How understanding trauma can help us all care for children better.
By Mike Findlay
Everyone who is a parent, or has cared for a child, aims to do their best. But the reality is that sometimes ‘doing your best’ isn’t quite enough when it comes to caring for some children, particularly those with complex needs.
Suzanne Scott from Milngavie is a mum to two girls, one of them has autism. Suzanne and her husband have also been foster-carers for seven years for numerous children, some of them have experienced hardship early in life and subsequently display difficult behaviour.
With this experience and reflecting on her own challenges of parenting over the years, Suzanne took it upon herself to train in trauma-informed parenting leading to her setting up her own charity – Trauma Informed Parenting (TIP) to provide information, training and peer support for parents and carers.
One of the lightbulb moments came for Suzanne when she was the carer for a young boy aged eight. He lived with Suzanne and her husband for about two-years and his behaviours were extreme. It was a struggle to get someone to adopt him permanently because of this.
Suzanne explains: “This challenging wee boy had gone through so much in his life, and his behaviours were out of control. We had done loads of training as foster carers but none of it was helping in this instance. I did some research and I found out about ACE-Aware Scotland, a major international conference happening in Glasgow on the subject of understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
‘I attended the conference, and it was brilliant. It blew my mind and also confirmed a lot of my own thinking about parenting children with complex needs and backgrounds. But it didn’t really answer what to do differently with your own parenting. I came home hungry for more information.
‘After some further research, I discovered the work of Bryan Post, a US-based child-behaviour expert and founder for the Post Institute for Family-Centered Therapy. Learning about this opened-up a world of information about being trauma-informed inspiring me to become qualified in this area.
‘Being trauma-informed is about seeing my own triggers and moments of stress with my kids and learning how to adapt my parenting style around this. I began to notice when I was bringing stress into the relationship and also when this escalated out of control.
‘It’s also about recognising in children that they are not necessarily behaving badly on purpose. They cannot help what they are doing, and they are not necessarily aware of it.
‘When I started changing my response in those moments, seeing and recognising my own fear, that’s when I started to see the difference. So that’s what being trauma-informed is about, it’s about seeing my fear first, managing that before I attend to my child’s fear.
‘We saw the difference it made so much with our foster child but also with our own autistic child, with our neurotypical child, with my parents, with everyone I know. My relationships changed as a result of this training.
‘My husband and I started to think about what it would be like if we started to tell other people about trauma-informed parenting and get this information out there. And this is where the idea for the charity was born.’
Suzanne and her husband first established TIP in early 2020. Their initial intention was to run the charity for a couple of years, providing training and information to parents throughout Scotland. But with lockdown things escalated quickly and there was even more demand for the training and resources than they had first anticipated.
Suzanne moved all her training to online. She explains: ‘We started offering the training for free advertising through online forums for parents who are struggling. Many parents and carers are not sure where to turn. We started offering our training and resources to parents of children on the spectrum with, for example, ADHD because I’d seen the difference it had made my own child.
‘The feedback we received was that learning about trauma-informed parenting was really making a difference. It snowballed from there. We now run two to three workshops per month online, and we welcome anyone from all over the world to attend.
‘We’ve secured funding for certain areas of Scotland – doing six to eight training workshops in any particular area of Scotland over a year. Again, this training is free to anyone attending. We have also done some fundraising through the Kilt Walk and through community grant funding.
‘People attending vary in backgrounds and professions – from parents of children on the spectrum, to people that have come through domestic abuse – we are also attracting adopters, support workers, play therapists and health workers.’
When someone attends the four-hour training workshop with TIP, they are then invited to join a private support group. The support group is about sharing information and helping parents manage their own stress, with members being given the opportunity to take part in reiki therapy, meditation and book study.
The charity is still in its early stages with new trustees recruited and ambitions for reaching out into schools and local councils.
However, the impact this small charity run by one mum has had is remarkable. Suzanne comments: ‘So many parents are telling us that this is making a real difference in their lives. Many of them are saying they don’t feel alone anymore; they feel they’ve got hope for the first time in years. The challenging behaviours in their children have reduced. The meltdowns have reduced. Stress levels have lowered, and they are more connected as a household, and they understand that their child is not behaving badly as a personal attack on them. It’s wonderful to hear this feedback from people.’
For more details of Trauma Informed Parenting and to get involved see: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TIPtraumainformedparenting