The following stories illustrate the positive impact the services offered by The Family Support & Treatment Center have on members of our community. Names have been changed to protect the identities of our clients.
Crisis Respite Nursery
Prevention Education Top
In December of 2007 I was doing a presentation on Depression and Suicide at
a junior high in Alpine School District. We talked about healthy coping strategies
and how to face sad feelings. Afterwards, a young man approached me and asked
me, "What if something bad happened to you a while ago and it still makes
you sad, how do you get over it?" I reiterated a few of the points we had
talked about in the lesson such as receiving support from others and positive
thinking. It seemed like he wanted more specific answers because he asked if
he could tell me his problem. I said I would be happy to listen to anything
he felt comfortable sharing. He told me that he had been sexually abused by
his older brother. It had happened about two years before and the older brother
had served a year in jail for the offense. However, this young man told me that
his brother was currently living with him at their dad's house. It seemed that
the continual contact with his abuser was very upsetting to him.
We spent the next ten minutes talking and I reassured him that what happened to him was not his fault and that he was most definitely not the only person that had happened to. I told him that lots of kids struggle to overcome the same problem and that it was possible for him to feel better. He said he had tried to talk to his dad about his sad feelings but he was told to toughen up or he would be sent to military school. I asked him if there was anyone else he could trust and he said, "Well, there's you."
I asked him if I could share his problem with the school counselors. He seemed nervous but hopeful to find more support from trustworthy adults. He said he had to get home so I went to the counselor's office on my own and spoke with several of the counselors. This young man was new at the school so they had no idea of his situation. They were very appreciative of the information and promised to call the young man down during school hours to check on him.
A few days later I checked with a police officer about parole restrictions and he told me that an offender living with the victim most likely a violation of parole. He suggested that I check back with the school to see if anything had been reported. I returned to the school and none of the counselors I had dealt with before were available so I met with another counselor. We called the young man down to the office to confirm the older brother's living conditions. He said his brother had been kicked out and that a man from the district had started to come visit him every week and make sure things were going alright.
I left the school feeling much better because this young man's living conditions had been vastly improved and he was receiving more support than when I first spoke with him. Because of these positive changes he acted and spoke with more hope and confidence. This story could be retold over a dozen times with various children and teenagers who were assisted in reaching out to find much needed support from counselors and teachers.
Crisis Respite Nursery Top
Angela first came to the nursery when she was a few months old, during her mom’s weekly therapy appointment. She cried hysterically for the entire 50 minutes, nonstop and despite all attempts to pacify or engage her. We tried holding, leaving her alone, rocking, bottles, binkies, toys of every shape and size. Nothing we did made any difference in her screaming. We called her “the crying baby” and braced our ears for a noisy hour each week.
One day, months into these sessions, I was holding Angela while she cried and lay limply in my arms as usual. Suddenly, she stopped crying. I held my breath and we sat quietly for all of a minute before she started up again. I tried to think of anything that had happened to stop her crying, but came up with nothing. She cried the whole rest of that hour.
Angela gradually went from a minute without crying, to a few minutes, to most of the hour. This progress happened very slowly, over many months. When she wasn’t crying, she still sat passively on my lap or in my arms, and stared quite somberly around her. Our observation sheets on Angela were filled with joyous notes of “Didn’t cry the whole time!” One day, I was sitting on the floor with Angela in my lap, as she quietly observed the room, and she stood right up and walked away. I was astonished, realizing I hadn’t even known Angela knew how to walk! She tentatively walked over to a car and picked it up. Before too long, she began to cry a little, so I held her on my lap again, but I hope she was Angela proud of herself as I was for venturing out of my lap.
I remember the first time I saw Angela smile, over a full year after her first time at the nursery. Her brother wearing a bird costume is what cracked her solemn face – it was brief, but it was a smile! We went through ridiculous antics with that bird costume to get more smiles from Angela.
If you knew Angela during her first months here, you would hardly recognize her now. She wanders around exploring all of the toys and engaging with other kids. While still on the serious side, she smiles readily and has even been known to have fits of giggling. For Angela, being comfortable with us was neither automatic nor easy. With consistency, love, and patience, Angela has finally been able to trust that the nursery is a safe place.
