Sunday, December 6, 2009

Oh Danny Boy

Friday night when I volunteered, I played with a number of the children.  But a 2-year-old named Danny* stuck out for me.

He was there last week and needed a staff person with him constantly.  He had trouble with hurting other kids for no reason.  Well...I'm sure he sometimes had his reasons.  He would reach out and grab and pinch other children or hit them.  He needed to be watched at every moment and redirected to do "nice touch."  This week he was much better.  He didn't need someone watching him like a hawk.  He still wanted to resolve problems by hitting, but he wasn't indiscriminately trying to hurt others.

He found a small rubber ball (too big to choke on.)  He began to throw it around the playroom and chase after it while it bounced crazily around.  I tried to get him to play a game with me of rolling it along the floor back and forth to each other.  He was hip to the game for about thirty seconds.  Throwing and chasing was much more fun.

At first there were not many other children in the playroom, so his throwing was moderately safe.  As more children came in, it became a bigger problem.  There was a very good chance someone would be hit with it and a few of the other children wanted to chase the ball too.  Danny got very upset if another kid went near his ball.  He's not very verbal so he screeches loudly to show his displeasure and gets close to throwing a tantrum.  We mediated a few spats and asked the older kids to let him play by himself.  But it kept happening.  And Danny was getting more and more ramped up.

I finally knelt down next to him and told him, "Danny, no more throwing the ball.  You can hold on to your ball, but there are too many people in here. So no more throwing, okay?"  He was wiggling and whining as I talked to him and I was aware that at his age, he was not able to fully understand what I told him.  He did stop throwing the ball for about a minute.  I was shocked it worked at all.

So, as is completely understandable for his age, he started throwing the ball again.  I made an executive decision.  I took the ball away from him and told him, "We are done with the ball.  No more ball."  Now that I write it down it sounds mean.  But it wasn't!  I said it as nicely as I could, but also firmly.  I wasn't going to give him a long explanation or try to reason with him.  It needed to stop and he needed it to stop.  He was getting really worked up each time another child tried to get his ball.  I took the ball out of the playroom and put it on a shelf in the kitchen area - in a different room, completely out of sight.

When I came back, he was throwing a small fit.  I tried to get his attention with some new excitement - "Danny, want to go play with CARS?!"  He kept screeching and throwing his fit.  I walked across the room and sat in a chair to give him time to calm down.  Then he surprised me.  He got up and walked over to me.  He sat himself in my lap and snuggled close to me while he cried. "Awwww, it's okay," I told him.

He was crying and snuggling, and he seemed to be agitated by the other kids being nearby and looking at him.  So I took him to a seat in a corner further away from the general chaos.  It hit me then what a shame it was that he had to be there.  At that moment, he really needed to be brought to a quiet room by himself to calm down from all the stimulation.  But it wasn't going to happen.

The center is just not set up that way or staffed for that.  Everything is a group activity.  Volunteers cannot be alone with the children.**  I have to stay where the staff people are.  From what I have seen, the staff rarely take children off  to be by themselves.  They are always together in a group (except when sleeping when there are only 2-4 in the same room.)  Each staff person usually has one to three children who they are mainly responsible for.  But they still do everything together.  It doesn't seem like they have a mechanism in place for one to say to another, "This child needs some quiet time. Can you watch my other two for half an hour?"  Unless a child is having a total meltdown and then he is taken to his room.  It's too bad they can't do it before total meltdown happens.

I could be wrong since I am only there a few hours a week.  But it seems that the overall thinking is geared towards the needs of the group and less towards the individual needs of the child.  And maybe it is impossible for it to be any other way?  (No.  It could be different.  So says know-it-all Kathy.)

So the best that Danny was going to get that night was a slightly calmer corner of a loud and boisterous room.  Poor kid.  He is safe there and will get so many of his basic needs met.  But he is one of many and lots of things will be overlooked.   He deserves to have someone who loves him looking after his individual needs.  I hope that happens for him soon.

*I never use real names.

**We have been given long, thorough background checks before we are able to volunteer.  My fingerprints were run by the state and the FBI.  But I do understand the policy of not letting volunteers be alone with the children.  With that age group, the staff has to constantly keep a count of children and can't have volunteers wandering off with them.  Also, volunteers are given NO training. That's right - NONE.    (I've got a draft post with a whole rant about the volunteer coordinator and what a crappy, half-assed job this person does - but we don't have to get into that.)  So I understand keeping the volunteers supervised.  Just because we can pass a background check, doesn't mean we know anything about children or how to treat them.  And with zero training, the staff should be required to keep an eye on us.  Just because you are not a criminal, doesn't mean you're not a jackass.


Wanda said...

I found your blog through Alice in Wonderland...I liked your comment to her. I also relate to your post on "blogger etiquette" and your "Oh Danny Boy" post touched me. I think "I" will follow "you", because I like what you have to say!

Ms. Moon said...

This is rather heartbreaking, isn't it? I hope this is just Danny's personality and not a reflection of a bunch of problems a two-year old shouldn't have to deal with. I swear, every time I think of children who are not loved and taken care of properly, I want to throw up. It makes me so upset.
I'm glad you're there with these children. They need you.

Bethany said...

You did a great job with him Kath. Kids need help managing their emotions and need limits. You did that for him. And he knew in some way that you were taking care of him, that's why he came over for the snuggles. Crap ass place though. I'm glad you're there.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're there too. You gave him what he needed at the time he needed it (a necessary limit given in a firm but gentle way, and loving comfort). It sounds like he probably doesn't get much individual snuggling or comfort in that sort of environment, so it probably meant the world to him to curl up on your lap. I am sure your presence there is a special gift for those kids.

grasshopper said...

Wanda, Thanks for the comment. I'm happy you want to follow.

(Although, now I feel like the Follow Police - making everyone confess their reasons for following me - "Are you SURE you want to follow me?!? Huh?! Are you?!?")

Ms. Moon - you remind me of Beth - such deep sensitivity to suffering. I also hope Danny's behavior was just a temporary reaction being removed from his home and not because of ongoing mistreatment. I always pray that the best case scenario will happen - his parent or parents will get the help they need and he'll have a better life going forward.

Beth and Jennifer - thanks for the reassurance. My instincts told me that it was the right thing to do but I never expected his reaction. So sweet.