San Antonio Center For Childhood Trauma & Attachment LLC


Individual Parent Coaching

  • Teach you about how trauma and lack of a secure attachment impacted your child’s growth and development
  • Help you understand why using traditional parenting techniques don’t work with hurt children
  • Understand the inner workings and world view of your hurt child (putting on your “trauma lens”)
  • Introducing you to the new parenting framework, techniques and strategies that have been developed by experts in the developmental trauma field
  • Teaching and supporting you as you learn the necessary sequential skills needed to break through your child’s barriers and enable the child to experience trust and safety
  • Advocating for you and your child regarding his/her specific learning challenges and the necessity of establishing a safe school environment
  • See your child begin to feel like part of the family and enjoy just being a child
  • Stay by your side while you learn and practice, providing empathy, support and encouragement
  • Provide troubleshooting and “spot coaching”
  • Celebrating your successes
  • Restore some peace to your family and experience the joy of parenting

Parent Support Groups

Psychoeducational Training for Parents on Attachment Parenting and Special Issues in Trauma

  • Nurturing Attachments
  • Parenting Your Adopted or Foster Child
  • Your Challenging Child in School
  • Paradoxical Parenting using the PACE model. How it works and Promotes Playfulness and Attachment
  • Secondary PTSD in Caregivers
  • and much more…

Consulting with and Training School Staff on how Trauma Impacts Learning and Behavior

Public Speaking to Parent Groups (and others)

Trauma Informed Care for Educators

Melinda Charles, MA, CPC, San Antonio Center for Childhood Trauma and Attachment, LLC

It is estimated that at least 1/3 of children in the average classroom has suffered trauma significant enough to impact their ability to learn and function.  And of traumatized children, a full 80% have experienced attachment trauma, otherwise known as a dysregulated attachment.  Trauma and dysregulated attachments cause global disruptions in a child’s developmental trajectory across all domains; cognitive, social, emotional, and physical/health.  This includes mental health.

According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs) of 1998, 2/3 of all people have at least one ACE, and of those, most have more than one.  High ACEs cause significant risk factors for learning difficulties such as executive functions. High rates of suspensions, expulsions, social difficulties, low self-esteem and hopelessness are frequent outcomes.  Many are eventually referred to juvenile justice, and when they become parents, the cycle is repeated 85% of the time!

Childhood trauma has such a huge impact on the course of a child’s life, that it has been named as our #1 public health crisis!  A child with 6 ACEs has a life expectancy cut by 20 years.  Sadly, many of these children and teens suffer from complex and chronic PTSD.

That’s the bad news.  The good news is that, because the brains of children and teens are still plastic, if given the proper interventions in a timely way, there is hope for healing.  But caregivers, which include educators, must create a new mental model and learn to view hurt children through a trauma lens. Most acting out or withdrawn behavior comes from fight, flight or freeze resulting from fear and distrust.  Hard as it may be, we need to understand that these children are in survival mode!  When we stop asking, “What’s wrong with you!?” and start asking, “What’s happened to you and how can I help?” we’re starting on the right path.

Issues in Education–Services We Offer:

Trauma Informed Care in Schools

  • The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE’s) of 1998
  • Scope of the problem: 1/3 of children in a typical classroom are suffering from he effects of trauma.
  • Trauma and brain development: How trauma impacts learning and behavior. Why traumatized children may be eligible for special education services.
  • Not your typical ADHD: What trauma looks like in a child—withdrawal, social and emotional problems, aggression, dysregulation and more.
  • It’s about survival. Why the child needs to be so controlling.
  • Why “felt” safety and quality relationships are essential to traumatized children.
  • Executive functions and why they are lagging. What to do about it.
  • Through the trauma lens. Why we need a different mindset to be effective.
  • Responsibility vs. victimization. Asking the right questions. Getting the right answers.
  • What to include in evaluations.
  • FBAs and PBIS. Why behavioral approaches don’t work and what to do instead. Alienation and re-traumatization.
  • The traumatized child’s reinforcers and how they differ from more typical children.
  • The school to prison pipeline and trauma informed discipline. First do no harm.
  • Paradoxical approaches to child management. Sidestepping the child’s fears of surrendering control while building positive relationships.
  • Case studies: How trauma sensitive schools are cutting suspensions and expulsions by 87% and increasing graduation rates

The Trauma Sensitive Schools Protocol
How to create a trauma sensitive school. From vision to leadership to implementation to results. What you need to do.