Play Therapy/In-Home Parenting Top
“Georgie’s” concerned parents brought him to therapy after his defiance, deep jealousy of his younger sister, temper tantrums, and aggressive anger started to escalate. Due to stress in Georgie’s family, a feeling of stability and security was being challenged. As a four-year-old child, he started to show more interest in toys than in interacting with his parents, which caused his parents great concern. He would consistently walk straight past his mother – ignoring her completely - to play with toys instead. As Georgie began therapy, however, his maladaptive behaviors soon started to change.
As I entered the lobby one day, I anticipated my ritual greeting with Georgie before his therapy session. Even though it was expected, I jumped back in surprise as Georgie poked his head out from under the lobby bench and yelled, “Hah!” I exclaimed, “Wow, you really surprised me!” He chuckled softly to himself as he climbed out from under the bench, with silent pride beaming from his eyes. As was his custom, he then took my hand and we walked together to the playroom. In that moment, I realized that Georgie and I had become partners in his healing work as a result of the trust that he had established with me.
In the playroom, Georgie showed great resilience as he worked hard to resolve his deepest fears and fight threatening dangers. As he built inner strength and learned of his own competence in the playroom, his parents sought for more resources to help him manage his overwhelming feelings at home. His parents started to meet with the agency’s Parent Advocate who taught them ways to create more stability and security for Georgie. His father told about how the program gave him a tool box of resources to use in his interactions with his son. Previous to this education, he had just parented the way his parents did, without thinking through his methods. Through daily special play time, Georgie and his father started to rebuild trust in their relationship. As his parents learned to validate his feelings and needs, Georgie started to seek comfort and attention from his parents instead of avoiding them. His parents realized that they not only learned useful skills from the Parent Advocate, they also came to rely on the support they felt from her weekly visits. Upon completion of the in-home parenting program, they decided to start a small parent support group with their friends, in which they shared of their parenting struggles and successes. This group helped Georgie’s parents build a bridge of commonality with other parents.
The combination of Georgie’s individual therapy coupled with in-home parenting brought about great changes for Georgie and his family. This change can be demonstrated by a scene I witnessed at the end of one of his recent therapy sessions in which Georgie ran up to his mother and jumped straight into her arms for a huge hug. His mother greeted him with a broad smile and held him close. This scene was so different from the ones I had witnessed only months earlier. Georgie’s deep anger and jealousy faded away as he felt more love and support from his parents and greater security from his fears. Georgie walked away that day with a new lightness in his step and his shoulders squared in a posture of confidence.
Juan, Octavio, & Manuel
After years of physical abuse and neglect, four young Hispanic boys were removed from their parents’ custody and placed with the State. “Cameron,” a baby at the time, was immediately placed in a “legal risk” home, providing him with an opportunity for adoption should it become available. Two years later, he has bonded to his foster parents who are currently his legal guardians.
Fortunately, Cameron did not experience a severe amount of abuse or neglect. What occurred with his older siblings, however, seems unspeakable. Indeed, two of his siblings rarely speak, neither in Spanish nor English. “Juan,” “Octavio,” and “Manuel” were subjected to a pattern of severe physical abuse, causing permanent physical disabilities to Octavio. They were then sent to Mexico when Mom feared possible repercussions for her actions. While in Mexico, the then 2,3, and 4 year olds lived on the street, literally eating garbage to survive.
While these three boys’ entire history is not known, what is known is the condition in which they were found that necessitated their removal from their parents. While all three showed signs of physical abuse and neglect, Octavio suffered particularly severe damage. He spent two months in Primary Children’s Medical Center in a body cast, healing from broken bones as well as other injuries, including surgery to remove broken glass that was embedded in his forehead. His injuries were so severe and permanent that family members have referred to him as “The Broken One.” Upon his release from the hospital, Octavio was reunited with Juan and Miguel, and the three of them began participating in Play Therapy, all with the same therapist given their need for Spanish.
