Over the years we have worked with many children and youth from isolated sects and cults. This includes the Branch Davidian children during and after the Waco siege (described somewhat in the book “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog”).
Each of these experiences is somewhat different but a major challenge for all of these children is dealing with the “modern” world. In many cases, these children have been taught that “outsiders” and “non-believers” are evil and will harm them. They have been taught that the outsiders will not understand their spiritual and holy practices (e.g., polygamy or spiritual marriage at age 12 or 13).
They often have been taught that it is a virtue to confuse or lie to the non-believers – all of which make conventional assessment, interviewing and evaluation very difficult until some kind of trusting relationship can be formed between a child and the clinician or interviewer.
The transition from one way of life to the more modern secular life is difficult for many who are taken into care or who chose to leave their sect. In cases such as the current FLDS removals, there is significant anxiety that can be caused by the unknown, by being transitioned from the world as the child knew it. The efforts of CPS to be tolerant, understanding and respectful to the children, families and their beliefs have made these transitions more tolerable.
When beginning to work with children in such situations, it’s important to see things from their perspective. The children will need structure, routine and the presence of caring, well-trained adults who can be respectful of the healthy elements of these children’s religious beliefs and reinforce those while being clear and unambiguous about the negative aspects of the abusive or destructive parts of their beliefs. This is a true challenge and it will take time, sensitivity and patience for these children to make the transition.
The key will be to provide as many healthy, positive and respectful relationships with these children as possible. And, so far, the good people of San Angelo and the members of the law enforcement, child protective and mental health systems have been working very hard to provide that healthy relational environment.
– Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D.
Filed under: Dr. Bruce Perry
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