Michael Yates, Project Director for State Contracts including ASAP, FOCUS, PATH and Home Study
When I was a child, my mother told me a tree sleeps during its first year after being planted. In its second year, she continued, it will creep, and by the third year it will begin to crawl. Then, by the fourth year it will finally sprawl. It was her way of reassuring me that nature does things in its own time, and though I was eager for a towering tree in which to build a tree house, only time and patience would allow the transplanted sapling from the nursery to become what it was always intended to be: a large, beautiful maple tree.
A Forestry Leaflet from Clemson University reports that up to 50% or more transplanted trees do not survive beyond two years. Lord knows many a young sapling have died at my unskilled hand. But why so long before the sapling takes off and sprawls upward? In the field of forestry, they call it transplant shock. Interestingly, the shock happens below the surface where the roots suffer tremendous loss when dug at the nursery. The shock lasts until a natural balance between the root system and the crown of the transplanted tree is restored. Good soil, consistent care, and time are critical elements to the repair and restoration of a tree’s root system and the balance required for a tree to sprawl.
There’s a nice lesson here, I think.
For those of us working in the public child-wellbeing system, we see a lot of children who are subject to their own form of transplant shock. They experience tremendous loss with each and every move. They, too, require a lot care, support, and time to restore and repair their own roots. Children receive this through placement in a safe, loving home: through therapeutic interventions and treatments that really get to the heart of addressing complex trauma, through resiliency building efforts that support the child holistically, and through a family’s steadfast commitment and unending patience. In a way, trees can teach us a lot about what is required for successful transitioning.
The lesson reaches far beyond children. Think of the hard, traumatic transitions you may have lived through: divorce, loss of job, debilitating illness, loss of home, unexpected death, and so on. How long did it take for you to feel strong enough to sprawl following a major transition that tore at your roots? I suspect you too required a lot of care, support, and time to restore and repair your own roots following such a significant loss.
As public child-wellbeing professionals, we’d be wise to help a child’s support system understand that human development, much like a tree, may require deep root repair and restoration, before we see the outward manifestation of who the child is intended to be … wholly wonderful, capable, and loveable. So don’t be surprised when a child’s growth seems to sleep, creep, and crawl long before he or she is ready to sprawl.