Each of the boys progressed at their own rate according to their personalities, age and developmental levels, and coping mechanisms. Octavio, however, engaged very quickly and, although he experienced the most devastating physical effects from the abuse, soared above his brothers as to his progress.
After a long and difficult time for both the boys and their father, the case seemed to culminate at a Termination of Parental Rights trial in June 2005. Mom’s rights were terminated; she had been deported several months earlier. Dad’s rights, however, were not terminated, and a new and unexpected chapter in the family’s life began. Juan and Manuel were returned to Dad’s custody where he marginally cares for them, with the help of his cousin’s wife with whom the family lives.
Octavio, however, went to a legal risk placement, where he is making remarkable progress, physically, educationally and emotionally. His foster parents are helping him to learn to use his disabled leg more effectively and he can now both stand and jump on his leg. He surpassed the school’s educational goals only three months into the school year. He is bonding to his foster family while he also continues to address the emotional issues related to the severe trauma and deprivation he suffered. Finally, in a twist that no one expected, the judge decided, based upon Octavio’s remarkable progress, that it was in his best interest to reconsider a permanency plan. Therefore, another termination trial will soon take place, and, assuming that Dad’s rights are terminated, Octavio will finally be free to be adopted and become a permanent part of the family who has given him so much. He will not lose contact with his brothers nor his biological father, but the boy once labeled as “broken” by those who either caused or allowed his body, mind and heart to be so hurt will soon stand a little taller, jump a little higher and run a little faster. He will speak more clearly, laugh more easily and love more deeply.
Colten & Jimmy
About one year ago I began working with an 8 yr.old male named Colten and his younger 3 yr.old brother named Jimmy, both of whom had been taken out of their home and put in foster homes as well as their 5 other siblings. All 7 children had multiple referrals to DCFS for several years for severe physical neglect, physical and emotional abuse, and domestic violence. Their father and mother have a long history of substance abuse, criminal activity, homelessness, arrests and jail. Colten, Jimmy and their siblings witnessed their father choking, hitting and smacking their mother and watched their parents abusing illegal drugs and stealing for drug money. It was reported that the parents would blow drug smoke into their children’s faces. The referrals also included the children being dirty, lacking underwear, socks, shoes or coats, not having adequate food or mattresses to sleep on. There was substantial evidence that the 5 male children were kicked, choked, slammed against the wall, thrown down, and hit on their bare bottoms with a large metal spatula or a leather belt with a buckle which would draw blood. The father would make them put their hands on the table and he would pretend to cut their fingers off with a butcher knife and threaten to slit their throats if they told anyone. When Jimmy would cry as a toddler, the father would throw him against the wall to knock his breath out to stop his crying. Once he threw Jimmy into a window which broke the window and caused the father to need stitches. When the children finally told the truth to DCFS they were terrified their father would kill them. The oldest male child took over as the parent for the children.
Colten’s behavior problems included defiance, anger, depression, sad crying spells, anxiety, lying, blaming, hoarding food, being detached, withdrawn and distrusting adults. Jimmy’s behavior problems included defiance, aggression, lying, blaming, hyperactivity, gender identity issues and self harm such as biting his own arms, scratching himself until he bleeds, and tightening a belt around his neck which he stated was a game his brothers taught him. Treatment goals were set for each boy to increase their sense of security and safety, trust and nurturing. Initially each boy felt victimized, powerless, and overwhelmed with repressed anger and sadness. Child-centered play therapy was planned to give the boys a chance to have an experience with empowerment in relationship to adults, to express repressed emotions, and to begin to resolve their trauma, feeling a sense of mastery over their environment.
