Understanding Trauma

Learning about trauma-informed care helped foster parents Dave and Jessie gain a better understanding of how to help the children in their care.

Dave:  “The great rose-colored glasses I had on when we first started foster care was, ‘all these kids need is some love and some discipline.’ It’s not really the case because you’re not dealing with kids that are not traumatized. Just the act of going into foster care traumatized as a kid.

“My name’s Dave Godack.”

Jessie:  “And I’m Jessie Godack.”

Dave:  “We have two birth children, 18 and 16.”

Jessie:  “And we have fostered, I think, 16 children, 19 different placements over the last six years.”

Dave:  “She was really tough. She was actually hospitalized at one point in a mental health facility trying to self-harm was trying to harm others. You know, we had to watch her basically 24/7. And, in one particular instance, it was wintertime. And she dropped her coat on the floor in the kitchen. I said, ‘Honey, could you pick your coat up and hang it up?’ She responded by throwing a shoe at me and saying some very unpleasant words. When somebody throws a shoe at you, you think I’m going to throw a shoe back. It’s just sort of a natural fight or flight reaction. But when you realize she’s not throwing the shoe at me to be defiant or disrespectful, she’s throwing a shoe at me because she’s so upset. She’s not even thinking at this point.”

Jessie:  “And there were times when we were like, I don’t think we can do this anymore. Like, we need to figure something out for this family and we need to just be done because we can’t do it like we’re not capable of doing that. But we also are able to find like a trauma-informed parenting class. And that was I thought that was instrumental for us.”

Dave:  “That’s where I learned the things like, get down to their level so they aren’t intimidated anymore, and don’t feel challenged, and speak softly because it forces them to listen harder, and then ask them that open-ended question of ‘wow, you got some big feelings going on. What are you doing? How can I help?’ When kids have this kind of stop and think, it allows them to get out of their, what I’ve learned from training, their downstairs brain and into their upstairs brain, where they do more thinking and less reacting, you know, and she actually she got to the point where I would ask her questions like that and she would say, ‘I just need to be left alone right now.’ Okay, fair enough.

Jessie:  “Or she would say, ‘I know I’m in my downstairs brain right now and help me get up upstairs again.’ Like getting her to understand that, like, look, we’re gonna make it through this together and kind of teaching her a little bit along the way was really helpful for her.

Dave:  “Look, by no means what I claim to be an expert on trauma, but it’s a really powerful force for people from everything that I’ve been taught. And I think it’s even more powerful when it occurs when you’re young. And these kids need to know that we’re not going to give up on you, we’re just going to work through it. Then they can actually kind of start to heal a little bit.”

Jessie:  “I think as hard as it’s been, and as many times as you know, we’ve felt like, why do we keep doing this? Like, why did we get into this in the first place? I think it’s just a little snippet of their lives. We were able to give them love and structure and even if we don’t have contact with those kids anymore. Just the idea that maybe those kids are going to turn out better than they would have had we not been in their lives is a good feeling.”

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