The youth I work with often consider themselves “older” and more mature than their counterparts. They’ve survived some horrific experiences — and I’m not just talking about being trafficked. Many of them have been going through trauma since they were babies, removed from addicted parents, or abused by people they should have been able to trust, before ever facing the “big” issue that brought them to Love146: human trafficking.
Many say they can’t relate to others their age; they date older men, and explain to me that since they’re more mature they need to be with more mature men. Those who weren’t removed from their homes have often taken on the role of the parent in the household due to their parents working two jobs or not being around for other reasons, making it harder still to relate to the struggles of their peers. They see other children their age as “kids,” whereas they themselves are “adults.”
I’m in this sticky position where I need to acknowledge the fact that they have been through more than any child should have to go through, and yet encourage them to be a child. To put down that burden of “adulthood,” and to experience childhood. They deserve to be children.
My friends tell me I have a great job because I take one youth to paint pottery one day, and another to the park to walk outdoors the next. It is a great job, but my friends don’t understand that these children haven’t been allowed to be children for years, or sometimes ever. So my activities with them focus on allowing them to be kids, reminding them what it’s like to laugh at themselves when they get another gutterball bowling… it’s hard emotional work for them.
And the reason I get to do these fun activities? Many of the youth we care for don’t have anyone who can, will, or sometimes even wants to join them.
While it seems like we are just having fun, I’m building emotional connections, allowing the youth to be wholly themselves. That’s rare for them because they’re so used to having to be tough, to be an adult, to be cool.
And that emotional work doesn’t just affect them. It affects me too. I’m walking away from those interactions drained because I just gave so much of myself to a child who may not get that type of love or attention from anyone else. But if you ask them, they don’t need me. They don’t need anyone. They are teenage adults who have had to take care of themselves for years and could do it again if they had to. But when you get to see them enjoying activities like bowling, or painting pottery, or hiking, it shows that though the experiences they’ve endured may have aged them, they are still able to connect with the child that remains inside.
Staff name has been withheld for protection