As a social worker, the idea of Caregiver Capacity is not something new to me; self-care was discussed consistently throughout my formal education. Yet, coming to SaintA and hearing about Caregiver Capacity from the lens of being trauma-informed has profoundly impacted my understanding of the importance of this ingredient in my day-to-day practices. I think many of us would agree that you really can’t tackle trauma, shape resiliency or promote growth and change in others (a.k.a. do good social work) without this ingredient!
I see this ingredient at work on many different levels at SaintA, but first I’ll share my experience in developing my own caregiver capacity. One of the most powerful trainings I have ever attended was focused on “Trauma Stewardship.” Although the lingo was slightly different, the day was all about caregiver capacity.
Make time for hobbies, meditation and relationships
The trainer, Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky, challenged those in attendance to really think about and grasp the importance of Caregiver Capacity. This is the message I heard loud and clear: If you have not taken care of yourself you are at great risk of actually doing harm to others. Harm potentially to the very individuals you had intended to help. It stands out to me as a training that changed me profoundly, and truly made me realize that I needed consistent rituals in my life that filled my cup. And if I didn’t take the time to do this, then I probably would end up doing more harm than good in my work and in my personal life, even if I had the best of intentions.
Since then, my journey with Caregiver Capacity has been an ever-evolving process, one where I continue to reflect on my life, gain insight on what brings me joy, and develop practices that sustain me. Some examples include pursuing photography as a potential Plan B, taking 5 minutes out of my day to do a mindfulness meditation, exercising consistently, prioritizing spending time with friends who make me a better person, and regularly practicing gratitude in my life by journaling about things I’m grateful for. By doing these, I’ve become a more fulfilled person, am better able to self-regulate during difficult times, and am much more present for those around me both in my personal and professional lives.
Take good care of your work self
At SaintA, we talk about Caregiver Capacity on a consistent basis with our staff; this is hard work that is done day in and day out, where situations do impact staff emotionally. We need to know that it’s okay to take time for ourselves, to develop our own rituals for self-care, and to have a supportive environment that allows us to process the difficult moments without the fear of shame or guilt.
I believe this essential ingredient helps lay the groundwork for a work environment that sustains staff in a field that is known for turnover. We all know that less turnover is good for the families that we work with. We also know when staff members take care of ourselves, we are also able to better attend to the families we serve.
We also encourage staff to talk about this ingredient with caregivers. Parenting is tough work, and many of the children we serve at SaintA through our foster care program have challenging behaviors due to their own history of abuse and neglect. It is so very important for our caregivers to have healthy ways of ensuring their caregiver capacity is being attended to.
In closing, I think sometimes we think it’s selfish to take care of ourselves. As my own understanding of Caregiver Capacity and how it relates to trauma and those we serve has evolved, it’s become more and more clear to me that ensuring good caregiver capacity actually positively impacts not just the person practicing it, but every person that that we come into contact with, and most especially the people we are caring for.
Please take a few moments to reflect on your own caregiver capacity. What changes could you make today that might increase your caregiver capacity?
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Checkout the Rest of the 7ei Blog Series:
- When Adversity is Prevalent, Understanding is Key
- What Happens to Us, and When It Happens, Matters
- A Perspective Shift From the Inside Out
- Regulating the Brain, From the Stem Up
- The Power of Relationship
- Seeing Ourselves as a “Reason to Be”
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