I had the privilege of listening to a speech today that was meant to inspire educators. It was given by a woman who had overcome incredible obstacles in her life and had woven a beautiful tapestry from the pieces of her trauma. She founded a nonprofit called Turnaround for Children, and her life’s work has been about re-routing the manifestation of trauma in our country’s children. Her speech was about brain chemistry, and how context affects the way our brains process trauma.
According to Dr. Pamela Cantor, a positive context can override the negative [context] at the cellular level. I don’t have a PhD, but I’m a human and a mother, and I wanted to stand up and cheer for her. She gets it. Raising three drug-affected babies has made me a believer in Nurture over Nature. Do you know what this means for OMD? It is absolutely within our power, as force of over 500 volunteers, to change the context for kids entering foster care.
What if, instead of viewing the children we serve as “damaged goods” or something to be rescued, we saw them for the immense potential they hold? The most resilient, brave and influential people in history have been the ones that flipped the narrative on their trauma – they are the ones who managed to take the lump of coal they were given and find the diamond inside.
Dr. Cantor made the point that the “joy” hormone Oxytocin, which is produced when a human feels love and trust, is more powerful than the stress hormone Cortisol, the chemical responsible for the fight/flight/freeze reaction. How fascinating!
By providing a kind and gentle adult who’s only job is to care for a child in their most vulnerable moment, we are literally changing the context of their trauma. We are giving their brains a chance to process their pain in a new framework, giving them a fighting chance at overcoming their trauma and living their best possible life, perhaps even becoming the next generation of keynote speakers.
One of the frustrations experienced by many of our volunteers is that they don’t get to see the results of our time with the kids. We can’t follow them to their foster home and measure their satisfaction. We can’t track them through adolescence and see if they go on to higher education. Even if we could, how could we take credit? We believe in the power of a Village to raise a child, and so we haven’t set out to single-handedly rescue a child.
Volunteers, meet me on the next paragraph, we need to have a word.
We may never see the result of our time spent at a child welfare office, but here we have proof that context with trauma is EVERYTHING. If you have spent an hour or two making a child laugh, providing for their basic needs, or holding a neglected baby against your chest, you have made a difference. You have physically helped their brains store the memory of trauma in a way that can later be used as a force for good.
If you have been kind, patient, and gentle; if you have been trustworthy and dependable during your time together, then you have made a difference for good. It’s that simple. It’s brain chemistry. You may never see the result, but it’s not really about you, is it? This is about giving kids a positive context to move through their trauma, breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect, and moving together toward a society made of whole and healthy people.