How Trauma Impacts Children: “It’s like some of their pages are torn and ripped out.”

March 7, 2019

Reflecting on a childhood that was punctuated by fighting, fleeing, and fury, foster care alumna Ana Tello-Duran offered this heartbreaking and sobering commentary. “I didn’t think I was going to be anything.”

Ana said gloom lingered until five beautiful words of wisdom were shared with her. “You have so much potential,” she recalled. “I will always remember my therapist saying that.” And Ana absolutely realized her potential. She earned her Master’s of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University last year, and she’s now a social worker helping foster children in Henrico County.

With confidence and conviction, Ana (pictured speaking) shared her story of trauma and resiliency with the nearly 40 people who attended a Trauma Informed Care Panel at UMFS on February 19. Her life’s journey has been anything but easy, Ana said, but through it all she’s learned how she can best advocate for youth facing situations similar to the ones she experienced.

Joining Ana on the panel was another foster care alum, Sophia Booker (pictured next to Ana). Like Ana, Sophia experienced trauma as a child and had moments where she didn’t believe she’d amount to much. But rather than sink, Sophia chose to swim. She works for the UMFS Project LIFE program, where she helps teens in foster care build skills and find resources to help them become productive adults. Sophia also is working toward her Master’s in Social Work at VCU. “Working with youth just feels right,” Sophia said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

When panelist Shonnie Carroll was asked to share her observations of the impact of trauma on children, she offered an astute observation: “It’s like some of their pages are torn and ripped out,” the longtime UMFS foster parent said. 

Shonnie (pictured speaking) and her husband, Tom, have three biological children. They’ve also fostered 16 children and recently completed their first adoption, a teenage boy. For 23 years, the couple has provided a safe and loving home for young people. They’ve also learned quite a bit, Shonnie said, like the importance of patience. “We realize there are different ways to accommodate — or ways to modify — when parenting or teaching a child with trauma,” she said.

UMFS Licensed Clinical Social Workers Denise Purgold (pictured in lead photo on right) and Alexa Hryciak (pictured in lead photo in center) rounded out the five-person panel, which was moderated by UMFS’ Dani Halbleib (pictured). 

Denise emphasized the affects that trauma can have on brain development and functions, and how it can cause individuals to perceive and react to their environment as unsafe or threatening. The focus, she said, should be less on challenging behaviors, which are symptoms of trauma, and more on addressing the underlying cause of the behaviors. “In using a trauma-informed approach,” Denise said, “we should be asking ‘what happened to this person’ rather than ‘what is wrong with this person.’ ”

All are invited to attend a free Trauma and Resilience training on April 17 from 9 a.m.-noon at UMFS in Richmond. * This course will not include a panel discussion. Join Denise Purgold, UMFS Lead Therapist, for an introduction to trauma, courtesy of Greater Richmond SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now). Training topics will include the impact of trauma on the brain and adverse childhood experiences (ACES). Training is free, but registration is required. Click here for more information and to sign up. Click here to follow the event on Facebook.