Fourteen faces, as diverse as the colors of a rainbow overarching a water-logged earth, all peered back during this virtual meeting as this team came together. The mission: to clinically debrief and to discover the best approach to supporting a 13-year-old girl whose father was violently murdered over the weekend. The Child Welfare system removed her from her father’s parental care due to physical abuse. After moving from home to home, she was just beginning to accept her most recent foster parent. The child’s mother and uncle abruptly died in recent years, and now this shocking news. Just as the father was making progress to regain his daughter, the streets claimed his life.
The professionals on the screen included Jewish social workers and others reeling from the news of this weekend’s devastating terrorist attacks on Israel and the tremendous numbers of civilians in both Israel and Gaza who lost their lives. Yet they joined their colleagues to deliberate on how they may help this child move through another horrific loss and abandonment by someone who should have been there to protect her. They did this while they were openly grieving themselves.
The tightly maintained group, while focusing on the needs of this very vulnerable young girl, grappled with the reality that distance did not prevent its members from experiencing exhausting fear as the conflict persists and their relatives and friends are deployed to military front lines, or from increasing concern about their loved ones. And we cried. Inside. Outside. For this child confronted with yet another significant death and for all of us, more death and even war.
Where there is life, death surely will accompany it. As adults, we know that when this occurs, we must move forward and treasure, or at least, cope with the rest of life. We will debate the complexities of this latest war in the Middle East and how/if we can go forward. We may express our empathy, compassion, and we may pray, in our unique spiritual fashion. Children, however, do not grasp the intricacies of politics, religions, and differences. At best, they may recognize anger and hate, since it follows them to playgrounds, taught by adults in their reach.
Universally, death and war assaults childhood, whether it happens faraway or immediately and near. Children watch and listen closely, connected to how the adults manage the fact that they truly do not know what will happen in the coming weeks and months. We adults must come together as a community, built on understanding, and support. We must offer solace to each other, and comfort the children, minimizing their deeply felt insecurity.
The clinical team fully heard the youth’s voice when she sought answers from a trustworthy team member who provided the child a safe space, “How did you get through it when your father died?” Indeed, children need stability and consistency to grow healthy. Children want to know how to get through life, at its worst, and especially through war.