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Great Expectations of Safety, Hope & Love
By: Ronnie D. Koehn, Ph.D. Associate Director

One of the greatest human gifts is our ability to tell stories. We use stories to find meaning
and make sense of the world. Telling stories helps us derive our values and ethics and keeps us united. It has been suggested that throughout human history all our stories eventually focus on either finding love or keeping safe. That includes Casa de Esperanza’s story which, like so many others, is a story about keeping safe and finding love.

The children that come to Casa de Esperanza are facing many challenges and have experienced much trauma in their young lives. They arrive in our care because they are not safe. Much of the difficulty we face in this journey rises from our inability to undo the harm already accrued. None of us can undo the prenatal exposure to alcohol that damaged the child’s brain. It is often difficult to forgive the parent for their abusive behavior. The culmination is a sad reality that can paralyze even the best of us with feelings of hopelessness. When we start to feel hopeless, there is a story we have told ourselves and others that helps us overcome that feeling. The story begins with the birth of a much anticipated, much loved infant. Unexpectedly, the child is born with only one leg. Does this mean we love the child any less or we do not wish the best for this child? The answer to both questions is no.

But to the question “Does it matter?” the answer is “Yes, the missing leg means this child is different.” Does it matter that the child in your home was exposed to prenatal alcohol? Does it matter that this child was victimized by sex trafficking? Yes, it matters a very great deal. We can’t undo this. So what do we do in the face of this irreversible damage?

Our response is that we do not change any of our goals for these beloved children. What we change are our expectations about how the child can reach these goals. We cannot expect a one-legged child to run a race the exact same way as a two legged child, but she can run it, just like a man born with no legs only recently successfully competed in the Olympics. Can we expect a child with severe attachment disorders to grow up to have mutually nurturing and loving relationships? Absolutely yes, but how that child will achieve those relationships will be different than the child who was always well protected and securely attached to nurturing caregivers.

Casa de Esperanza’s story is not one of giving up our best goals for any child and family we serve. Our story is about changing our, and very importantly other’s, expectations about how those goals will be met. One of the strengths of Casa de Esperanza is our ability to help children and families who find themselves in immediate harm’s way. Our well-trained, experienced caregivers and licensed homes are highly successful at providing a child with immediate shelter, safety, medicine, food and basic needs. Our equally experienced casework staff and our well-established relationships with other community agencies facilitate our ability to find prompt safety for parents.

The stories of each of the children who have come to Casa de Esperanza have contributed to our collective awareness of the importance of safety in their lives. We are excellent with the finding safety part of the story. So, how do we find the love part of the stories?

We long ago learned that finding love in children and parents whose entire lives have been lived without love and without safety takes time, unlimited patience, great flexibility and a lot of hope and trust.

A particularly unique aspect of Casa de Esperanza that enhances the power of these stories is our underlying aim “to never go away.” Once a child and that child’s family find a safe place at Casa de Esperanza, we work hard to help them feel and know they can always find that sense of belonging, hope and safety here with us. We want to be a place that holds their story as evidence that we continue to value who they are and all they have overcome. And, if the time comes when they need reminding of their value in the world, we strive to offer that testimony as we help them face whatever life-events brought them back to us for reassurance.

Telling our story of helping children and families find safety and love reminds us all of what it means to endure sadness and sacrifice in the search for our own humanity and abilities to love. Telling our story to each of you, and each of you telling your own story, ensures that we, as a nation, can continue to find better and better ways to keep each other safe and loved.