KidsPeace and the Sanctuary® Model: Helping Families Find Peace
By Leslie Tenbroeck, LCSW
Raheem Khawaja* was a troubled boy who came to KidsPeace in the fall of 2009. Raheem’s family had emigrated from Pakistan shortly after his birth; he had no conscious memories of living in Pakistan and was grounded in American culture… skateboarding, cartoons and McDonald’s. Raheem had done very well at his local elementary school, which was located within walking distance from his new home. His father walked him to school in the morning, and his mother was waiting at home for him when he returned afterwards. Raheem did well academically and had many friends. It seemed like middle school would be a smooth transition. However, problems started almost immediately in the fall of his sixth grade year. Raheem was suspended twice for fighting on the bus. His grades dropped, and he became moody and unhappy. His parents grew concerned. What was wrong with their son? When they asked him, he had no answers. His pediatrician assured them that the onset of puberty often produced such changes in behavior… this reassured them, for a time. Then, following another bus incident, Raheem was suspended for bringing a knife to school. The guidance counselor insisted that the parents take their son to the emergency room to obtain a psychiatric evaluation. It was then that Raheem was admitted to the KidsPeace Hospital for treatment.
Raheem was pleasant and cooperative during his stay. He followed the rules and did not exhibit any behavior problems. The Treatment Team had a difficult time understanding why this cheerful boy was having such a difficult time at school. The therapist gathered a comprehensive history of Raheem’s experiences, and everything she was told appeared to support the story of a developmentally normal, healthy boy. Then she asked Raheem’s parents about their own lives. Suddenly, the picture began to change. Mr. Khawaja’s face grew troubled; his wife looked down at her hands entwined in her lap. In halting English, Mr. Khawaja began to talk about living in Pakistan during war. “We lost our home,” he explained, “As many did. Raheem was born in the basement of a building that had been bombed. There was nowhere safe to go, and my wife couldn’t travel in her condition. The neighbors helped us.” The clinician asked gently, “Did you lose many people who you cared about?” Mrs. Khawaja began to cry. Her husband merely responded, “It was very bad. Ever since we were young. We came here and were very happy to be in the United States.”
As the days went on, the clinician worked closely with the Khawaja family, and significant issues emerged. Living in a war zone where they feared for their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, every day had emotionally traumatized Raheem’s parents. Their experiences of terror, loss and catastrophe had shaped the way they responded to the world. They thought that all of these problems would disappear when they came to America, and what they found was that the fear and panic that they’d learned to live with came to America with them. Raheem’s parents lived every day in fear and he, living with them, did as well.
The events that this family experienced create a tragically familiar story to many of the professionals who work in mental health treatment. A traumatic event is defined as a single experience, or an enduring series of events, that completely overwhelm the individual’s ability to cope¹. Traumatic events include some of the experiences that we least like to think about: Violent crime, natural disasters, accidents, wars, community violence, child physical and sexual abuse, bullying and domestic violence. While there are many different situations that can be considered traumatic, these events have one thing in common: They are events that cause overwhelming feelings of fear, helplessness and/or horror.² Think of the victims of concentration camps; the earthquake survivors in Japan; Viet Nam veterans.
We are only beginning to understand the role that traumatic events play in the development of mental health problems, substance abuse and disruptive and dangerous behaviors. Severe and chronic trauma may lead to physical changes inside the brain and to the brain’s chemistry, which damage the person’s ability to adequately cope with stress. This is particularly problematic for children. Children who have witnessed or have been victims of interpersonal and community violence, have been neglected or have suffered terrible losses often present with a wide range of emotional and behavioral problems ³.
Children, like Raheem, can also suffer from secondary or “vicarious” trauma. This form of traumatization impacts people who are in a close relationship with traumatized individuals. Raheem’s parents’ experience of terror and loss had resulted in changes in their entire approach to life. Mrs. Khawaja in particular was afraid to leave the house. Moreover, she was terrified to let her child out of her sight and would panic when she put him on the bus in the morning. Mr. Khawaja was working two jobs and feared that he could at any time lose his jobs, and his family would again be homeless. Raheem told the clinician that he wished he didn’t have to go to school; he believed that he was safer at home, with his parents, and that they needed his help.
