Trauma is a thief. It steals one's sense of safety, predictability, trust.
A generally accepted definition of Emotional and psychological trauma is "the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won't go away."
All the children at Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch are trauma survivors. Sometimes that is hard for people to understand. I am asked, "If a child is in a home where they are neglected or hurt, don't they get better when they get out of there?" The answer is complicated. Yes, they are safe from neglect or abuse. They are fed and loved and cared for and all their physical needs are met. However, the abuse and neglect they experienced has often become part of their reality.
As a wise therapist told me when I started at eh Ranch, "they only know the life they are in." The kindness and care they receive here seems unreal, unsafe, and unpredictable—they have no context for it. Also, of course, being removed from the only home/s you have known and brought to a new place, regardless of how lovely it seems, is in and of itself, a trauma. How can you feel secure when you are taken (helpless) into a world where you don't know the rules?
Of course, our job at the Ranch is to help them overcome the trauma they have experienced. They learn it isn't their fault. They learn of God's unconditional love. They get the therapeutic and psychiatric treatment that helps them begin to know who they are—separate from the trauma that has defined them. They learn they can find success in school. Although the trauma impacts linger... they learn to recognize and manage where it sneaks into their lives.
Sometimes that challenge is vividly displayed. One of the kids in our care, now 15-years-old, has been with us for over a year. His backstory, as with all Ranch kids, is not an easy one. He had undiagnosed psychiatric and psychological issues in a family that was ill-equipped to understand his needs. He was punished for behaviors he couldn't control. He was bullied, abused, hurt. His inborn social anxiety was amplified and he became withdrawn, closed off, and non-communicative.
So he was when he came to the Ranch. It has been a hard road for him, but he began to trust and engage. He worked hard to communicate. He learned coping skills, and he learned he was pretty smart... especially in math. He learned when he was angry he could express it without hurting himself or others. He even discovered a desire to help others, and a budding sense of humor. He began to heal.
Now, a really good foster family has stepped forward. That sounds wonderful. But for a child who has had to re-learn how life works, it can be pretty terrifying to think about having to learn yet another way... within a healthy family.
But, now the child has his own voice. As part of the process, he asked both his Ranch team and his foster family to "take things slow." Short visits, maybe one type of experience at a time, letting him learn, ask, debrief, clarify, unwind. He wants it to work, and he knows himself. He is no longer helpless.
I'll be praying for him and his foster family. It would be great if you could, too.
In His love,
Joy Ryan, President/CEO
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch
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