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  • Anna-Maree Osborne

Childhood Trauma and Abuse – The Jasper Mountain Experience


I attended an amazing seminar by Dr Dave Zeigler last week. He commenced Jasper Mountain a residential care facility in Oregon, USA. This complex involves several programs including an intensive treatment home with a highly structured environment in a positive treatment family setting for severely abused and disturbed children.

The website is: www.jaspermountain.org

His achievements with children who have experienced neglect,trauma and sexual abuse over 35 years are amazing.

The points I heard clearly and which resonated with me were;

  • Stress

Stress defined as in long term distress, not short-term healthy motivational stress. Causes ill health and those who suffer from this stress (including hyper vigilant children of abuse, neglect and DV) often experience auto-immune diseases, cancer, heart attacks and strokes in later life. Whilst working at the Cancer Council this information also seemed to be confirmed as after a particularly stressful period many patients stated that they had developed cancer due to lowered immunity levels.

  • Early Childhood Interactions

Interactions with present and engaged mothers, in calm environments, in the first year of life dictate future behaviour. Dr Zeigler controversially stated ADHD and even mild Autism maybe the result of this neglect and this would explain the extremely high rate of this diagnosis in children of abusive, neglectful, and/or DV households. My own client experiences show an 70 to 80% incidence of children within the child protection network who have ADHD, OCD, Autism or ODD. This is probably not a coincidence. Needless to say these are conditions which have occurred (in some cases) as a result of the home environment rather than being biological in origin. Dr Zeigler also stated that in his experience neglect is by far the most harmful experience a child can suffer, not sexual abuse and trauma.

  • Large scale Residential facilities

Large residential homes no longer exist (to my knowledge) in Australia due to our unfortunate history with “stolen children”.This was reinforced what my own Mother had said. She stated she wished she could go to the Orphanage where they had lots of food and stability of home as she had been sent to various relatives following her parents’ divorce (around 1938). So contrary to the “stolen children” belief, many children in abusive neglectful households had far poorer childhood experiences than many children in residential care orphanages. Dr Zeigler stated his provision of one stable place which children feel is their home is the most important thing we can provide .

In addition his staff, never less than 7 at one time are all supportive of each other and are able to cope and provide therapeutic care for the children in a "family" model. The Australian model of one worker (or 2) in Resi homes where one worker often has a break when the other is on duty means little energy is available to cope with challenging behaviours. He pays his staff well and has very low turnover of staff, another very important factor.In addition in Australia we transport troubled children to Speech Pathology, Counselling, Psychiatrist, Doctors and all of this is dislocating for the children. At Jasper Mountain (a not for profit) Specialist come to the home to provide care for the children.

Conversations We Need to have

This seminar started me thinking about the reasons we are not having these discussions in Australia. Are we so afraid of political correctness we are providing choices to parents who are unable to make wise decisions such as addicts, traumatised victims of DV and others, that we ignore those unable to speak, the vulnerable children? Or is it our history of “stolen children” and abuse within institutions historically that now colour this discussion. Perhaps a pilot of a Jasper Mountain is needed in Australia so reliable data can be collected on the best practice models for traumatised and abused children.

Do we need to take action to develop pilot schemes to better care for our children in the Child Protection System and learn from overseas experiences like Jasper Mountain-what do you think?

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childhood trauma and abuse

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