by Sarah Wheeler – Emergency Sanctuary Program Manger, Pierce County
When kids are removed from their home for their own safety, everything familiar and comfortable is suddenly gone. When they come to stay with us at the Emergency Sanctuary everything there is new and unfamiliar. So we strive to learn as quickly as possible what would make children more comfortable and do our best to provide that. Sometimes it’s special foods that they know from home, or certain music, books, or movies. Sometimes it can even be hair care products.
As part of our ongoing training, Sanctuary staff attended a seminar about caring for all types and textures of hair. It felt good to expand our ability to care for kids – including their hair. But it wasn’t until later that I realized how impactful something as seemingly simple as hair care could be for kids.
Recently, we had a sibling group come stay with us at the Sanctuary. When young kids stay with us, we are often trying to answer their questions or comfort them amidst tears. For the older kids in this sibling group, however, the challenge was getting them to smile or open up to us.
One sister in particular was protective of her younger siblings, ushering them in to take their turns in the shower and casting a distrustful eye at staff and volunteers. I realized that for this young woman it would take some time to adjust and feel comfortable in a new place full of strangers, but I would do my best to provide a safe, welcoming place for as long as she and her siblings were with us.
While everyone was showering, I found all our hair care products and placed them out on the table for them to use.
When the older sister emerged from the shower, she stopped in her tracks, staring at the products on the kitchen table. She grabbed one and looked at me inquisitively, eyeing my very straight hair. “How do you have this?!” she exclaimed, holding up one bottle. “This is what my Grandma has at home!”
I explained how the Sanctuary staff had taken a hair care class to learn about caring for all types of hair. She nodded and seemed pleased at the offering.
She went on to do her siblings’ hair using the products and brushes we provided. As braids and ponytails appeared, so did a few smiles and giggles; tentative at first, then stronger and louder. Pretty soon, everything felt a little bit lighter, a little more hopeful.
I marveled at how something that might not seem like a big deal can be an important way to show care and offer comfort to kids in a time of crisis. It was wonderful to see how a little bit of familiarity helped this young woman relax and rest during such a difficult time.
When it was time for them to leave, we suggested they each choose a product to take with them. They were so excited to do so! And I was happy to know we helped set these siblings up for success in their next place in one small but important way.