Colten’s play themes emerged in the first session as he used the sand and water trays. He wanted to be a saber-toothed tiger in order to feel powerful in a world where he often felt powerless. He buried all the dangerous sea creatures under the water, then placed a small baby giraffe on a bridge over the water to protect it from the aggressive underwater danger. The bridge may have been a symbol of foster care and therapy as a means to safety. The “vicious” creatures killed off all the “heroes” and then magically the heroes came back to life and eventually won the war. Colten acted out his life experiences in his play where he has been the victim of violence, with the aggressive creatures winning the war, then decided to give his story a different better ending with the heroes helping him win. He began from the first session to have hope that their would be heroes to help him and his siblings come back to life and be rescued. By Colten’s 20th play therapy session, he had worked through his issues of power and control, good and bad guys, and his anger. He identified with Harry Potter and sought his own magical power to conquer his personal monsters. Colten learned to release his intense buried anger in constructive ways through drums, basketball, balloon hockey, punching bag and hammering. He worked through his perception of women being weak and men being demanding and controlling. He worked through his hunger and need for nurturing. He shared that he thought he had died at age 3 when his father ran over him in the van. He began to create with clay hearts of love and gratitude for his grandparents who took all the children in as foster children and then planned to adopt them. His grandmother reported Colten had stopped being defiant and was much more obedient and affectionate. The last few sessions we brought in Colten’s male siblings to work on cooperative teamwork instead of the competition they were so used to. These children had spent their whole life competing for love, attention, and food. They learned to work together as they built tinkertoy towers, storytelling murals, games and artwork. We had a pizzas party on Colten’s 30th session to celebrate their adoption and Colten’s progress in therapy. The four oldest male siblings made a large pizza together without any conflict to prove they could do it. They self initiated a group cheer of thanks for therapy and how it had helped them to be a united group. Colten is now a bright, creative, sensitive young man who encourages his siblings to have teamwork.
Jimmy’s first play therapy session revealed his need for consistency, his developmental delays, and his extreme post-traumatic stress disorder. He would become dissociative when he heard noises outside the playroom such as footsteps or doors shutting. He was certain a monster was going to come in and eat him. He needed a lot of reassurance that the play room was safe and that I would keep him safe. His play themes were often of rescue vehicles saving the babies. His other dominant play theme was of searching for monsters with a flashlight, and killing the stuffed animal monsters in the playroom. He often would express an extreme fear of dying himself. He asked his grandfather during this time, “If dad throws me against the wall again, will I die?” He worked through his fear that he was a bad baby and that the policemen would take him away, shoot and kill him. Later in the play sessions, he had the police cars rescue the baby figure who got hurt in the dollhouse. He became the policeman who kills the dinosaurs and buries the sharks. He then became a super hero and wore a superman cape to jump off cushion towers. After 24 sessions, Jimmy no longer demonstrated symptoms of PTSD. He became attached to his grandmother and is currently enjoying filial play therapy with her. During their last filial session, Jimmy wanted to create a scenerio in the dollhouse of parents taking care of the babies.
Colten, Jimmy and their siblings were adopted by their grandparents last month. Colten and Jimmy have shown how powerful play therapy can be, how it helped them in healing from serious neglect and abuse. They have learned to express their feelings appropriately, to work through conflicts and be heard, that there are trustworthy adults in this world, and that they can have trust and confidence in their own choices. Colten and Jimmy feel safe and secure, hopeful and happy.
Adult Therapy Top
During “Brenda’s” first therapy session, she asked, “Why do I keep going back to an abusive man?” At age 22, Brenda had spent the last 7 years in dependent abusive relationships with men. Her most recent boyfriend was violent and unpredictable, choking Brenda so hard that she seizured and blacked-out. When she regained consciousness, her boyfriend was on the phone making flight plans to flee the country because he thought he had killed her. Brenda continued to stay with this man in order to “help” him - continuing to experience violent physical abuse.
Therapy sessions revealed that Brenda was emotionally stuck at age 15 - the age in which her father cheated on her mother, leaving Brenda feeling betrayed and vulnerable. From that time forward, Brenda had been involved with a series of men who took advantage of her insecurity as she searched for validation and a sense of identity. After only a few therapy sessions, Brenda announced that she was ready to take charge of her life, and wanted to learn how to develop self-respect and set boundaries with men. Brenda’s realizations that she was pregnant heightened her desire to get a good job, go back to school, and explore her spiritual values.