What is significant about Raheem’s situation is that the clinician asked this family about their history of trauma. In many cases, such information is overlooked as frustrated parents, overworked professionals and harried teachers focus on more immediate approaches to behavior. Often, the child is punished by suspensions or expulsions; various medications are tried without a thorough understanding of the problem; or the behavior is minimized or ignored until it becomes a significant threat to the safety of the community.
At KidsPeace, we recognize the role of trauma in the lives of the children and families who come to us for help, and we treat the entire family. The Sanctuary® Model, which is being implemented as the model of care at KidsPeace, provides the tools and the theory to help us to create a culture of safety, empowerment and positive change. This model teaches that, in order to recover from trauma, people need to live in a community of supportive people who are committed to their growth and healing. While KidsPeace strives to provide that for our children, we recognize that the best place for a troubled child to heal is in a safe, supportive family; and the best place for a troubled family to heal is within a safe, supportive community. KidsPeace is committed to using the Sanctuary Model, its theories and its tools to help our community become one where children and families, like the Khawajas, find peace.
For more information on the Sanctuary Model, visit the site http://www.sanctuaryweb.com or contact the author at 800-25PEACE.
¹Van Der Kolk, B.; McFarlane, A.; Weisaeth, L., Eds. (1996). Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society. New York: Guilford Press.
²Bloom, S. L. (1997) Creating Sanctuary: Toward the Evolution of Sane Societies. (1997). New York: Routledge.
³Farragher, B. and Yanosy, S. (2005). Creating A Trauma-Sensitive Culture In Residential Treatment. Therapeutic Community: The International Journal for Therapeutic and Supportive Organizations 26(1): 97-113.
Leslie Tenbroeck, LCSW, Sanctuary® Coordinator and Clinical Instructor at KidsPeace, has over 20 years experience working in the mental health field with a broad range of direct-care experience with children and families. Ms. Tenbroeck has extensive experience in crisis management; she has taught courses in Handle with Care and Professional Crisis Management and is currently a certified instructor for Life Space Crisis Intervention. She has taught courses in conjunction with the American Health institute, the Penn State Cooperative Extension and Norwich University. She is affiliated with the Sanctuary Institute and is an advocate for trauma-informed care. For the past nine years, she has been teaching and assisting in developing curriculum for direct care staff in multiple areas of instruction related to children’s developmental and behavioral health, including the treatment of self-injurious behavior, therapeutic relationships, group therapy and trauma treatment. She is currently the designated coordinator for the implementation of the Sanctuary Model at KidsPeace. Ms. Tenbroeck lives in Allentown, PA, with her husband and two sons.
Permanent link 10 Tips for Talking to Children about Natural Disasters and School Shootings
The effects of trauma in children may linger and manifest themselves physically and behaviorally. Will Isemann, President of CEO of KidsPeace, and the clinical experts at KidsPeace have compiled a list of tips to help parents talk to their children about what has happened to upset them and look out for future signs of distress:
1. Listen to children. Allow them to express their concerns and fears.
2. Regardless of age, the most important issue is to reassure children of safety and security. Tell children that you, their school, their friends and their communities are all focused on their safety and that those around them are working for their safety. Have discussions about those dedicated to protecting them like police, teachers and other school officials, neighbors, their government and all concerned adults throughout the community.
3. When discussing the events with younger children, the amount of information shared should be limited to some basic facts. Use words meaningful to them (not words like massive devastation or sniper, etc.). Share with them that weather or geological shifting has caused a specific disastrous event in a certain part of the world or some bad people have used violence to hurt innocent people in the area. Discuss that we don’t know exactly why this has happened, but a natural disaster or violence has occurred. Do not go into specific details.
4. School-aged children will ask, “Can this happen here, or to me?” Do not lie to children. Share that it is unlikely that anything like this will happen to them or in their community. Then reiterate how the community is focused on working to keep everyone safe in the community.
5. Parents, caregivers and teachers should be cautious of permitting young children to watch news or listen to radio that is discussing or showing mass death or carnage. It is too difficult for most of them to process. Personal discussions are the best way to share information with this group. Also, plan to discuss this many times over the coming weeks.
