LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Eight-year-old Avaeh Burns writes down her feelings in her journal. She calls it her go-to when she’s feeling blue. It’s a coping mechanism her adoptive mom Janine Burns taught her to help deal with the physical abuse she experienced while living with her biological parents.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 1 in 7 kids in the U.S. have experienced trauma in 2019. They said that number is likely an underestimate, but the long-term effects are very real and can lead to anxiety, depression and challenges learning.
While Burns goes through the healing process of her trauma. She said she’s lucky she can finally be a kid. Just a few years ago she had to bathe and feed her younger siblings when her biological mom and dad weren’t home.
“[Now] I don’t have to be taking care of other people. And I can think about what I’m going to do. Not think about what I have to do for others,” she said.
Janine Burns said Avaeh’s memories of physical abuse continue to haunt her.
“After therapy ended, she started having nightmares about her biological mother. And some of what we found out later, those nightmares were actually memories of abuse that had happened to her,” she said.
Burns said in addition to therapy, creative expression like art and gymnastics and homeschooling have helped Avaeh process her trauma.
Sherry Wenzel, Mental Health Services Coordinator for Lee County Schools said there’s a need for students in public schools experiencing similar traumas. She recalled a phrased from a trauma training she recently attended.
“Students who are sad or mad cannot add,” she said.
She said while there are 143 school counselors and about 50 social workers in the district, they’re offering a youth mental health first aid training to all teachers to reach more student. Something the district started requiring after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last year.
“We want to always ask the student - not what did you do - but what happened to you? And look behind the behavior,” she said.
Wenzel added the most successful way to help a child through their trauma is by building a strong relationship with them.
The nonprofit Haven of Hope is also offering a free trauma care training for all parents, teachers and caregivers on Monday. Founder Alice Skaff said the training aims to teach adults how to guide children through their trauma and ultimately heal.
“What we do is give some practical tips on how not to punish the behavior in a way that traumatizes them again with what our typical responses would be like a timeout - but to connect with them,” she said.
Haven of Hope’s Trauma Care Training will be led by trauma care expert Angela Bryan. The training’s November 18th 6:30 pm - 9:30 pm at Freedom Church 6300 Techster Blvd. Unit 2 Fort Myers, Fla. 33966.