Filling In For Family

Posted: 2015-07-14 08:42 by Andre Benjamin - Riebel Home Asst. Sup.

Family can be defined in a number of ways: a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household, a group that is grounded by the same roots and shared values, people that are continuously present in our lives who offer us safety and security.

Many of the children that come through Wedgwood have suffered from trauma due to abuse and neglect. More often than not, the hurt that these kids carry around was inflicted by the ones they refer to as their family. To them, the word “family” takes on a whole different meaning. The trauma they experienced creates difficulty in building trust, trouble with maintaining relationships, and often severe reactive behaviors.

The Wedgwood staff plays a vital role in helping children work through their trauma, and supporting appropriate development. When a new kid comes into a residential placement facility, they often look at staff as authoritarian figures, people who are only there to boss them around and make their lives even more miserable. It is up to us to erase that perspective and replace it with one that allows the child to feel safe, cared for, and loved.

Our staff works hard to be consistent and positive role models for the children of Wedgwood. As a parent, our ultimate role is to help our kids discover who they truly are and help them to find peace in their place in the world. As a residential treatment provider, we do that by offering grace and understanding, allowing kids to heal emotionally and instilling hope for what their future holds. In that sense, we create that sense of family in our homes, “family” as the people in their lives who offer support and make them feel important: the people who always treat each other with dignity and respect and love.

Miraculous Changes

Posted: 2015-07-09 09:45 by Randy Zylstra - CEO/President

If you grew up like I did, your concept of family would include many of the following elements: a place of safety, a place of learning, a place where food and shelter were expected, where fairness and predictability were assumed, a place of trust, a place to give and receive. 

Some of our clients at Wedgwood come from wonderful, loving families but a large number do not, nor did their parents. They have no concept of family values or positive role modeling. Consider these words of a 15 year-old boy in residential care:

“They tell me that I look just like my father. Thanks a lot!  You mean the one I have not heard from in years, the one in and out of prison, the one who killed my dog, who locked me in the basement all day, who beat my mother……. The one whose identity I cannot shake, whose image I hate to see in the mirror because it makes me wonder if I will turn out that way?”

“You ask me what my dad taught me. He taught me never to cry. He told me never to hit a girl (the way he hit my mom). He taught me to fight, and that revenge was how you won respect. He taught me I should never trust, never apologize, never admit being wrong. Take what you can get because life is not fair. He did not really teach me with words very often, but he taught me just the same.” 

Did you know that many of our residents do not go home for holidays because they have no one to call family? Did you know that some of them have disrupted multiple foster home placements, adoptive placements, and even residential placements because they feel so disconnected and hopeless and self-destructive? We try hard to rebuild family relationships wherever even a fraction of a family exists, but there are times when nothing exists to build on.

The techniques for recalibrating traumatized, neglected, and abused children are NOT the same as those our parents used successfully on most of us.  It takes a far more sophisticated approach and we have a narrow window of opportunity. Our staff had to learn how to redefine the meaning of family for many of our residents. We have learned how to create safety, security, predictability and trust. We learned how to build hope before expecting motivation, honesty, and “good” behavior.  We have had to learn tremendous patience as that hope and trust are repeatedly tested.  We have had to learn how to reinterpret anger as something deeper, something that may be the best response a traumatized and hopeless child can produce. We have had to learn how NOT to accept failure as failure. 

We are extremely proud of our staff!  This is very difficult work, and they participate in multiple years of training in order to meet the highest standards of therapeutic excellence.  But there is one secret tool that is deeply entrenched within Wedgwood culture. It is far more effective than any other.  Miraculous changes occur when a child comes to realize that they have unique and unlimited value in the eyes of their Creator. Our staff grasp that, and seek to become a redefined family for those who have none. They know that change does not come from an intellectual discussion on ethics or behavior or the meaning of life.  Nor does it come from threats or lectures. That realization must be experienced, repeatedly, through patience, compassion, forgiveness. It is not intellectualized so much as observed and absorbed.  We do our best to verbalize the truths of God, but talk is cheap to someone who cannot trust. St Francis of Assisi said it well:  “Preach the gospel at every opportunity….. If necessary, use words.”

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