6. When discussing the events with preteens and teens, more detail is appropriate, and many will already have seen news broadcasts. Do not let them focus too much on graphic details. Rather, elicit their feelings and concerns and focus your discussions on what they share with you. Be careful of how much media they are exposed to. Talk directly with them about the tragedy and answer their questions truthfully.
7. Although this group is more mature, do not forget to reassure them of their safety and your efforts to protect them. Regardless of age, kids must hear this message.
8. Be on the lookout for physical symptoms of anxiety that children may demonstrate. They may be a sign that a child, although not directly discussing the tragedy, is very troubled by the recent events. Talk more directly to children who exhibit these signs:
• Excessive worry
• Stomach aches
• Increased arguing
• Back aches
• Trouble sleeping or eating
• Loss of concentration
• Refusal to go to school
• Clinging behavior.
9. Parents and caregivers should often reassure children that they will be protected and kept safe. During tragedies like these, words expressing safety and reassurance with concrete plans should be discussed and agreed upon within the family and can provide the most comfort to children and teens.
10. If you are concerned about your children and their reaction to this or any tragedy, talk directly with their school counselor, family doctor, local mental health professional or have your older children visit KidsPeace’s teen help website, www.TeenCentral.Net, which provides anonymous and clinically screened help and resources for teen problems before they become overwhelming.|
Misconceptions about School-Related Homicides
by Dr. Peter Langman
In the last fifteen years, a number of large-scale attacks at schools have made the issue of school violence a prominent concern across the United States. Despite the massive attention focused on this issue, there are widespread misconceptions about school violence.
Frequency of Homicides at School
Perhaps the biggest misconception is that school shootings and other types of school-related homicides are common events and/or increasing in frequency. The reality is much different. According to Dr. Dewey Cornell, in his book School Violence: Fears Versus Facts, “the average school can expect a student-perpetrated homicide about once every 13,870 years.” In other words, most schools will not have a homicide within our lifetimes, or for many lifetimes to come.
The peak academic year for school homicides was 1992-1993. Since then, the rate has decreased significantly. The Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia recorded 42 homicides on school grounds in 1992-1993. In the ten years from 2000 through 2009, the average was 6.3 deaths — a dramatic reduction. And, in both 2008 and 2009, there was only one homicide on school grounds each year.
What accounts for this decline? It is impossible to say for sure, but it is noteworthy that the turning point in the homicide rate occurred between the years 1999 and 2000. From 1992 to 1999, the school homicide rate averaged 30 deaths per year. From 2000 to 2009, it averaged 6 deaths per year. Perhaps this reflects the impact of the attack at Columbine High School that occurred on April 20, 1999. Although there had been large-scale rampage attacks at schools prior to Columbine, it was this attack that really made school safety a prominent national concern.
If this hypothesis is correct, it suggests that schools’ efforts to increase safety made a difference. Or perhaps students became more sensitive to warning signs of violence and started reporting their concerns to parents, teachers, counselors or administrators. Whatever the reason, the data clearly indicate that school-related homicides have become very rare events. On average, school is the safest place children can be.
It is hoped that the current economic climate does not result in reduced funding for schools. Budget cuts could potentially result in an increased risk of violence. Cuts to faculty, counselors, security officers and others might adversely affect the ability of schools to maintain the level of safety that has been established.
Who Commits School Shootings and Why?
Certainly, school homicides can take many forms including beatings, stabbings and shootings, but it is rampage school shootings that have received an overwhelming amount of attention. These attacks involve a student going to his own school and opening fire — generally at random people. Who commits such an act? Initially, researchers focused on identifying a profile of rampage school shooters. This effort, however, missed the fact that school shooters are not a homogeneous group.
Nonetheless, there are common misconceptions about school shooters. People often think school shooters are loners, victims of terrible mistreatment and detached from their schools and communities. It is also commonly thought that school shootings are acts of retaliation against specific people who tormented the shooters. In most cases, however, school shooters do not fit this description.
In almost every case, school shooters have friends. In most cases, they are not victims of bullying. They are often involved in activities at school and in the community. And they rarely target anyone who picked on them. So who are school shooters?
