Breakthrough Moments

Leslie Jenkins

Leslie Jenkins, ASAP Therapist

I’ve been working with a young boy I’ll call John and his adoptive dad for the past several months. John and his dad always participate in therapeutic activities and do their best to apply our in-session training to real life, which is not always easy. John’s dad continued to express his skepticism, however, as we explored the residual effects of trauma, including the very real self-worth and esteem issues faced by many children who have experienced trauma.

One of the skills I’ve learned throughout my experience as a therapist is to pay close attention to the body language of others. This indicator keys me into Dad’s response to our work together surrounding these discussions. As John continued to strengthen his communication skills and improve his ability to share his feelings with Dad, I watched their relationship continue to strengthen.

Last week as we sat together at the table during our family session, John turned to his Dad, looked into his eyes, and revealed to him that sometimes, no matter what, he just doesn’t feel “good enough”. I watched Dad receive this message and finally connect all our learning together. These breakthrough moments are what I live for! They are so rewarding and usually come so unexpectedly. What a special privilege to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children and their families.

Published on October 05, 2015 by .
Posted in Adoption, Attachment, Family


Kim Liberatore

Kim Liberatore, ASAP Family Therapist

As Family Preservation Counselors in the ASAP program, we work with children and teenagers adopted from the state foster care system. Almost every one of our clients experienced significant trauma before being removed from his or her birth family and placed into foster care. Their stories of horrific abuse and unthinkable neglect would likely shock most people.

Yet, as devastating as these events are, time after time, when conducting trauma assessments, I have noticed that a majority of children continue to cite their most traumatic experience as being in foster care, or changing homes so many times.

For children in foster care, everything in life is temporary, conditional, and unknown. Each placement could be the last, or it could be just another stop in a long and sad journey that no child should ever have to endure. The unspoken message is: You can live here, as long as you act a certain way. You are staying with these people for now, but you will probably have to move. You will be taken care of, but we don’t really know where you belong yet. In adoption, we say, every day a child is in custody is a day of childhood lost. Given these circumstances, it makes sense that the transient and unpredictable life of a foster child is what is often most traumatizing to that child. And that is why one of the most profound and important missions that adoptive families have is the idea of claiming a child. Claiming is the process by which adoptive families embrace a child as a full-fledged member of the family.

Adoptive parents have many different ways of outwardly making a child feel claimed. Finalizing an adoption and giving the child the adoptive family’s last name is the primary act of claiming in the adoption journey. Since parents who adopt from foster care weren’t able to name their child at birth, sometimes they give the child a new middle name, which is often a name that carries a special meaning to them. Adoptive families may take new family photos to ensure that their child is included in the pictures or they may decorate the child’s room in a more personal way. They might begin to celebrate the child’s adoption anniversary, or “gotcha day,” to emphasize the importance of the day the child joined the family. They will certainly begin calling the child my son or my daughter, and will eagerly anticipate the day that their child returns this sign of claiming by calling them mom or dad.

Most of all, though, the concept of claiming is achieved not through a series of actions, but from the way adoptive families surround their children with a sense of commitment, security, and belonging. Feeling claimed means that a child feels included, accepted, and loved in a permanent way. There is no caveat or clarifying adjective. They are not a foster child; they are simply, someone’s child.

When a child feels claimed, the unspoken message of adoption becomes this: “For better or worse, you are one of us. No matter what, you can never not be one of us ever again. Our lives are now inextricably interwoven, and thus, what affects you affects us, too. We are your people. With us, always, you belong.”

Published on September 10, 2015 by .
Posted in Adoption, Attachment, Family

It’s a Lot Like Falling In Love

Pam Frye

Pam Frye, Chief Program Officer

In the adoption world the word attachment is used frequently. With a quick Google search, I found this definition of attachment. “The formation by a child of significant and stable emotional connections with the significant people in its life. This process begins in early infancy as the child bonds with one or more primary caregivers. A failure by a child to establish these types of important connections before the age of about five years may result in the child experiencing difficulties with a wide variety of social relationships for significant periods of time in its life.” One of the things that has always bothered me is that in adoption literature “attachment” is most always what the child feels towards the parent, not what the parents feel toward the child. Common sense tells us that any relationship is a two way street. It’s that way in adoption too. Another thing that has bothered me is that we adoption professionals often discount or under-value the role that chemistry plays in attachment. It is a lot like romantic relationships. Sometimes two people just “dig” each other. Pardon the 70’s expression but I cannot think of a better term to describe it.

Today I picked my eleven year old daughter up at her school after a weeklong trip to the Tremont Institute in the Great Smokey Mountains. I have been a wreck this week missing her like she had been gone for a month. I was so excited to see her and hear about her trip. We have never gone five days without at least being able to talk to each other. I was giddy with excitement as I stood with the other 100 plus parents waiting for their kids to get off of the school bus. I thought to myself “Did they miss their kids as much as I did?” and “Do people who give birth to children love their kids this much?”

It reminded me of a conversation that I had ten years ago. A few months after I returned from China with my daughter one of my former co-workers asked me “What does it feel like to be a mother?” This is what I said “Leigh Ann have you ever been in love?” She said “Yes”. I said “Do you remember that feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach when you’re newly in love?” She said “Yes” and I told her “That’s what it feels like. It’s a lot like falling in love.”

