Can a 14-Year-Old Adequately Care for a 7-Year-Old Who’s Been Through a Major Trauma?

Reader’s Question

I have a 7-year-old granddaughter who was in an ATV accident. She was injured but is now physically doing okay. Her 4-year-old sister was killed at the scene of this accident, and my granddaughter witnessed the whole thing before being flown out in a Medevac helicopter. The mother of this child was also on the ATV, and the mother’s boyfriend was driving. When my granddaughter was discharged from the hospital, DSS was waiting at the mother’s home and removed my granddaughter until an investigation could be completed. My granddaughter has been placed in a Kinship placement with an aunt and uncle. The aunt and uncle are leaving this grandchild in the care of their 14-year-old son from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. while they work full time.

My question: Is a 14-year-old boy capable of offering the emotional and mental support as well as the oversight my granddaughter needs at this time, considering the trauma that she has gone through?

Psychologist’s Reply

This question is really very difficult to answer, not simply because a lot more information would be needed to make a reasonably accurate reply but because there are so many variables to consider in such situations.

Children vary considerably in their responses to trauma, the types of internal protection mechanisms they employ, the effectiveness of those mechanisms, the degree of impact the trauma has on them, etc. Teen babysitters also vary considerably in their level of maturity and responsibility. In the case you cite, the level of trust and the nature of the bond between the child and her cousin would also be an important variable. It would be important to know the kind and extent of any psychological difficulties this child has experienced as well as the character and level of support services that have been made available to her.

All that said, this child has experienced a very significant trauma compounded by the fact that she has now been removed from her home and is in someone else’s temporary custody. It’s hard to imagine that the situation you describe is optimal for her as it seems that the adults in her life entrusted to make judgments about her welfare have all made some risky ones indeed. Once again, there are many variables at play here, so it’s not possible to say with certainty whether the present situation would necessarily exacerbate this child’s trauma. It’s also hard to imagine that DSS would not be at least aware of but also in a position to approve and be responsible for any care plan for this child, including who the primary caretaker during the day would be and contingencies for contacting other responsible adults should immediate need arise. Also, many times viable options are limited in such cases. It could well be that all other placement options and care plans had the potential to invite even higher levels of trauma and psychological damage into this young child’s life, leading authorities to conclude that the present care plan was the least potentially damaging one. So, it’s simply not possible to give a simple or accurate answer to your question.

If you had asked me on a personal as opposed to professional level whether I would have felt comfortable entrusting daily care for this child to a teenager, given all she has been through, if DSS left her at my front door, I could answer with relative ease. My answer would be “no.”

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