What it means to support youth who have experienced trauma

Written by SAFE

Written by: Monica Martinez

During an internship in college, I worked with kids who were abused, neglected, and trafficked. I knew right away that I wanted to do more in the child welfare field—joining SAFE allowed me to work directly with these kids and their Child Protective Services teams. From the very beginning, I felt like I was making a difference in their lives.

My favorite part of the job is building relationships and connections with the kids. To build a relationship with someone, you first have to connect and ensure they feel safe in the relationship. Once that is established, the relationship can grow. Being able to connect with youth from all different walks of life makes each day different.

I love witnessing the small successes! These kids come to us with unimaginable trauma, and, understandably, they do not trust many adults. Our job is to see the need behind the behavior.

So, setting the bar to meet each child where they are sets them up to be more successful. If a child refuses school but they do schoolwork in one of our cottages on the Children’s Shelter campus, that’s a win! Our end goal is to get this kiddo to school, but we want to celebrate all the wins, big and small, because they all add up to growth and goals achieved.

One week it rained every single day, and the kids were getting restless, so we had to get creative. The shelter staff created an entire circus show with our kids. Each child had a part in the show—we had kids performing random acts, cutting out homemade admission tickets, and all kinds of fun stuff.

The kids put the show on for the staff, and it was one of the best days! Group activities build bonds with their peers and staff. That same week, it was still raining, so we called all the other cottages to say that a dance party was needed in the rain.

Everyone walked out of their own cottages at the same time to participate in a campus dance party in the rain. The staff, the young kids, the older teens—everyone came out to dance in the rain. It was so much fun! Finding ways for these kids to be kids—be silly, feel joy, be seen, know they matter—that’s what we do here.  

Being a Youth Engagement Specialist is one of the most rewarding positions at SAFE or anywhere. Each day is different. There are lots of hard days and a lot of really great days. 

No matter what happens on your shift, the next shift is always a fresh start. Showing up for a kiddo who doesn’t think that they have anyone to rely on can change their life. Showing up for a kiddo who can’t wait for you to see their new dance moves can change a life, too.

After nine years as a Youth Engagement Specialist, Monica moved within SAFE to join the Development team sharing her experiences and the needs of our youth to help ensure we have funding to provide SAFE programs.

SAFE has a place for you, too! If you or someone you know would like to join our team and make a difference in a child’s life, click the link here.