Musical Timelines

Lenna Allen

Lenna Allen, ASAP Family Therapist

The benefits of music are many. Children who learn to play music increase their math skills. Music can improve our mood; a song can quickly bring back memories of another time.

Harmony’s Adoption Support and Preservation (ASAP) team uses an approach called ARC (Attachment, Self-Regulation, and Competency) with clients who have been through traumatic stress. When we were asked to come up with a therapeutic activity for ARC, we created a musical time line for children to use to tell their life stories.

Giving children a voice is an important principal of another ASAP approach, TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention): children are asked to identify a song and a particular lyric that speaks to them. I use this activity with my clients, and it is amazing how even the children who bury their emotions will suddenly talk about a feeling expressed in a song.

A young girl who suffered multiple forms of abuse identified with Matthew West’s song Broken Girl: “Look what he’s done to you, it isn’t fair, your light was bright and new, but he didn’t care, he took the heart of a little girl, and made it grow up too fast…”

A teen dedicated the lyrics of Mama’s Song by Carrie Underwood to her biological mother: “Mama there’s no way you’ll ever lose me, giving me away is not goodbye…”

A mother who was helping her child with the time line chose One Less by Matthew West for their adoption day. “Well, worlds collide and colors fade, and a man and wife brought their little girl home today, and there’s one less…lonely heart in the world today.”

A child reflected on his hope for the future with Pentatonix’s Radioactive: “All systems go, sun hasn’t died, deep in my bones, straight from inside, I’m waking up…welcome to the new age.”
Another child chose Katy Perry’s Firework: “If you only knew what the future holds, after a hurricane comes a rainbow.”

Our children from hard places often understand more than they can express, and they can identify with emotion when they hear it in a song. It gives them a voice. It’s a less vulnerable way of expressing feelings, because someone else has been there, too. I encourage you to listen carefully to some of the lyrics of your favorite songs, and see what resonates with you, your children, and your family!

Published on March 24, 2015 by .
Posted in Advocacy and Support, Healing

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

Positive Curiosity

Michael Yates

Michael Yates, Project Director for State Contracts including ASAP, FOCUS, PATH and Home Study

“So, let’s begin at the beginning,” she said to the audience. “Let’s begin with positive curiosity.”

What a cool place to begin, I thought.

The audience was a collection of therapists, supervisors, program, and agency administrators from varying disciplines. The subject matter facing the audience was the very hard work of treating complex trauma in children and families – the type of trauma that stems from abuse and neglect and can have an insidious impact upon families and other care-giving supports. Margaret Blaustein, the creator of the ARC Framework (Attachment, Self-Regulation, & Competency), was describing her preferred starting point when beginning the difficult work of untangling the complexity of the trauma nestled within a child’s story.

This is the kind of hard work that drips with pain and sorrow. It is further complicated by a child’s behavioral response to a world sending messages that he or she is damaged goods, unworthy, incapable, and perhaps worst of all, unlovable. It’s hard work, in a hard place. Child, family, and therapist alike are not immune to getting stuck in this hardest of places. How do you begin getting traction to move forward when healing, recovery, and resiliency seem, at best, idealistic, and at worst, foolhardy and naive?

Positive curiosity, just maybe, is the place to begin.

Think about it. By definition, “curiosity” means a strong desire to know or learn something. “Positive” has many meanings but, in this case, positive is emphasizing what is laudable, hopeful, or to the good – constructive. So, positive curiosity seems to be a strong desire to know & learn emphasizing what is hopeful, good, & constructive. It sets a posture of openness to understand, first, before solving or fixing anything. It invites questions and wonder without having the answer or solution for children and families coming from hard places. It even encourages attunement about where your own thoughts and feelings are coming from in response to the world around you … or the family you’re serving … or the system in which you’re functioning.

For the hard work in the hard place of complex trauma, positive curiosity may be the right beginning, indeed.

