Bob Burroughs: School in an Attachment-Focused Residential Program

October 9, 2014

by:  Lorraine Schneider

This interview was part of ATNs Educating Traumatized Children Summit (Day 10).

Bob Burroughs, PhD:  School in an Attachment-Focused Residential Program

First, do no harm.

That’s what Bob Burroughs, head of the school at CALO says. We would all agree with him. Right? No one wants to harm our traumatized children. No one. But we, as parents or educators, do it every single day. School is really set up as a shaming environment. The school’s purpose is to change the student. The mind of a traumatized child says, “If they want to change me, then I must not be good enough just as I am.” Wow – I must not be good enough just as I am.

As a parent, when my daughter says, “I can’t do this”, my initial response is “Of course you can, just keep trying”. When she says, “I’m too stupid for this”, again, I say “Oh no, you are not stupid at all. You are a smart girl”. We want to raise the child’s self-esteem. That’s our job as the adults in our children’s life. But, Bob put a different spin on this.

“Gravity,” he said. “Think about it like gravity.” We all know gravity exists. We all acknowledge the properties of gravity. That is deeply engrained in us. It’s a fact that gravity just occurs. For a traumatized child, their feelings about themselves are equally engrained. They are not good enough. For them, that’s a fact. They will fail. For them, that just is the way life happens. It’s like gravity.
When we tell them that they are smart or capable or talented, we might as well say gravity doesn’t exist. We look just as ridiculous in their eyes.

So, what are we supposed to do?

The treatment model at CALO is CASA, which stands for Commitment, Acceptance, Secure, and Attuned.

Commitment – Commitment on the caregiver’s part to “go the distance.”

Acceptance – Commitment needs to be coupled with Acceptance. Acceptance is a recognition that trauma is driving the child’s behavior. It isn’t laziness or spitefulness or selfishness. It is trauma.

Secure – For our children, it’s all about learning how to trust both others and then ultimately themselves. They must feel safe, both physically and emotionally.

Attuned – Lastly, they can begin to Attune and begin a relationship. Humans learn just about everything about themselves and the world around them through relationships. Our children can create relationships only after the they feel safe.

Until we firmly accept that it is all about the relationships, we cannot move forward in our work with traumatized children. It’s a process. It’s CASA.