By Elia Rocha
Limbs rigid, face pinched, wailing. Finn can’t sleep.
He came to us last December at 9-months-old, prenatally exposed to drugs and in foster care. At this point in his life and based on a whole host of factors we don’t know the full extent of (physical, developmental, psychological), he is unable to tune out external stimuli and regulate his body. The calm he needs to rest exists largely outside himself.
The learning curve was steep for the staff in the infant classroom as they figured out the right combination of actions that would allow him to sleep. How to hold him and at what angle, how to sway or rock him, how much pressure to apply to his body to keep him from flailing, when and whether to make eye contact, when to move him away from other babies going down to nap. And, most importantly, how to remain calm in the face of his agitation so that they could transmit their quiet to him. Sometimes these strategies worked well and Finn could sleep after a few minutes. Other times it was a longer struggle.
Circumstances like these highlight two key aspects of our work: communication and perseverance. Learning to read Finn's cues and responding to them consistently and appropriately was how the baby could effectively say, "this is what I need," and his caregivers could reply by meeting those needs. If Finn’s primary caregiver was struggling, she knew she could ask for help from a fellow teacher, from our social worker, or from our center director and they would step in. If Finn’s sleep was spotty on a given day, they’d try again the next, using what they’d learned thus far.
Communication and perseverance.
A few weeks ago, Finn was reunited with a relative and moved away. We know that his new school is struggling with these same sleep issues because his guardian has called and asked us for advice. We know that the school’s decision to keep Finn in their program will be a critical factor in his guardian’s ability to keep him in her home because she needs to work.
It’s all so tenuous.
If Finn somehow ends up back in Long Beach in foster care, we’ll take him. We’ll struggle along with him. We'll devise new strategies. We'll communicate with him and each other. We'll persevere just like he does.
Various members of the Children Today staff contribute to these blog posts.