Webinar presenter Duane Bowers answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Mental Health Concepts, and Human Trafficking. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Can you share your thoughts on what a trauma-informed approach might look like when working with youth that has left without permission?
Duane Bowers: First of all, you need to know what the trauma is. What was the trauma? What are they running away from? We have a lot of youth in care as we call it. They may be running from foster care. They may be running from – Even if they are running from home, What is it that they are running from? The trauma-informed approach would suggest that we look at what is the trauma and how are they developed mentally? How is the experience, even running because running can be traumatic, how is the experience of running affecting them? Like I said it is amazing when you start to realize the parts of the brain that are affected when a child experiences trauma and how it changes the way they perceive the world and how it changes their behavior. We have to have a good understanding of that when we’re working with child trauma. I always suggest that anytime that you are working with a child that is showing any kind of behavior that may be called ADHD or whatever, think of trauma first. Even if you do a trauma-informed approach where you are giving them a voice, helping them to feel safe, helping them to feel that they are in control,(those 3 things I talked about before is where you start with them), you are not doing harm if there is no trauma. Even if there’s another mental health disorder going on, those three things are not going to harm them. If there is indeed trauma at the root of their behavior, at the root of their running, etc., then those things will help them to be open, to learn more coping mechanisms to deal whatever the trauma is they’re running from. Aaron, you have to tell me if that made sense or not.
Audience Question: As an advocate, how do we try to create that sense of hope in the family without making empty promises?
Duane Bowers: You look for the things that they can find hope in. That’s a really good question. We think that we have to stay focused on the person who is the victim of trafficking, we don’t. We’re talking about the family so we can find hope in. This left behind child is going to get their driver’s license. Let’s look at that. Let’s find the hope in that. Your cat’s going to have kittens, let’s find the hope of that. See, it doesn’t matter where the hope is happening. If they can actually feel a sense of hope, it would cause that chemical change in the brain and help them to shut down the amygdala which is causing a big part of the traumatic response. Helping them find just little things that they can find as hopeful in their day-to-day life, it doesn’t have to be hope about the missing person or about the person who’s being trafficked or even the person who’s present and detaching. Finding the hope in everyday life is what’s going to get them through, quite honestly, because you can’t promise things are going to happen. You have no idea what’s going to happen with the person being trafficked. Find the hopeful things in their life, in the normal life of a family. What are hopeful things that you can focus on while this is trauma going on? You are not trying to make a little Mary Sunshine approach. You are just saying yes this is a horrible thing that’s happening to your family but you know at the same time, your daughter just got an A in math. That’s pretty good. Your son is going to get his driver’s license. That’s pretty good. Your mother just got awarded some award at her church. That’s something to be celebrated. The hope does not have to be centered at the trauma to help facilitate the reduction of the traumatic response.
Audience Question: Does a parent getting involved in a search for a missing child help them deal with the grief?
Duane Bowers: It depends on the individual. I’ve seen both. It can give you some sense of control. ‘At least I’m doing something’. What often happens particularly with trafficking, if I’ve got a sense of what area of town they are in or the people that they are interacting with or whatever, and I start to see that environment and I start to recognize how unsafe that environment is, that can actually start to trigger even more of a traumatic response. ‘Oh my god. My child, my loved one, my wife, my husband is in this situation and he could get killed. It’s even more unsafe than what I have pictured. It’s even worse than I had pictured’. Then it causes a traumatic response even worse so that I feel even less in control, I feel even more overwhelmed. It depends on the individual, their coping mechanisms. If you are the support person and you know that person is out, that family member is out searching, talk to them about what they are seeing, talk to them about what to anticipate if they to go in this part of town, what to anticipate if they don’t get any leads, what to anticipate if they get a bunch of bad leads and it takes you nowhere. It’s kind of down the same road, I’ve had people talk about psychics contacting them saying I know where your loved one is or I know what is happening to your loved one or whatever. At first, that gives them a sense of hope but then it happens over and over again and nothing comes up then, they’re saying just pay me this amount of money and I’ll give you the information. It actually spirals the parent into an even deeper traumatic response. It depends on the individual. I should’ve talked about support groups. Support groups can be very helpful with this, If you have other parents who have a child who is being trafficked or is going through trafficking but they are still on the home or whatever, being around other parents and hearing, what they have tried and what didn’t work and whatever can be very helpful and it’ll help me to have a sense of control because I know what to anticipate. I’m hearing it from people who have been there. That can be very helpful if you have that resource available to the folks you are working with.
Audience Question: Although the church can make people feel guilty, they have also brought hope to so many. I think that is a really important distinction to make and would love your comments on that Duane.
Duane Bowers: Absolutely. I did throw that out as a source of guilt and the caveat is absolutely, certainly, our faith is one of the things that support our hope. If we have a strong faith and network through a church, through a group that believes the same thing I believe in my spirituality, in my connection to that which is bigger than me, absolutely. That can be the difference between being supported or not. Having a good strong church which is not going to judge and which is just going to basically accept you for who you are and the situation for what it is and be there for me absolutely is one of the best supports that there are out there. I do apologize for giving the indication that the church only being a source of guilt. I apologize for that.
Audience Question: When comparing the element of hope to time, how do you help the victim travel through the two together?
Duane Bowers: Again it’s going to be like what I was talking about before. ‘If this is going to be long term and how do I maintain my hope?’ I think is what she’s asking. It is finding those small things in everyday life that help me to connect with that hope. You know there are other resources too of like NAMUS. It’s where people’s DNA is stored and when somebody’s gone missing or bodies found or whatever, they compare the DNA. There are ways of saying ‘you know what you’ve checked with Law Enforcement every day, with no new information’. Yes your loved ones are missing and these horrible things could be happening but you know what, for every negative picture you have there actually could be a not so negative picture. It’s not going to be a positive one. They’re not out there riding unicorns and whatever but the chances are they are not in the hospital or the police would’ve found them. They are not harmed or you would’ve probably heard about it. You can balance the negative pictures that they have with positive because basically they are just making it up, they’re making up the worst-case scenario. Well, there’s a not so worst case too. If you can think about that every once in a while if you can balance your negative pictures with the not so negative pictures, that can perpetuate a sense of hope as well. Like I said before, looking for the things of hope within my daily life, which is what’s going to help me get through, it’s just going to help me take day after day after day that there are little hopeful things that are going on in my family as well. I hope that answered what she was asking.
Audience Question: Some of the things that she explains to the families is every day your loved one has been matched to DNA and forensics, there is hope.
Duane Bowers: That’s exactly what I was trying to say. I know that sounds horrible. Quite honestly, that’s a positive. If they haven’t been matched, that’s a good thing. That’s what I mean by the not so bad pictures. Good.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Mental Health Concepts and Human Trafficking.