Woman holding toddler

At Genesis, our primary mission is “to provide safety, shelter and support for women who have experienced domestic violence.” One of the most fundamental ways in which we do this at our residential campus is by providing childcare to our clients with children. While at residential, clients will be meeting with clinical and advocacy staff weekly to work towards defining and obtaining their goals. However, it is difficult to work on these goals when clients do not have access to safe childcare options. That is where our Children’s and School Departments step in by offering all day childcare, camp services and on-site school options. We are trained to meet the diverse needs of all our clients and utilize a trauma-informed approach. But what does trauma-informed child care look like?

At its core, being trauma informed means that as a team, we are not only aware of the effects of trauma on children overall, but are trained to recognize the effects and respond to the specific needs of each child in our care. Being trauma-informed means that as childcare staff, we understand that our children exist within different environments and settings that impact them and that mitigate their trauma symptoms. Therefore, our childcare services are intentional, compassionate, safe and flexible in order to help the children we serve continue on positive developmental paths and prosper. To provide this type of support we:

Maintain Consistent Schedules

Children exposed to domestic violence face many uncertainties. Often those who arrive at shelter have faced not only uncertainties regarding safety, but also housing, schooling, community support, legal support, etc. As a result of these uncertainties, many of the children we serve struggle with transitions and change due to the fact that change has often been associated with something negative or unsafe. Therefore, by providing consistency, we are able to help children feel safe and in control of their environment.

Provide Choice

At our residential facility, we support a behavior management plan that outlines for children what behaviorally is expected of them as well as the ways in which staff support and respond to those behaviors, keeping in mind that the behavioral expectations of each child will look different. One element of this plan is that of choice. We emphasize the practice of giving our children choices in their decisions, whether that’s getting to choose which snack they want, or choosing which activity they want to engage in. By giving students choices, we help to empower students and foster greater self-esteem and autonomy.

Ask for Permission/Consent

In tandem to providing choices, we ask for permission from our students. For example, rather than simply moving a student’s bag to its intended hook, we ask a student if that is okay with them. Giving them the opportunity to give permission for even seemingly small tasks, such as moving a backpack, allows students to have autonomy and fosters self-esteem and mutual respect. This also helps to reduce the likelihood of triggering students or retraumatizing them.

Promote Healthy Boundaries

Many of the children who arrive at shelter have little to no foundation for what healthy boundaries look like within relationships. Therefore, as part of our curriculums for students, we lead various activities/lessons throughout the year on healthy relationships and personal boundaries. In addition to teaching about healthy boundaries, as staff we model healthy boundaries with students by exhibiting mutual respect, honest communication and remaining client centric.

Provide Developmental Support

Children exposed to trauma often experience developmental delays both physically and socially. To support our children, in daycare we provide opportunities such as tummy time and fine/gross motor activities to promote healthy physical development. We also promote the development of healthy attachments with safe people to help foster positive emotional development. With our older students, we continue to foster fine and gross motor development through various types of play. Additionally, with our older students we provide more structured lessons and activities to teach on issues such as conflict resolution, emotions, bullying, safety, etc. as well as provide fidgets/calm down tools to provide students with means of regulating their emotions and engaging in healthy coping skills.

Utilize Collaboration

Children’s department staff often serve as advocates for the children in our care. This may mean communicating to mom about behavioral concerns that the child is facing, notifying the clinical team that a child may benefit from counseling, or notifying the family advocate that a given child is struggling in school. By collaborating and communicating with other departments, we acknowledge and validate the holistic needs of the children we serve.

Foster Relationships with Moms

Healthy relationships are crucial for children exposed to trauma. Often familial relationships are strained, including those between the non-abusive parent and the child, as a result of domestic violence. Some of the ways in which Children’s Department staff help to foster these relationships include: posting weekly lesson plan topics weekly so that moms are engaged with what students are learning, writing daily food and activity logs for the infants/toddlers in our care to give to mom, hosting monthly evening events for moms to attend with their children, as well as hosting holiday/seasonal celebrations for families.

Childcare services are fundamental for our mom’s at residential and our Children’s and School departments respond to this responsibility by utilizing the strategies listed above and others to provide trauma-informed and safe childcare services. Childcare services, just like advocacy, clinical, and legal services offered at Genesis, are essential for our clients. However, our childcare services are uniquely able to support children by fostering development and holistic growth of the children in our services.

Written by Emma Coleman, Lead Childcare Coordinator at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support.