As explained in my book, Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters, the perpetrators of rampage school attacks fall into three categories:
• Psychopathic shooters. These are youths who are narcissistic and sadistic. They have deficits in the ability to experience empathy, guilt and remorse. They reject traditional values and morality and meet their own needs at the expense of others.
• Psychotic school shooters. These youths experience hallucinations and delusions. The most common type of delusion can be described as paranoid, although some of them also have delusions of grandeur. In addition to hallucinations and delusions, these youths have significant social and emotional deficits.
• Traumatized shooters. Whereas the psychopathic and psychotic shooters come from intact families with well-functioning parents, the traumatized shooters come from broken homes and dysfunctional families. They have parents with criminal histories. They have parents who abuse drugs and alcohol. These youths are victims of emotional abuse, physical abuse and sometimes sexual abuse. They bounce around from one relative’s home to another, sometimes ending up in multiple foster homes. Their lives are unstable and unsafe year after year, and eventually they reach the breaking point.
The fact that someone is psychopathic, psychotic or traumatized, however, does not mean he is destined to be a killer. In fact, most people in these three categories are not violent. The categories help us to understand the types of youth who commit school shootings, but the categories are not complete explanations. There are always other factors involved that shape the behavior of the perpetrators.
But if the attacks are not retaliation against bullies, what is the motivation? Motivations vary across shooters and, even within one shooter, there can be multiple factors driving him to murder. Sometimes shooters are seeking fame and to establish powerful identities for themselves. They may be lashing out at the world, unleashing pent-up rage and frustration. They may attack the students they envy — those kids who seem to have everything going for them. The shooters may be paranoid and believe their lives are in danger; thus, they lash out at others in an act that they conceive of as self-defense. They may hear voices telling them to kill people. Occasionally, there is a specific target, but this is not necessarily a bully. It is perhaps more likely to be a girl who rejected the shooter or a principal who symbolically represents the school.
What works in prevention?
When people think about preventing school shootings, they often think in terms of physical security measures: ID badges, video cameras, metal detectors and so on. Though these measures serve a variety of purposes, they do not stop school shootings. Rampage attacks have occurred at schools with metal detectors and even armed security guards. By the time a student enters a building, armed and willing to die, physical security measures will not stop the attack. Similarly, lockdown drills may help to minimize casualties during an attack, but they do not prevent an attack.
What can be done then to prevent school shootings or other school-related homicides? The best approach is to focus on educating students on the warning signs of violence. It is, of course, important to educate faculty and staff as well, but students are really the eyes and ears of a school. If someone is planning a violent attack, other students are most likely the ones who will know about it. If they are trained in what to look for and how to report their concerns, school shootings can be stopped entirely. In fact, the majority of foiled attacks have been stopped because students came forward with what they knew.|
Dr. Langman has worked with children and adolescents for over twenty years. He spent 12 years at KidsPeace and now consults to the organization. Dr. Langman’s book, Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters, was named an Outstanding Academic Title of 2009 by the American Library Association. It has been translated into German and Finnish and is forthcoming in Dutch. He has been interviewed over one hundred times by media outlets in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and the Middle East. He has appeared on CBS-TV, CNN, Fox and the BBC. His research on school shooters has been featured in articles carried by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Forbes, USA Today, Education Week, Junior Scholastic, MSNBC, Yahoo News, and thousands of other news outlets. Dr. Langman writes a blog for Psychology Today. His research on school shooters has been cited in congressional testimony on Capitol Hill. His website is www.schoolshooters.info. Dr. Langman received his B.A. in psychology from Clark University, his M.A. in counseling psychology from Lesley College, and his Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Lehigh University. In addition to being a psychologist, Dr. Langman is a poet and playwright.
Changing the Way We View Conduct Disorder
by Brandon Yarber
Historically, the theme of stories told by those who have had encounters with conduct disordered kids, or the programs that house them, have all started with anger, which then led to aggression, which climaxed in violence. These stories pretty much have the same plot, one episode after another. Eventually, people tired of making up excuses for the vast population of kids who are misunderstood and labeled them “Conduct Kids.”
