If you have had the opportunity to care for a child or children from foster care or adoption, you know the trauma they have experienced. It is difficult to look into the eyes of a child affected by trauma and not want to find help for the child. For seven years, A Home For Me – Foster Care and Adoption Support Network has sponsored a camp called Journey Camp. It is a trauma therapeutic camp based on Trust Based Relational Intervention principles.
Every year we match ten campers with a trained buddy. Additionally, the campers parents are required to participate in parent training before their child can attend camp. The principles of Journey Camp are Connecting, Empowering, and Correcting. Connecting emphasizes the importance of voice tone, eye contact, positive touch, and behavioral matching. Empowering focuses on the importance of hydration, healthy snacks, and sensory activity every two hours. Correcting principles are proactive and reactive. Campers and buddies focus on the proactive and the importance of Life Value terms. At camp, the buddy and camper bond together through these principles.
Every summer, “Charlie,” arrives at camp nervous and with high anxiety. We know that Charlie’s brain is wired differently because of trauma, and his amygdala functions on “hot.” So, the beginning of camp or any new experience causes a child from trauma to be in a state of flight, fight, or freeze. The first event of the day is when a camper matches with his trained buddy. They pick their healthy snack and fill their new water bottles. This process is the beginning of a connection. Charlie and his buddy spend the next few minutes getting to know each other.
Journey Camp has many elements, each with a focus to dysregulate the camper. One of the first activities is to make a tool designed to help know if the campers are regulated. It is called an Engine Plate, and it acts as a “feelings” thermometer. Each camper will use the plate to express their feelings throughout the day. Red means you are “too hot,” and you need some calming down activities. Blue is you need help with gaining more energy and green is you are feeling just right. Charlie’s buddy will use the Engine plate after each activity to help him to regulate. If Charlie needs to calm down, they will do some deep breathing, and deep muscle activities like magic mustache, chair push-ups or pushing down a wall. If he needs more energy, they will swing, do jumping jacks, or sit on a “sit and spin.”
Help to Succeed
Journey Camp has many activities and group sessions. Three examples are nurture, movement, and sensory. The nurture group focuses on learning how to give and receive care. This activity includes a feeding exercise where they pass a plate of treats around the circle allowing each person to feed their buddy and choose their treat. As in all activities throughout the day, they encourage eye contact, and using words with clarity and respect. With movement group, the possibilities are endless, games using a large parachute, Tug of War, relay races, and clapping games are all some of the movement group options. The sensory group allows kids who have sensory seeking or sensory defensive behaviors to succeed.
Charlie, throughout the day, has many opportunities to practice Life Value Terms like “stick together, no hurts, and have fun.” He also gets to make lots of choices and ask for compromises in a safe environment with his buddy.
It is so rewarding, after three days of camp, to see the level of trust that has developed between Charlie and his buddy. There is a sweet bond and connection in just three days of being together. This bond is a considerable gift of trust for Charlie and his buddy. Charlie’s parents also feel like they have a few more “tools” in their tool chest to help with some behaviors throughout the year. A Home For Me provides follow up support and connects with families before, during, and after camp. Karyn Purvis always said it is so vital to give families hope. Our ministry strives to provide HOPE and healing to all children and families we have the opportunity to minister to.