How your support enables us to identify, prevent and treat trauma for the children we serve

OUR APPROACH TO TRAUMA CARE and how your support enables us to do it

Surface Judgment: Mutale, (age 9)

Imagine this scenario. It is a joyful event on the campus of Chikondi Village in Lusaka, Zambia. A Go! Team has just wrapped up a fun-filled day of outdoor games and events, including a Bible message. Mutale had a blast! He's covered in dirt and grass from all the games. And now it's time for the post-game celebrations.

As he stands in line for food, Mutale's face changes. Joy retreats from it, and his body language follows. He sits down and stares at his plate. His house mother walks up, "Mutale, eat."


"Mutale, eat your lunch, please."  


Mutale stomps off, defiant and angry.

This incident has all the ingredients of a classic power struggle. Is it a case of a petulant child refusing to eat his vegetables or something deeper? Questions like these are asked daily around the world of Kids Alive and everywhere vulnerable children are served.

What came to your mind when you read this story?

The casual observer might judge Mutale on the spot, calling him a brat, spoiled, or deserving of a good reprimand. However, the judge only sees the moment.

Dr. Marina Kuzmina, Kids Alive International Global Trauma Care Lead, encourages us to take off our judge’s glasses and pick up our detective lens. If we do, our investigations will cause us to look beyond the child’s reaction.

Let’s learn more about Mutale.

Getting to know Mutale: looking at him from a detective's perspective

Why the reaction? It is crucial to understand what is happening in Mutale’s brain and why it’s important to have a team around Mutale as his therapist, social worker, and caregiver can all provide pieces to the puzzle of understanding his reactions.

Mutale is reacting to the presence of melons on his plate. You see, his abuser sold melons, and the smell of melons triggers Mutale’s brain. Over the years, his brain has learned to associate melons with a threat and goes into flight, freeze, or in Mutale’s case, fight response. Fighting is not always physical; it can be defiance, arguing, or verbal attacks. Mutale’s case teaches us that we should not serve him melons until his healing has progressed.

A child’s deepest fears often trigger troubling behaviour. “Past traumas encoded within their brains are easily reactivated,” declares Dr. Karin Purvis of Texas Christian University and the co-creator of Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®). “Hunger, abuse, or abandonment that occurred months or years ago can still trigger terror, which in turn leads to out-of-control behaviour.

Parents might easily confuse fear-based outbursts with willful disobedience, but they are not the same thing at all.” Mutale wasn’t in real danger. However, his prior trauma was etched in his brain, and the whiff of melons reactivated his fears, causing him to panic as if his abuser was there to hurt him again."

How you are supporting our global approach to CAREGIVING

We are committed to using evidence-based approaches to care because such tools honour God’s creative order. TBRI® is a tool that helps our staff understand the impact of trauma, discovering why children react the way they do, and teaching staff methods that de-escalate the situation. We want to ask the question, “What happened to you?” instead of “What’s wrong with you?”. This enables staff to connect before they correct. 

Our therapy goals are to build relationships and connections of trust so that children can learn who God is. We teach them God is Love, Good, and Present and that Jesus is Lord and Saviour. We want to help them trade the destructive identities given to them by trauma with the healthy identities that Christ offers them: they are His Children (John 1:12), Clean (1 John 1:9), Powerful (Philippians 4:13), Chosen (John 15:16), and Works of Art (Ephesians 2:10).

We guide them to replace the trauma responses of fight, flight, or freeze with the biblically healthy ones of faith, integrity, understanding, self-control, perseverance, devotion to God, mutual kindness, and love (2 Peter 1:3-11). We’ve found what the world of psychology calls Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was outlined by the Holy Spirit to Peter 2,000 years earlier. 

We believe this is the most effective means to realising one of our goals: That children in our programmes enjoy a vibrant, life-changing relationship with God. 

Understanding the ROOT OF TRAUMA

Identifying, preventing, and treating childhood trauma is now an international effort. Studies of adults and children affected by childhood trauma have shown that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have long-term negative impacts on a person’s physical and emotional health, leading to behavior challenges, poor grades, and chronic health issues.

Our staff works in eight countries to reduce trauma’s adverse effects. Marina notes that every child deals with stress. However, repeated exposure to it without a supportive and nurturing relationship may lead to an overload in the child’s response system. Dr. Debra Houry, Director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, explained to lawmakers.

Prolonged stress can harm the most basic levels of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems; can alter brain structure and messaging systems, can impact other organ systems in the body; and can even alter the physical structure of DNA. These changes to the brain in turn can affect such things as attention, impulsive behavior, decision-making, learning, emotional regulation, and responses to stress in the future.”

Under Marina’s leadership we take steps to eliminate triggered responses by creating an atmosphere where children feel safe. Our staff creates the environment where children experience “felt-safety” so they can learn healthy beliefs about God, others, and themselves as well as healthy responses to stressful situations.

Caregiving success: FAMILY PLACEMENT

We are committed to helping children thrive in safe and loving homes, and our model of care helps ensure a successful process. Kids Alive is becoming a leader in placing children with some of the most challenging behaviours in foster, guardianship, or adoptive families in their community. 

Analu Cornejo, Kids Alive Peru Therapeutic Team Lead, shares that families must understand a child's history and learn how to build a trusting relationship. "Parents need to understand how trauma causes a child to react. That means they need to know the child's history, for only then can they build an atmosphere that leads to a trusting and successful family life. We are at the parents’ service through the whole process."

Our Kids Alive teams accompany children along the healing journey and counsel families, instilling the principles of healthy approaches to caregiving, ensuring the child enjoys “felt-safety” in their new home. 

Please watch the “Journey Home” video here

Caregiving success: ANIJA SCHOOL

In the Dominican Republic, ANIJA School’s name is the Spanish acronym for “helping the children of Jarabacoa” and here’s proof they’re doing it daily. According to the Ministry of Education’s data, ANIJA achieved the highest advancement percentage among the country’s schools and colleges. One astounding fact that caught their eye was that the school maintained its enrolment without losing any of its students during the pandemic, while enrolment at other private schools decreased by 39%. 

Government officials have toured the school and interviewed students and teachers to discover what makes ANIJA unique. They found that successful conflict resolution, respect among students and teachers, cleanliness and organisation, and a trusting environment were vital to ANIJA’s success.

ANIJA School Director Ann Van Der Molen shared that the significant investment in training teachers and staff to be trauma-informed has enhanced the school’s climate, and the commitment to working with parents and families contributed to the high student retention rate. That commitment bears fruit: at a recent parent-teacher conference, 98 percent of the parents participated and remain committed to making the personal investment that is helpful to their children’s success. 

Our global "model of care" - how your support is transforming traumatised children 

Our supporters enable us to have a massive impact on thousands of traumatised children around the world. Thanks to them we are able to have a "model of care" that begins by asking “what has happened to you?” – for both children and parents – and then being prepared to respond to the answer. That is why you enable us to invest so much in training staff to be trauma-informed and responsive; why we invest so much in professional Christian staff, why we invest in systems change, and why we invest so much in building healthy families for children. 

And it is all focused on our global goals: 

  • Enjoy a vibrant, life-changing relationship with God 
  • Experience emotional and physical well-being 
  • Equipped for a life of independence and service 
  • Live life in family and community, free of fear and violence 

We believe achieving these goals promotes thriving children, thriving families, and thriving communities. 

“’For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds,’ says the Lord.’” Jeremiah 30:17 (NKJV)

Posted by Lynne Edmunds on February 14th 2023

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