What Does “Children from Hard Places” Mean?


DSC_0424“Children from hard places” is a phrase used by Dr. Karyn Purvis and others in the field of child welfare to describe children who have experienced a difficult early upbringing. This language more accurately describes children in need of foster placement or adoption than some other terms or phases focused on the child’s behaviors only. Language is important when it comes to talking about our children, especially when it comes to avoiding labeling children. Labeling any child can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The phrase ā€œchildren from hard placesā€ is preferable in that it addresses the whole child and his or her needs. The idea that we must address the childā€™s whole being as opposed to disciplining children for their negative behaviors is one of the central ideas of Dr. Purvisā€™ teachings and Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI).

It is of course important that our children are not defined by their negative behaviors, whether or not they are adopted. Differentiating the behavior from the child is important to developing trust and healthy attachment for all children. Being empathetic is also how we teach our children empathy, adopted or not. This idea of compassionate parenting is even more vital when parenting children from hard places. Invariably, children in need of adoption or temporary placement are not in need of a family due to happy circumstance. These children are from hard places through no fault of their own and often negative behaviors are a reflection of the difficulties of their past.

Dr. Purvis has set forth six risk factors that children from hard places often experience, all of which impact their brain development and behavior. One or several of these risk factors are almost always present in a child in need of foster placement or adoption. The first three factors Dr. Purvis shares in TBRI trainings are not often Ā associated with a child from a hard place, but these factors can nonetheless significantly impact a child’s development. These three factors are as follows:

  1. Difficult or stressful pregnancy – It may have been that the pregnancy was unplanned causing stress, that the mother is in an abusive relationship, poverty, Ā poor maternal nutrition or other reasons leading to a difficult pregnancy. The child’s development in utero can impact their functioning and stress levels after birth.
  2. Difficult birth ā€“ It may be that the mother and child experienced a traumatic birth, a child losing oxygen, delivery in unsanitary conditions, etc. The birth experience, even when brief, can also impact a childā€™s future development.
  3. Prematurity or early hospitalization – The child may have been deprived of the early nurturing care of a parent due to medical intervention, because the biological parent left directly after birth, or the parent for whatever reason was not able to provide such nurture.

The other three risk factors are more widely thought of regarding children from hard places: abuse, neglect and trauma. Dr. Purvis’ teachings challenge adoptive parents to be cognizant and respectful of a child’s difficult past and use that understanding to inform how we parent children from hard places. Dr. Purvis refers to this as “looking at our children through the eyes of their history.” Dr. Purvis teaches us to always look at our children through eyes of compassion being ever conscious of the childā€™s story. On some days and in some moments this is hard to do for all parents, we are human and we lose our tempers and lose our patience. But, I know for myself and others who have studied her teachings, it has informed, focused and improved our parenting.

Dr. Purvis’ teachings and the teachings of other well respected professionals in the field have changed the lives of children from hard places through educating their parents and child welfare professionals. Five of our team members at MLJ have taken the intensive week long course by Dr. Purvis, myself included. We would encourage all those in the Indianapolis area that are caring for a child from a hard place as a foster parent, adoptive parent or case worker to attend the free Empowered to Connect live cast featuring Dr. Purvis and her teachings. MLJ Adoptions will be hosting this event on April 8th and 9th 2016. If you are interested, please learn more and RSVP here.

empowered to connect

Nicole Skellenger works as MLJ Adoptionsā€™ Chief Executive Officer and Adoption Attorney. Nicole has spent time in orphanages with children who have nothing and are desperate for affection and has committed herself to using her skills to create better futures for these deserving children.