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Trauma-Informed Churches – CMConnect Conference Notes

This blog post are notes written by GJ Farmer and taken from a workshop Linda Ranson Jacobs presented for CMConnect Conference in 2015. 

Early trauma causes disorganized attachment.

  • In early attachments children feel safe.
  • If there are attachment issues, the impulse is fight or flight.
  • Childhood trauma affects children into adulthood.
  • If we want a church of the future, we must become trauma-informed.

“Sometimes that angry look, that stare, that inappropriate response, is a cry for help more so than anything else.” – William Hite, Superintendent of the Philadelphia School District

Idea for talking to traumatized children: change from asking “What’s wrong with you?” to “How can I help you?”

Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse Childhood Experiences can include:

  1. Emotional abuse
  2. Physical abuse
  3. Sexual abuse
  4. Emotional neglect
  5. Physical neglect
  6. Mother treated violently
  7. Household substance abuse
  8. Household mental illness
  9. Parental separation or divorce
  10. Incarcerated household member
  11. Bullying (by another child or adult)
  12. Witnessing violence outside the home
  13. Witness a brother or sister being abused
  14. Racism, sexism, or any other form of discrimination
  15. Being homeless
  16. Natural disasters and war

Exposure to childhood ACEs can increase the risk of:

  • Adolescent pregnancy
  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Depression
  • Illicit drug use
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Intimate partner violence
  • STDs
  • Smoking
  • Suicide attemts
  • Unintended pregnancies


The good news is resilience can bring back health and hope!

Resilience is the ability to return to being healthy and hopeful after bad things happen. Research shows that if parents provide a safe environment for their children and teach them how to be resilient, that helps reduces the effects of ACEs.

Parents, teachers, and caregivers can help children by:

  • Gaining and understanding of ACEs
  • Creating environments where children feel safe emotionally and physically
  • Helping children identify feelings and manage emotions
  • Creating a safe physical and emotional environment at home, in school, and in neighborhoods

What does resilience look like?

  • Having resilient parents
  • Building attachment and nurturing relationships
  • Building social connections
  • Meeting basic needs
  • Learning about parenting and how children grow
  • Building social and emotional skills


Ideas to help traumatized children in the church (borrowed from this article):

  • Change discipline policies from punitive to loving and positive. There are some churches that when a child is out of control request the child not come back for two weeks. The thinking behind this is the parents will need to help the child get in control. Trouble is many are single parents and they are out of control themselves. How can they help the child?
  • Develop relationships with the children. Each child should have at least one person on the child’s team who the child can rely on to be there for it. For large churches that house a hundred kids in one group this may be a challenge but I hope you understand the importance of relationship building.If a child comes to church and doesn’t connect with at least one adult on a regular basis how can we ever expect the child to come to a loving relationship with Jesus Christ?
  • Grandparent like people could step up and support the children through tough times. In my own church my husband and I have adopted a couple of little girls as our grandkids. Their grandmother lives in another state and our grandkids live far away from us. It is a win-win for all of us.



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