Today, the Conduct Kid still exists; he is your brother, cousin and friend. He is every teenaged kid opposed to the norms of society or the directives given by a parent and/or seeks to evade the long arms of the law. He has the potential to be wise but chooses to be misunderstood. He has the potential to be loved but chooses to be distant. He chooses nothing because, oftentimes, he has never been given a choice – or at least that’s how he sees it. >>Read More
This article appeared in the Spring/Summer Issue of Healing Magazine®. Download of PDF of the issue by clicking here.
KidsPeace, the 130-Year Old Children's Charity, Becomes Part of the Ithaca Community
to ProvideFoster Care to Kids with Special Needs
KidsPeace, the 130-year old children’s charity, has opened its doors in Ithaca to help provide foster care to local children striving to overcome crises in their young lives. The new program will allow KidsPeace to serve children in foster homes in the local community, giving them an opportunity to stay near familiar surroundings, rather than moving farther away from home.
On Tuesday, November 8, KidsPeace hosted an Open House at its new office location, 179 Graham Road in Ithaca. Prospective foster parents, the local county Departments of Social Services, other local child service organizations and local businesses were in attendance.
Representatives from the offices of U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand were in attendance. The start-up of the program is being funded by a federal grant secured by Representative Hinchey. "KidsPeace therapeutic foster care program is going to make a difference in the lives of countless children throughout the region," said Hinchey. "I was pleased to secure $250,000 in federal funding to help bring this program to Ithaca, because of the numerous foster children in need of the emotional and behavioral support this program will provide. Today's grand opening is only the beginning, and I look forward to seeing the work they do in the years ahead." Senator Gillibrand sent a letter of congratulations, which was read aloud during the presentation.
The special guest speaker for the event was the Honorable David M. Brockway, Acting Justice for Chemung County Supreme Court and Judge for Chemung County Family Court. Justice Brockway gave a special interactive presentation on “Judicial Perspectives: What Foster Parents and Caseworkers Should Know,” sharing his knowledge and vast experience, which foster parents and professionals alike found helpful and informative.
The KidsPeace Ithaca Foster Care & Community Program, the sixth foster care and community programs location operated by KidsPeace in the state of New York and the 36th of its kind in eight states and the District of Columbia, offers a specialized form of foster care known as therapeutic foster care programming, which provides caring, well trained, licensed foster homes and families to children with emotional and mental health needs who have great potential to be successful within their communities. The Ithaca program will recruit and certify local foster homes for children, providing the home- and community-based services they so desperately need to feel safe, heal from their emotional scars and experience a sense of home, family and community. A supportive, caring foster family can give youth in crisis a sanctuary and can prevent cycles of their past from determining the course of their future.
Understanding the effects of trauma experienced by the youth we serve, and recognizing the need to address these effects, KidsPeace has developed a Model of Care based on the studies and research around promoting resilience in youth. Toward this end, KidsPeace has been an integral participant in the development of a program called “Together Facing the Challenge,” participating in two NIMH- (National Institute for Mental Health) funded studies conducted by the Behavioral Health research staff at Duke University. “Together Facing the Challenge” is a training curriculum and program designed to further enhance therapeutic foster care and includes effective community-based treatment practices for youth with emotional and behavioral disorders. This skills curriculum was recently deemed a highly esteemed “Evidence Based Practice” through the California Evidence-Based Clearing House.
The KidsPeace Ithaca Foster Care and Community Programs will benefit from the resources and expertise of the nearly 130-year history of KidsPeace. KidsPeace, established in 1882, is a time-tested children’s charity dedicated to helping children overcome crises in their young lives. KidsPeace, whose mission is to provide hope, help and healing to children, families and communities, operates programs in ten states and the District of Columbia with a continuum that includes community-based programming, therapeutic foster care (36 locations), web-based counseling, residential treatment, educational services and inpatient psychiatric hospitalization.
To learn more about becoming a foster parent, please contact:
KidsPeace Ithaca Foster Care & Community Programs Office
179 Graham Road, Suite C, Ithaca, NY 14850
Phone: 607-216-9785 Web: www.kidspeace.org; www.fostercare.com