I can’t help but think we’d all benefit from a little more positive curiosity in all walks and in all places of life, not just through the therapeutic lens of treatment. What would positive curiosity look like for you at home? When you look in the mirror? Riding in the car with your kids? At the dinner table? At church? How about on a walk with your spouse? Or parenting when your child is fighting you at every turn? What would positive curiosity look like in a board meeting? Or in supervision? Or how would it look in a business meeting? Or during an agency’s strategic planning?

Clearly, positive curiosity may be a healthy place to begin with in many walks of life, not just for those providing treatment to the wounded who have come from hard places. Try it out and see if it fits for you. Positive curiosity may be the perfect beginning for helping you get forward traction wherever you are.

Published on August 12, 2013 by .
Posted in Advocacy and Support, Healing

Healing Through Bonding

Leslie Jenkins

Leslie Jenkins, ASAP Therapist

As I sat at our first family camp watching the teens and younger children bonding through play, I was struck by the camp’s healing powers. There were kids from various backgrounds, ages, and abilities, but through their shared experience of adoption they were all able to relate and connect. I was impressed by their ability to create a game with no direction from adults and few accessories. They seemed at ease with one another, interacted well with each other, and made sure no one was excluded. I watched an older brother who never cuts his younger brother any slack give up his ping pong paddle so his brother could have a turn. I was also told by an older teen how important it is to enjoy the simple things in life. What a humbling experience just to be present and observe the amazing insights and changes taking place in children who are usually reliant on TV and video games for entertainment. Family camp really did make history for all the campers and staff present, and it demonstrated how much progress can take place in a weekend. It also renewed my dedication to providing support and treatment to all our ASAP families so that they can reach their full potential.

Published on February 20, 2013 by .
Posted in Adoption, Healing

Take Time To Listen

Kristi Kulesz

Kristi Kulesz, Family Therapist

Dr. Karyn Purvis says that when we empower a child to find their voice, we are honor-bound to listen when they use it. Similarly, when children tell their stories, we are honor-bound to listen. To all of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I often hear adoptive parents say, “I just don’t talk about it with them because I don’t want to make them think about it.” The mistaken assumption is that if a child’s story before placement is not acknowledged, then it didn’t happen. Nothing can be farther from the truth. To honor a child’s unedited story is to honor all of who they are, for their story did not begin when they came home to their loving adoptive families.

Whether a child’s story comes in the form of reflective pleasant memories from their past or accounts of profound loss, pain, and even fear – these stories are a part of a child’s truth. And when a child chooses to share their truth, we owe it to them to be available to hold it.

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” – Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

Published on December 18, 2012 by .
Posted in Adoption, Advocacy and Support, Healing

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

Healing Through Sharing

Leslie Jenkins

Leslie Jenkins, ASAP Family Therapist

After meeting with a pre-teen girl for several months, she casually revealed to me that she’d been sexually molested by her birth uncle. I asked her how she felt having shared that info with me, and she stated that she felt “like a weight had been lifted from her”. We then began the difficult process of trauma work. This girl wrote an amazing, powerful story, one that allowed her to add in her new life with her adoptive family. When it was time to read it to her adoptive parents, she began to panic and became very emotional. In this difficult moment, she was able to discover inner strength that she never knew existed. She did read her trauma story that day. I’ll never forget the way her words came to life, and she conquered her past. The two parts of her story that stick out in my mind the most are “my heart broke every time I was unable to tell my dad the truth about what was happening to me”, and “my therapist has helped me see that I am pretty and strong”. Hearing this story made my heart ache for her, but it also reminded me of what an important role I play in the lives of children every day.

After a hard road of disappointments and successes, I was able to sit down with the family to reflect and celebrate their accomplishments. As we sat down to enjoy the pizza together the adoptive dad said grace. As I listened closely to his heart felt words of gratitude, he thanked God for me and the help I’ve given their family. As I was preparing to leave that evening, I inquired what had been the most helpful about our time together. The adoptive mom replied that I have “restored hope to their family”.

Published on July 10, 2012 by .
Posted in Adoption, Healing

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