Trapped at home!

By Leslie Holmes, Childhelp Foster Care Family Recruiter

I’ve been trapped. I have been held against my will. I’m a prisoner in my own home. It feels as if I have been given “house arrest.”

Oh alright, it isn’t quite that dramatic but it is difficult, nevertheless.

You see, after having been exposed to COVID-19, I have been quarantined for 14 days.

I have worked from home, paced my house and my yard, stared at and counted the tomatoes growing on the vine … twice, cleaned out a closet, made many messes, and blown my diet.

The truth is, I am created to be with others. I realize many can handle the isolation of a shutdown and being quarantined like a pro. Unfortunately, that would not be me. If anything it has reminded me of how much I NEED others.

Photo by Chris Clogg, Public Domain

How much I yearn for a variety of things to do.

How much I gain from interaction with others.

How irritable I can become when I have so little outside stimulation.

I feel lazy. Unproductive. And maybe a little depressed.

The one thing I have thought about, during the many hours of solitude, is how difficult it must be when a child is trapped in their own home. For me, isolation will eventually come to an end and once again I’ll have the stimulation I need for healthy survival. But for children who come from hard places, the isolation and lack of stimulation is never-ending. When children come to us lethargic, unmotivated, and irritable, it should not be any great surprise as to why.

Our brains are made for stimulation. From the moment we are born, we are designed to be engaged. Our mamas and daddies oooh and ahhh and coo as they make eye contact and we coo right back at them. As we grow, we giggle at their many faces, imitate their sounds, and begin to freely explore under their watchful eye. This is such a natural progression that we hardly take notice.

But it isn’t hard to see when a child hasn’t received this very early intervention and has been a prisoner trapped in their own tiny jail cell. Children who have been neglected have long-term effects that are noticed, not only in the very images of their brain, but also in nearly every area of their life.

They are dysregulated. They can’t process instructions. They are often unable to pay attention. They can be hyperactive and attention-seeking … or barely able to keep their eyes open. They might be the ones causing conflict in the home or classroom.

They are troubled.

And no wonder. Those fragile little brains have been starved of the very things that help them grow: good nutrition, healthy, loving interaction, and educational stimulation. Over time, tiny little branch-like brain stems, having been cut off from a productive world, wither from neglect, and the connections seem lost forever.

But then comes the miracle …

The rays of sunlight break through the prison bars of darkness that overshadowed a child’s life and those withered branches can be nourished. Good, healthy rain falls down on those dry, thirsty roots, and little flowers of knowledge, personality, and intelligence break free. At first, they might drain dry the one offering nourishment, but eventually they flourish and are satisfied.

They fully bloom. They are set free from isolation and are introduced to a life where they will be released to finally grow.

Our children’s brains can be repaired. Loving parents can change the makeup of a neglected child’s brain and connections can be made where there was barren emptiness and isolation before.

Using models like Trust-Based Relational Intervention, skilled case managers and foster parents with Childhelp use the language of play to open up worlds of communication and build trust. Feelings and thoughts that have largely been held captive are set free when connection is the goal. Using figurines, dolls, puppets, sand and art therapy, children learn — maybe for the first time — to trust.

Play is the language of a hurting child and the key to unlock a child’s soul. At Childhelp, we understand that connection is the root that leads to healing.

We are gardeners with a whole shed full of tools. We are pardoners of an unfair prison sentence and guide to the path of freedom. We are nourishers of little brains. Friends, see the power you have to end the isolation.

Every wound healed. Every child, a home.

For many, being stuck at home during the COVID-19 crisis is a burden, but consider how precious “home” is to a Childhelp foster child. This is a time we can all use and share tips to calm the chaos and open hearts. This blog originally appeared at Childhelp Foster Family Agency of E. TN, where Leslie often shares a look at the families that open their hearts and homes to children in need and the work of her incredible Childhelp team.