’m here for you, what do you need right now?” or “What’s going on?”
I usually get on the floor and sit at the level of my client-child, so that he doesn’t feel threatened, or I follow him around so that I know he’s safe. I’m patient, understanding and empathetic, and hopefully we get to the root of the problem. I know that this may not happen right away, but it usually does eventually.
I know I probably made this process sound easy, but it’s far from that – it’s a direct result of hours of training, personal experience and the belief that these kids deserve better than what they got. It requires having a relationship and establishing trust, which is built by coming back time after time and by letting the kids know that no matter what, “I’m not going to be another person who lets you down.”
It’s not just a one-man show either; it’s a team of like-minded people who all want to help. It’s knowing that your co-workers have your back and trusting that they are watching out for you. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of asking “are you OK?” or “can I help with anything?” – or offering to cover a shift when you’re tired and/or struggling. We are all human and feeling worn down happens to all of us at one point or another.
So the next time you see a kid struggling and an adult on the sidelines seemingly doing nothing, I challenge you to ask yourself what life experiences may have led to that situation. I can guarantee that it’s not because that child didn’t get that treat they wanted at the store.