Courts, Juvenile Justice Settings, Law Enforcement, Residential Treatment Centers

  • Toward a Developmental Approach to Juvenile Justice: Decriminalizing the Adolescent Brain
  • Developmental Trauma and it’s Implications for Law Enforcement and Probation Personnel
  • Policing the Adolescent Brain; Risks and Opportunities from  New Discoveries in Neuroscience
  • and more…

Public Speaking

Topics for Therapists in Training (partial list)

  • The 1998 Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (Vincent Felleti)
  • Basics of brain development. The human brain develops in the context of relationships and experiences.
  • When normal development goes awry. Physiological, social, cognitive and emotional abnormalities. The inner life of the child is all about fear and survival.
  • Signs and symptoms of attachment (and other) traumas. Control as a survival mechanism and how to treat it.
  • Behavior as a symptom. Treating the causes will help the symptoms. Why behavioral techniques and other typical parenting techniques may backfire (badly.)
  • The critical role of attachment and it’s role in healing.
  • Why the parent is the co-therapist. Parental participation is critical.
  • Where healing happens; in the home, within the family.
  • Intersubjectivity and why it’s the first order of business.
  • Integrative psychotherapy and attachment sequences.
  • The attitude of PACE: Playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy (Danial Hughes, Ph.D.) What it is and how it promotes haling.  Paradoxical interventions and other treatments that work!
  • Beware trip-wires! What unwitting therapists and parents need to look out for and what to avoid (example: all about triangulation in children with attachment trauma).
  • Recognizing other very common developmental issues: sensory integration disorders, deficits in executive function skills, language and learning disabilities, and much more.
  • The need for regression in re-building attachment.
  • Understanding the child’s reinforcers and why they’re so different than what one would expect.
  • Demands on the parents and their own care needs.

Signs of Healing (beginning list)

  • The child is learning to identify and express his inner life, thoughts and feelings.
  • The child is learning to analyze his choices and their emotional components.
  • The child is learning to use SOS strategies (Julian Ford: TARGET A method) when triggered.
  • The child is learning “differentiation.” Others are separate with their own feeling and motivations which may be kind, and not necessarily hostile. Developing “mind-mindedness.”
  • The child learns to trust and feels safe enough to hand over parental authority to parents. Begins to experience “fun and love.”

Trauma and Attachment

What Is Trauma Informed Care?

Children and teens who have endured chronic trauma because of abuse, neglect, parental drug use and more (see ACE study) have brains that have developed for the primary purpose of survival. Their fight, flight, and freeze responses, avoidance, or “manipulation” of adults are often interpreted as willful misbehavior instead of symptoms of chronic and complex PTSD. In fact, it is estimated that children in the foster care system have twice the incidence of PTSD than veterans have. Yet until recently, the effects of trauma on a child’s development and functioning have not been well understood.

This is beginning to change. With the growing awareness of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (1998) as well as advances in neurobiology, we now know that the hypervigilance and reaction to “trauma triggers” in these hurt children are not intentional or volitional, but are reactions designed by nature to ensure survival.

We also know that traditional child management strategies do not work and can even backfire badly!

Trauma Informed Care (TIC)

Trauma Informed Care is a model of child management designed to prevent further harm to children who are significantly damaged already. Anyone in a caring role with these children and teens, including parents, foster parents, teachers, youth leaders, therapists and more, can learn to reframe the maladaptive behaviors of these children, through a “trauma lens.” The priority goal of trauma informed care is to build safe nurturing relationships through empathy, acceptance, and a sincere attempt to elicit the causes behind the behaviors. Only when the child has secure, stable, and nurturing relationships at home, at school, in the community---can they begin to trust, calm themselves and begin to heal. So much pain and fear fall away when a child feels understood and knows they will always be cared for.

The Trauma Informed Care model is used with children who have endured adverse childhood experiences which have resulted in trauma. This specialized parenting framework, consists of strategies, techniques and principles used in lieu of traditional parenting techniques such as behavior modification, and designed to promote attachment and healing between caregiver and child. TIC has been successfully adapted for use in schools, the juvenile justice system, residential treatment centers, and more. At San Antonio Center for Childhood Trauma and Attachment, we counsel, coach, and support parents and others on how to view their child’s behavior through the “trauma lens,” and provide techniques that work!

Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, 1998(ACE Study)

A landmark study which conclusively linked adverse childhood experiences with adult onset chronic medical issues, mental illness, adult incarceration, drug and alcohol abuse, education disruptions and learning difficulties, poor interpersonal skills, and employment problems. A surprising finding is that, on average, 2/3 of the adult population have at least 1 ACE. ACEs are very common.

What is Attachment Disorder?

Attachment refers to the way an infant attaches to it’s caregiver, usually the mother, and then the father. Because humans are social and develop within relationships, the quality of a child’s attachment will set the trajectory for brain development, personality development, and ability to form healthy relationships, cognitive skills, and competencies. A child who has not have enough care or nurture will not have a secure base from which build the proper foundations for a healthy and typical growth.

There are four attachment styles, the first three of which are considered within normal, and the last which is not.


