One Caring Adult Can Make All the Difference

Dawartha Tyler

Dawartha Tyler, FOCUS Regional Case Coordinator

I first met Jason when he came into state custody due to allegations of abuse. Because Jason’s birth mother had asked family members to cease contact, no relatives had come forward to provide a home for fear of being ostracized by the family. Then Jason’s Aunt Holly, who had recently moved back to Tennessee, learned that Jason was in foster care and began looking for him. At the same time, Jason began reaching out to a cousin, one of his aunt’s sons, on Facebook, and communications between Jason and his Aunt Holly began.

Determined to provide a home for Jason, Holly contacted the Department of Children’s services about foster parenting and completed the required training for foster families through Harmony’s FOCUS (Finding Our Children Unconditional Support) program. Holly told us that Jason and her son had been raised together, and she had been heartbroken when she learned Jason had been put in foster care. Jason was placed with Holly’s family, and they are now Jason’s family. Although there have been some bumps along the road, this family is committed to Jason. Together they have chosen subsidized permanent guardianship as his best option for permanency – and Jason has found his family.

Published on February 18, 2016 by .
Posted in Advocacy and Support, Family

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

Claiming

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

Back to School

Evelyn Wilcox

Evelyn Wilcox, Communications and Grant Development Coordinator

It’s that time of year – children will be going back to school. Imagine you are changing to a new school – for the 12th time.

For many children and youth in foster care, a new school year becomes another traumatic experience: moving to a new foster care placement often means changing schools – again.
With every move, children are estimated to lose four to six months of academic progress, falling farther and farther behind. Only 50 percent of children and youth in foster care complete high school by age eighteen.

Jimmy could have shared that fate. His story, as reported in Atlantic magazine by Jessica Lahey, begins when twelve-year old Jimmy was abandoned by his parents and entered foster care. Over the next two years in the foster care system, he attended twelve different schools. Jimmy doesn’t remember learning anything in school after fifth grade – he was thinking about what he was going to eat that day or where he would live.

At age sixteen, Jimmy’s life was transformed. An older couple, who saw how desperate he was for a stable home and an education, became his foster family. He lived with them for the next six years, and they gave him the stability he needed. “It wasn’t until I had a stable home and was taken in by a loving family in tenth grade that I was able to hear anything, to learn anything” said Jimmy. “When I was finally in one place for a while, going to the same school, everything changed. Even my handwriting improved. I could focus. I was finally able to learn.”

Jimmy Wayne finished high school and college and launched a successful country music career. In 2010, Jimmy walked halfway across America to raise awareness for kids aging out of the system, and in 2012, he advocated for passage of the bill that extends the age of foster care in Tennessee to twenty-one.

Harmony is finding homes for young people like Jimmy who have given up hope of finding a safe, loving family. You can find out more at Harmony’s new Parent a Child Website (parentachild.org), which features stories and videos of Tennessee children/youth in foster care whose greatest wish is a forever family – the love and support that can transform their future.

Published on August 11, 2015 by .
Posted in Adoption, Family

New Year’s Resolutions

Pam Frye

Pam Frye, Chief Program Officer

It is that time of year – when we start making promises for the year to come. This year I am going to get back on my exercise routine. Almost all of us make some type of formal or informal resolution for the year. Recently I was doing some research for our adoptive parent support groups on the topic: Top Ten Parenting Tips for the New Year, and I came upon this quote from Circle of Security, a relationship based early-intervention program for families dealing with attachment issues. The quote goes like this:

(Almost) Everything I need to know about being a parent in 25 words or less:
Always: be BIGGER, STRONGER, WISER, and KIND.
Whenever possible: Follow your child’s need.
Whenever necessary: take charge.

I love this quote. These are simple words and simple advice really. I love it so much that I have thought about getting a T-shirt made with the saying on it, but I imagine there would be copyright issues involved. I visualize something like the Life is Good movement, with caring parents around the world donning Circle of Security T-Shirts.

Perhaps I will order a bracelet with the words Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind engraved on it. Whenever I am feeling impatient or grumpy with my thirteen-year old, I can look at my wrist and remember my mantra. I really think that with these four words we could start a parenting revolution. Come to think of it, we could start a revolution period. Think of how different the world would be if we lived by these words: Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, Kind.

Published on January 12, 2015 by .
Posted in Advocacy and Support, Family

Destiny

Tina Graves

Tina Graves, FOCUS Regional Case Consultant

Networking is such an important part of the job we do at Harmony. On any given day we meet and connect with many different people, and every day we have the opportunity to open doors for the children we serve. This was never as apparent to me as on a beautiful fall day when I attended an event at Montvale for adoptive children and their families.

The families were invited to the Family Center at Montvale to enjoy the sunshine and beautiful surroundings, lunch, and fellowship. Since I work in a different area of the state, many of the faces were new to me. At lunchtime I walked outside thinking to myself, who will I eat with? As I looked around most of my colleagues were visiting with other people, so I chose to sit down with a family I hadn’t met and began a conversation with the mother. She and I discussed her family and how they all had been brought together. My interest was piqued when the mother described attachment issues their family was dealing with, because I had been trying to find an adoptive family for one of my FOCUS clients, a young girl who was facing very similar issues.

When I told her a little about this young girl she explained that her oldest daughter was really interested in adopting and suggested I give her a call. I replied that visits would be difficult, because this child was in the Middle Tennessee area. The mother looked at me and smiled as she explained that her daughter lives in Lebanon, which is in Middle Tennessee. We exchanged phone numbers, and she said she would give me a call. The next morning her daughter called me all excited asking about the child.

A whirlwind of things began to happen. The daughter and her husband started the required PATH training (Parents As Tender Healers); their home study was approved; the couple and child met – and ultimately the youngster was adopted. The new acquaintance I had met over a hotdog is now my client’s grandmother! Funny how it seems things are just supposed to happen. Had I chosen to sit at a different table, this child would have never found her forever family – it must have been destiny!

Published on June 17, 2014 by .
Posted in Family, Montvale

It Takes Time To Sprawl

Michael Yates

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.

Published on January 27, 2014 by .
Posted in Family, Healing

Newton’s Law of Inertia

Pam Frye

Pam Frye, Chief Program Officer

Last night my husband and I went on our annual pilgrimage to the open house at our daughter’s school. I liked all of the teachers. The science classroom was my favorite; I have always liked science. One poster caught my eye: Newton’s Laws. One thing specifically stood out: “An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force,” Newton’s Law of Inertia. Reading the poster, I could not help thinking about something that happened to me recently.

Two weeks ago my husband and I were presented with a wonderful opportunity to stay at our friends’ vacation home for a long weekend. The home is a block away from the beach. Despite the fact that they rent out their home, our stay would be free. Most people when presented with an opportunity for a free weekend beach trip would jump at the chance. Not me. I came up with lots of problems and roadblocks: “I just took off from work a couple of weeks ago. There is a lot going on at work. What if we cannot get approval from the principal to take a discretionary day? School just started. What about the money?” I came up with several lame (in hind sight) reasons for why this spur-of-the moment beach trip was not a good idea.

I am thankful that my husband is smart and knows all about physics. He persisted and became that “unbalancing force” to push past my resistance. We went to the beach and had a great time despite all of my good reasons for not going.

I remember Lenna Allen, one of Harmony’s ASAP therapists, telling me that according to an article she had read, as parents we have 940 Saturdays to spend with our kids from the time that they are born until they leave the nest. I am so thankful that our family, resisting the Law of Inertia, spent one of those precious Saturdays together.

Published on January 02, 2014 by .
Posted in Family