Second Chances are Often the First Step
October’s guest blog is written by Brandy Koontz, a Child Welfare Specialist in our Foster and Adoption department. Outside of work Brandy loves working with animals, is an avid gamer and gets paid to play! Brandy also works at a hobby shop, Tri-States Games and Hobbies where she runs Magic the Gathering and “Yu-Gi-Oh!” events, as well as being part of Pathfinder Society.
When I started at Chaddock three years ago, I was not completely unsure of what I was getting into as members of my family have also worked for the organization.
I remember growing up, hearing stories from my Grandma about how they would get calls in the middle of the night informing her that one of the young men (at that time Chaddock was a boy’s school), had been found and Officer Simpson would be bringing him back to my grandparent’s house. I remember hearing from others in the community that the boys were troubled, got kicked out of “normal” school, and were criminals.
One question I have been asked a lot from people outside of the organization is “How can you work with such bad kids?” My reply has always been the same; they are not bad kids, they were dealt a bad hand and need to learn how to work with it, they need a second chance.
Based on these stories and perceptions, I never expected to have the experience I have had since I began working here. I have been opened up to a whole new world of how to handle emotions and stressors – both my own, and the children’s – as well as many new skills, such as verbally calming someone in distress and how to support and engage parents.
At Chaddock, we understand that in order to show up and be present for our children, we must first manage our own “stuff”, which means leaving our own troubles and outside life at the door. Our children are highly aware of our emotional states and if they see we are having a bad day it may raise doubts about our ability to emotionally support them. As a result, and as survivors, they may behave in ways that helped them survive in the past, based on how they perceive our emotional states.
Through this work, I have also learned that parents and caregivers often feel beaten down, discouraged, and in some cases, have given up. Our job is to keep encouraging them. It is not only the children in treatment here. Sometimes, because we don’t live it every day, it is hard to remember that parents and caregivers are going through this experience also. As staff we need to remember this; the conversations we have with the parents impact them just as much as the ones we have with the children.
Since moving to our Foster and Adoption Services department, I see more and more of what we do to help parents and caregivers. From offering mental health support, substance abuse service recommendations, to just being a shoulder to cry on, we attempt to provide wrap around care to all. The community of families we serve at Chaddock often find themselves at their lowest low and parents and caregivers trust their children to us because they have recognized they cannot do it any longer without help. This takes a great deal of courage and vulnerability.
I will leave you with this: Chaddock is not just a place for “bad kids” it is a place that helps kids and often families, who need a second chance. We don’t just stop at a second chance, we give unlimited chances, making numerous deposits into the lives of these families. We do this because we know that the positive reinforcements and experiences we have with both the child and the family help to build a better life for them.
Just remember, even on the worst of days, everyone deserves a second chance.
At Chaddock, we know that there is often a great deal of misunderstanding when it comes to our kids.
We recognize that some of the behaviors our children display can be confusing, inappropriate and sometimes scary, to those looking from the outside in. It’s important for people outside of our organization to understand that many of our children develop these behaviors as a means to protect their fragile sense of self and avoid showing vulnerability or weakness. These behaviors have allowed them to survive often painful and traumatizing experiences, however, when placed in a safe, loving environment, these behaviors often look odd, out of place and “bad”.
When we understand how and why certain behaviors develop, we are able to learn new ways to engage, respond and support our children so that they can begin to trust again and let go of those now unhelpful and unhealthy behaviors. Throughout this process we maintain our expectations and reiterate that such behaviors are not O.K., but we do it in a way that keeps our relationship with our children intact.
As an organization we know that hope and healing is necessary not only for the child, but for the entire family, and so, we prioritize family engagement and involvement. The same can also be said for our staff: you cannot give from an empty cup. We encourage our staff to reflect deeply on how they show up each day and what they bring to each interaction with a child or family so that they can be fully present for our children and families. It’s ok to not be perfect, it’s what you do next that counts – everyone deserves a second chance.