  • Secure. 55% of children have this style. They had caregivers who were responsive, attuned, and nurturing. This is the optimal attachment style and gives a child the foundations needed for a healthy development. These children explore the world with confidence, are curious and have good self-esteem. Because they’ve been comforted, they eventually learn to comfort themselves when distressed and reach out to others with empathy.
  • Insecure/ambivalent. About 8% of children have this style. Their caregivers were inconsistent; sometimes responsive and loving while at other times unavailable to meet the child’s needs. These children can become clingy and insecure, seeking comfort from caregiver, but then turning angry and rejecting. As adults, they can become co-dependent.
  • Insecure/avoidant. 23% of children have this style. Their primary caregivers met their children’s physical needs, but weren’t adequately responsive emotionally. Because the children weren’t shown enough empathy and nurture, they grow to be independent and self-contained, preferring to solve their own problems, and expecting others to solve theirs. They tend to be analytical but have weaknesses in social and emotional skills.
  • Disorganized. It’s within this attachment style, where we see the most trauma. 15% of children have this style. Their caregivers were overly intrusive, neglectful, angry, and even abusive, resulting in a very frightened dysregulated child. A disorganized attachment is very damaging because it puts the child in a no-win situation. He can’t turn to the parent to get his physical (diaper changing, food, warmth) needs met, or the comfort and nurturing he needs to feel safe. The child’s brain does not develop normally, but instead becomes structured for survival. The child’s energy is not directed toward play, learning, and exploration, but for constant hypervigilance to possible danger. Staying out of harm’s way and having to look after and protect the self-become the priorities.
What is Reactive Attachment Disorder? Does my child have RAD?

Nothing strikes more terror in the hearts of parents than the term RAD. “Does my child have RAD?” is one of the questions anxious parents ask me the most. It brings up terrifying visions of children murdering their parents in bed or burning down the house! Personally, I think it’s a useless term that should be discarded because it scares people and doesn’t even describe the problem! The word reactive refers to how a child relates to an attachment figure in the face of danger. Does she run to mom and hide under her skirts? Does she ignore mom and run to anyone who is handy? Does she become frozen and act invisible? The response of the child will give clues to the quality of the attachment. Another problem with the term RAD is that it suggests hopelessness. “This kid is so dangerous that she’ll probably grow up to be a career criminal and there’s nothing I can do! I’ll be seen as a horrible parent because my kid’s going to be a career criminal! I’m a failure as a parent! What will the neighbors think?” Relax! This child’s fate is not written in stone. Her brain is still malleable and she can heal. With the right parenting strategies, your child can have an earned attachment. The child you have can become your real son or daughter. I should know. I’ve been where you are. Fortunately the parenting techniques and strategies I learned to use with my attachment challenged child led to slow and steady improvement. My formerly rejecting child has become my loved and cherished daughter and, do you know what? She now loves me back!

Post Placement Panic!

You’ve been through a thorough vetting process and much training in order to be eligible for fostering and/or adopting the child who has been placed in your care. You think you’re prepared. Then your child enters your home and it feels like a boulder has just been tossed into your tranquil family pond! The truth is that nobody can be adequately prepared for a child so filled with anger and fear. The child is rejecting, disrespectful, non-compliant, maybe even destructive. You try the old parenting standards---time-out, taking away privileges, grounding, behavior modification charts, but it all backfires and makes the child more rejecting, angry, and disrespectful. There may come a point where you’re so discouraged and chronically upset, that you begin to back away and even avoid the child. Parents can become desperate when nothing is working.

The problem is that unlike a typical child who has attached, this child cannot trust you, and techniques like time-out, lectures, and grounding only serve to convince the child that you’re another dangerous adult who means to reject them and do them harm. Of course, most parents don’t know that, and continue traditional parenting techniques which actually escalate the behavior.

What parents don’t understand is that behavior is only a symptom, and we don’t treat symptoms. If a child has scarlet fever we don’t merely give them aspirin to treat the fever, we look for the underlying disease and treat that. In the case of kids who have been through trauma, the first priorities are building an attachment relationship which will facilitate trust and healing. This child must not only be safe, she must feel safe. These are two different things. The parenting techniques used at SACCTA, can seem paradoxical and non-intuitive, but they have been tested and they work. They can work for you, too! Furthermore they’re fun, playful and build attachment through nurture and attunement. They’re designed to draw the child instead of directing them away!

Secondary PTSD

Foster and adoptive parents can themselves become traumatized by repetitive exposure to their child’s manifestations of trauma. When your child has been sent home from other children’s homes for inappropriate behavior, picked up by the police for the third time, or you’re getting calls from the school several times a week, your own brain and nervous system begin to adapt for hypervigilance and the anxious anticipation of trouble. You might begin to isolate, lose your ability to concentrate, and notice that people and things you used to enjoy have ceased to bring you pleasure. You feel depressed, anxious, and hopeless. Many of us experience our own PTSD, otherwise known as “vicarious trauma.” This was certainly true for me!
When this happens, you absolutely must get support, preferably from other parents who have been there, and have gotten through it. Secondary PTSD can feel so isolating because your family and friends won’t “get it” because they might not see it. They certainly won’t understand the constant stress because they haven’t experienced it themselves. Even your spouse may be too tapped out to be able to give much support.
If this is the case, I can lend an ear, support you, and counsel you in techniques that work, and help get you back on your feet emotionally. I’ve been deep in the trenches myself, and have emerged by learning to see my child through a “trauma lens,” and responding appropriately. The loving relationship I have with my daughter can be yours too! I’d like to help. Call me for a free 30 minute consultation.