Published on April 04, 2013 by .
Posted in Adoption, Attachment

Nature Girl

Pam Frye

Pam Frye, Chief Program Officer

I love the outdoors and have always considered myself a real “nature girl.” Nearly ten years ago my husband and I were fortunate enough to buy a home with some property that has a small creek that runs through it. My daughter was a toddler when we bought the place which lies less than a mile from where my German ancestors put down roots in the early 1800’s. It has been a blessing to see my Chinese daughter’s appreciation of nature being shaped and formed by the place that has nurtured generations of my family for nearly two hundred years. Some of my fondest family memories have been made at our little creek. At two years old, my daughter could spend hours squatting in the frigid spring fed creek, picking up rocks and throwing them. Rocks are one of nature’s greatest toys. Sticks are too. I am thrilled that at eleven years old, my daughter still loves our little creek. Whether she is with friends, cousins or even her mom, she can spend hours looking for crayfish, fossils or salamanders or building a dam. Nature is good for our souls!

When Harmony made the decision to purchase Montvale, I was overjoyed to know that other children would have that same opportunity to play in our creeks, to pick our flowers, explore the woods and experience the unbridled joy of nature.

Published on October 31, 2012 by .
Posted in Attachment, Healing

There Is Always Hope

Brandi Johnson

Brandi Johnson, ASAP Family Therapist

One of the hardest things for me to hear as a therapist is when a parent tells me that they don’t love their child. I think it’s one of the hardest things for them to admit as well. It’s counterintuitive. It goes against everything we know and every expectation that we have as human beings.

I still remember the first time an adoptive parent told me that she didn’t love her child. I remember almost feeling shocked that anyone could feel that way. That’s when I was new to working in adoption and before I really understood how families are impacted by trauma histories and attachment issues. I did realize, however, how much frustration it took for a parent to feel that way much less say those words out loud. This parent had definitely had her share of frustration parenting this child and I remember her telling me she wanted to end the adoption. That was during my first visit. I thought for sure there was no hope and that this child would be placed back in care. However, I learned a valuable lesson in working with that family. There is always hope.

As I continued working with the family I continued seeing progress. Not only did the child learn different ways to behave, but her parents learned more effective ways of parenting their child based on her individual needs. I was able to educate her parents about the origin of their daughter’s negative behaviors and teach them ways to facilitate attachment with her. I am happy to report that these parents were able to develop a strong bond and relationship with their daughter. I was able to speak with the child’s mother about a year after treatment ended. She reported that her daughter was doing well and that she loved her daughter very much. I’ll never forget her mother saying, “I even LIKE her now!” We both laughed and agreed that this said a lot considering her daughter is now a teenager.

Published on July 24, 2012 by .
Posted in Adoption, Attachment

It Came True!

Lenna Allen

Lenna Allen, ASAP Family Therapist

Lenna Allen, a therapist with Harmony’s Adoption Support and Preservation program (ASAP), shares this family success story.

I stood before my client’s door, gathering my therapy supplies in my arms, when the door suddenly burst open. "It came true! It came true!" little Johnny exclaimed with bright lights in his dark eyes as he danced up and down. I turned to Johnny’s adoptive Mom, and she smiled along with him, nodding her head up and down.

Johnny’s adoptive parents had started working with ASAP through the pre-adopt program. Once Johnny was adopted, they contacted us for in-home services. Johnny had been adopted for a few months, but he had been in DCS custody for 7 years. He was excited about his new family, new home, and new name. Johnny yearned to believe in a "forever family," but he had lived in many placements, including two potential adoptive homes. He looked forward to a bright future, but he also had a past filled with abuse, trauma, and uncertainty.

Johnny’s adoptive Mom had asked me for some ideas on connecting with her son and giving him nurture for the past years when he had none. The subject of family attachment narrative therapy came up: claiming your child by using a story/script of how you would have loved that child when he was born, began walking, started talking, etc. We knew how much Johnny loved his Certificate of Adoption (framed with pictures in the living room). We decided to begin by creating a Birth Certificate with Johnny’s adoptive parents’ names on it, his new name, and his birth date. We let him have creative license with the rest! He chose where he would have been born, what his adoptive Mom and Dad would have said about him, and what gifts they would have given him at the time of his birth.

Johnny stated that Dad would have given him a soft, stuffed dog to play with in his crib. Mom would have made him a soft baby blanket and wrapped him in it. It was a fun activity.

Now, here I stood on the steps of the front door, with little Johnny dancing before me. "Look! Dad gave me a pillow pet doggy! Mom gave me a blanket her grandma made for her! I sleep with them every night!!" Mom’s eyes beamed as she acknowledged Johnny had been sleeping during these summer nights with a blanket wrapped around him and the doggy under his head for a pillow. The love between the two of them was tangible. I saw a child with a family that not only cared for him today, but also strove with initiative to give him a strong foundation. I know their future will be a loving, exciting journey…because "it came true!"

Published on May 24, 2012 by .
Posted in Adoption, Attachment, Healing