During the sessions that followed, Brenda was educated about the warning signs of an abusive personality, and practiced assertiveness skills such as setting clear boundaries. As her self-awareness began to increase, she was able to develop a sense of identity and inner-strength that was demonstrated by her decision to confront her parents after many years of dealing privately with her own pain. This confrontation happened by way of a family therapy session, which allowed Brenda the opportunity to share her honest, direct, and heartfelt feelings with her parents, while maintaining a sense of personal safety. The family session proved to be a huge turning point for Brenda as her father held her, cried with her, and expressed his remorse for the pain he had caused her, thus lifting a great burden that Brenda had carried for years.
After 3 ½ months of therapy, there was a noticeable difference in Brenda. Her mood and affect were now bright. She had a new job, a newfound faith in religion, and an increased social support system. Brenda began openly sharing her experiences of recovery from a passive victim to a strong, assertive, and independent woman, and expressed gratitude for the important role therapy played in transforming her life. Brenda is now eagerly anticipating the birth of her daughter in June, and is ready for the hopeful future she knows she can create.
Parenting Classes Top
The parents who attend the parenting classes offered by the agency do so for
a myriad of reasons, ranging from a court order to a genuine desire to learn
and implement new skills. One such mother, after finding herself a single parent
of three young children due to a recent divorce, came to class in hope of learning
new parenting techniques, in addition to enhancing already established parenting
skills. At the onset of the classes, she expressed her frustration in managing
a new schedule and not having the opportunity to spend as much time and energy
on her kids as she had previously done. She reported that this dramatic lifestyle
change not only affected her, but affected her kids as well. She was hopeful
that these classes would offer her insight into her parenting and help her family
to adapt to their new situation.
One of the first topics discussed in class was “Special Playtime” - a technique that encourages parents to spend 15 minutes a day with each of their children, letting the child lead the play and decide the activity. When the topic of special play was discussed, this mother was very interested and asked many questions. She was curious how this method would work (being a busy single mother), but committed to try it that week. When she came back the next week, she reported that her children’s negative behavior had decreased and that, although for only 15 minutes a day, she was able to spend time interacting with her children one-on-one. She was excited to share her success with the group and talked about what she had done to adapt it to her busy schedule, as well as the positive impact that she felt it had on the atmosphere of the home.
In addition to special play, this mother also embraced the skill of emotion coaching and worked hard to implement the 5:1 ratio (five positives for every one negative). She noticed that it not only helped her to focus on the good in her children, it also helped them to focus on the good in each other as well as in her. She has found ways to adapt this skill to fit each child’s needs, and feels as though this skill has contributed to a more positive atmosphere in the home. This single mother has not only tried using these methods on a temporary basis merely to fulfill class expectations, she has adapted them into her normal parenting routine. This adaptation of new parenting techniques has helped both her and her children adjust to their new circumstances, and even find happiness and success in them.
Shelter Care Top
There were three children Mckenna 10, Savannah 7, & Mateo 5 placed in our
care due to the fact that their mother could not provide a safe home for them.
Their mother had made the choice to drink and do drugs. One night their mother
had too much to drink and passed out on the front lawn. The neighbors saw the
mother passed out in the yard and took these kids to their home and then called
the proper authorities. The children were then placed in our care in the crisis/respite
nursery. They stayed for about two weeks and were placed in a foster home. While
in this foster home Spencer, our live-in-houseparent, saw them at the local
library. Mckenna, Savannah, and Mateo recognized him and ran up to him and talk
to him for a couple minutes. Several months later the children were returned
to their mother. Soon after being returned to their mother these three were
removed again because mom was caught selling and taking prescription drugs that
were not hers. When the children were removed the second time they did not want
to be put in another foster home in their area. They told their caseworker that
they did not like any of the foster homes because the people were mean and wanted
to come back to the agency because “they are nice”. After being
placed in our care for a week and a half, the children were placed in another
foster home and started therapy at our agency. During the first appointment
Savannah asked the therapist, Cindy, “Do you know Amberly?” Cindy
Replied, “Yes.” Savannah told her, “She is nice and took care
of me.” Savannah felt safe at our agency because of the nursery. Because
this child felt safe in our nursery the agency as a whole is a safe place for
her, and this has enabled her to start the healing process sooner.