Michele Silva doesn’t mince words when talking about the impact MCH Family Outreach has had on her family.
“We were in a place of chaos and needed help,” said the mother of four children ages 8, 7, 4, and 17 months. “MCH met me in that chaos and helped me get to the other side. I’ll forever be grateful.”
Silva’s dreams of a loving, happy family were crushed when abuse destroyed her marriage. With the well-being of her young children foremost in her mind, Silva sought emergency shelter at a local family abuse center in the spring of 2020.
“I was shattered and had no idea what to do,” she said. “You plan everything in life. You don’t plan to be in the midst of trauma. How do I become a divorced mom of four? Who plans for that?”
At the family abuse center, Silva received a list of community organizations that could provide assistance. One of the contacts was for Hannah Osborne, a case manager with MCH Family Outreach in Waco.
“I didn’t have a clue about what resources might be available for me, and I didn’t know anything about MCH at the time,” Silva said. “Others I reached out to didn’t quite feel right and involved maybe even being apart from my children. I couldn’t just give up my kids.
“I called Hannah and the first thing I learned is that MCH is all about keeping families together,” she said.
Osborne and Silva met in a local park to adhere to new health protocols instituted in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In our first meeting the word ‘chaos’ was used a lot,” Osborne recalled. “But still, Michele had clear goals – she wanted to care for her children, and she desired to parent each of them according to their individual needs.”
Silva participated in the Family Solutions program through Waco Outreach, where she learned about Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI®), an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. Osborne introduced her to The Whole Brain Child, a TBRI® parenting book explaining the science behind how children’s brains are wired and strategies for developing nurturing relationships.
Silva was eager to learn. She immediately identified and implemented principles to bring stability to her home and help heal from the trauma they experienced.
“It was all about developing a plan,” Silva said. “The book and the principles it introduced are so impactful and so simple. It helped me understand what was happening in my children’s brains and helped me understand what we were doing and why.”
“Michele had many needs, but she’s a strong mom,” Osborne said. “It was never ‘How do I change my kids?’ but rather ‘What do I do? I need to learn this for my kids.’ She soaked it up.”
In addition to learning about the effects of trauma and implementing TBRI® practices in her home, Osborne helped Silva articulate and set goals. These included connecting to counseling and other community resources for her specific needs, finding support and advocacy within the school system for each child and building stronger connection with her children.
We were in a place of chaos and needed help. MCH met me in that chaos and helped me get to the other side. I’ll forever be grateful.
– Michele Silva
“It is beautiful seeing all five of them work together,” Osborne added. “I’ve seen her become so confident. She’s such an intentional mom in her heart and actions. She models TBRI® principles authentically for her children and as a result her kids have grasped them.”
In addition to TBRI®, MCH utilizes a variety of trauma-wise principles and programs in its full continuum of ministry. Trauma-informed care recognizes and responds to the signs, symptoms and risks of trauma to better support the health needs of those who have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress.
According to ACEs Aware, an initiative led by the Office of the California Surgeon General and the Department of Health, trauma-informed care is a framework that involves understanding the impact of trauma and adversity on health and behavior; training personnel in best practices; integrating knowledge of trauma and adversity into policies, procedures, practices and treatment planning; and providing nonjudgmental support to resist retraumatization.
“To use trauma-informed care is to have an understanding of the impact of trauma and using techniques that create paths to healing,” explained Traci Wagner, MCH vice president for programs. “Trauma-wise techniques can be used in everyday life and relationships, not just in our professional lives.”
Examples of trauma-wise techniques are talking plainly instead of shaming, using empathy, creating consistency, encouraging healthy habits such as hydration and a high-protein diet, and creating felt safety.
“MCH has worked diligently to weave trauma-wise practices through all areas of service and into daily life at MCH,” Wagner said. “As we carefully select programs, curricula and models, we provide consistency across all programs and service areas.”
Trauma-wise practices Silva adopted to bring stability to her home include such things as having intentional family meetings, defining roles, learning healthy ways to address hurts and disappointment, and “learning to be OK with messing up, because it’s all about getting back up,” she said.
As an example, Silva described a trauma-wise lesson the family practices using Band-Aids to acknowledge pain in a healthy manner. Just as someone quickly puts on a bandage to cover up a cut or injury, “our tendency with emotional pain is to cover it up and not talk about it,” she said.
“But instead, let’s talk about the hurt and allow someone else to give a Band-Aid to physically acknowledge the other person’s pain and to offer a gesture of a healing touch,” she said. Silva said her 8-year-old daughter even used the method at school by giving her friend a Band-Aid to apologize and acknowledge the pain she caused her.
It is beautiful seeing all five of them work together. I’ve seen her become so confident. She’s such an intentional mom in her heart and actions. She models TBRI® principles authentically for her children and as a result her kids have grasped them.
– Hannah Osborne
Additionally, when the family was still in crisis-mode, “we would not eat dinner together; I would rush to prepare something and feed the kids, but not engage them,” Silva said. “Now, we’ve changed structures and habits. We set the table together, clean up together and everyone has a job in the process.”
Silva also changed her approach to disciplining her children.
“Before, I would send my children away into time out when they did something,” Silva said. “Now, it’s about ‘time in.’ Rather than sending my child away, we spend time together talking about the issue and what we can learn from it. This is definitely an area where I have seen my children come alive.”
Silva said all her children are finding strength and beginning to flourish as they become a trauma-informed family.
“Through this process the kids are finding their way to be OK,” Silva said. “Before, we didn’t know what to do. If we just pretend we are OK, aren’t we OK? But the kids had experienced trauma. MCH taught me how to really engage with my children.”
Her children have “become strong little people who know how to confidently communicate,” Silva said. “I’ve given them this ability – a permission to articulate things. They’re thriving. Although it is a process, we are on the other side of chaos and we are healing.”
Osborne said she continues to be impressed by Silva’s strength, determination and resiliency.
“This family experienced many transitions over the past year, but Michele worked so hard to be the best parent she can be for her children and provide a safe, loving and intentional environment,” Osborne said. “She is a strong advocate for her children in school and works to provide for all their physical, mental and emotional needs.”
A year removed from the traumatic crisis that redefined her family, Silva said she is now dreaming about her future rather than being in fear of tomorrow. Part of that dream is a desire to one day go back to school and become a legal advocate for children and women in abusive situations.
“MCH gave me the ability to change my life,” she said. “I will look back and see our time with Hannah and MCH as a pivotal moment. It was a powerful experience to realize I have what it takes. I received life back.
“Today, my sole identity is that I’m a child of God and a mom,” she added. “When everything falls apart, it’s time to pick up the pieces and put them back together. I have confidence now because I know I have resources and information to boldly go forward. I think about the future and smile, not cry. I won’t live in fear anymore. I am capable.”