I HAVE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE

Kim Liberatore

Kim Liberatore, ASAP Family Therapist

The Barn, a program of Harmony Adoptions, is dedicated to strengthening children and families through the use of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP). EAP is an experiential therapy that integrates horses into the counseling process. We serve children who have experienced physical and emotional trauma and/or neglect and have been removed from their birth families. A child’s reaction to stress can result in behaviors that present problems for foster and adoptive parents and can become barriers to success. The Barn offers EAP to children and youth in foster care or in adoptive families.

As Jimmy and his adoptive mother Martha walked down to the arena for their second Equine Assisted Psychotherapy session, I could sense the tension between them. Jimmy, a smart but shy 11 year old, had endured years of severe neglect with his birth family, and his adoption had only been finalized one year ago.

As soon as they entered the ring, Martha began airing her grievances. She listed her current frustrations with Jimmy, including his inability to remember to brush his teeth, put on clean clothes, or put his dishes in the sink. “It’s like I have to tell him how to do every little thing. It’s like he’s 4 years old, instead of 11 years old. It just doesn’t make sense!”

As usual, I turned to the experiential nature of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, and I gave Jimmy the challenge of catching the horse, Jackson. For several minutes Jimmy stood in front of Jackson, puzzling over the tangled mess of leather that was the halter. Jackson, an old and reliable horse, waited patiently. Finally, Jimmy looked up toward Martha and said, “I don’t know how to do this because I’ve never done it before. Mom, can you help me?” Martha’s eyes grew wide and then filled with tears. “Oh my goodness”, she said, turning to me, “He’s never done it before. He doesn’t know how. Brushing his teeth, the laundry, the dishes – he’s never done any of these things before”.

I could see the realizations wash over her face. Jimmy had lived in cars, and tents, and hotels. He had scavenged for food to keep his younger siblings alive. He had lived for so long in survival mode, he had never experienced the lessons that we take for granted as part of a whole and healthy childhood. He was capable of these tasks, certainly, he just needed his adoptive mother to take his hand, and walk him through the parts of his childhood that he had missed.

Martha and Jimmy hugged and then, each with a hand on the halter, walked toward Jackson, intent on accomplishing their mission together.

Learn more about The Barn.

Published on April 25, 2012 by .
Posted in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)

PEANUTS!

Jennifer West

Jennifer West, Counselor, Harmony's Attachment Resource Team (HART)

Harmony’s Attachment Resource Team (HART) works to secure the highest degree of legal and emotional permanency for Tennessee’s children in custody/guardianship of the state and to help these children develop healthy attachment and life-long relationships.

The Davis family was referred to HART to assess the advisability of separating 11 year old Mindy from her 10 year old brother, Jason, primarily due to the fact that his serious acting out issues were jeopardizing this pre-adopt placement. In the first Child and Family Team Meeting (CFTM) HART attended, the family was given one weekend to decide to adopt both children, or they both would be removed. HART proposed a different approach. Jennifer West shares this story.

Peanuts

How did it go this week?
It went good, but we did have to call peanuts a few times.
And it worked?
Yes!

So much power in one little word taught me that peanuts are nothing to sniff at. Maybe it is the sheer silliness of the word or maybe it is because everyone agreed to the experiment that it worked. But perhaps the whys are not so important.

In working with Mindy’s and Jason’s pre-adoptive family, I quickly discovered that many of the problems I saw were due to miscues and misunderstandings, followed by intense emotional escalations. I tentatively offered a family experiment that involved a code word. What ten year old boy doesn’t love a code word, after all? I proposed that when anyone in the family felt confused, upset, or conflicted about the messages (both verbal and nonverbal) they were receiving that they call out the family code word. This word would be a signal for a time-out, a cool down, or a check-in about the messages being sent and received, depending on what the person who called it needed. I asked the family to come up with their code word, and it did not take them long to settle on peanuts.

Then I suggested that we role play. I started off the acting so that it would not degenerate into an actual argument. (I learned about modeling role play the hard way, but that’s a story for another day!) Everyone took turns acting out scenarios that typically resulted in tears, yelling, swearing, getting grounded, or some combination thereof. Walking through the process together made abstract principles concrete and allowed the family to practice the experiment without anxiety and heightened emotions. I coached them on when and how they might slow down the communication process, how to avoid jumping to conclusions, how to offer the benefit of the doubt, and how to ask for clarification. Within a week’s time, those complex, nebulous, meta-communications got boiled down to, well, peanuts.

The family was soon calling to tell me that they were ready to go ahead with the adoption. However, when I arrived for my most recent home visit, the mother warned me that there was lots of jumping up and down and shouting going on! With fear and trepidation, I asked what was happening. I was greeted with Jason’s report card, on which he had gotten all B’s, two C’s, and S (for satisfactory behavior)! Never before had he been able to rise above a D. As the family recounted how much everything had improved, I asked them what they thought had made the difference. Their answer: peanuts! (Here’s what the family doesn’t know yet: on the day the children are adopted, I’m going to bring them the biggest sack of peanuts I can find!)

Published on April 19, 2012 by .
Posted in Adoption

GOING HOME

Heather Butcher

Heather Butcher, FOCUS Regional Case Consultant

Harmony’s FOCUS Program (Finding Our Children Unconditional Support) helps another child in state guardianship to find a forever home. FOCUS staff member Heather Butcher shares this story with a happy ending, the names have been changed.

This is a story about, Josh, a young man that has severe diabetes and had been living in a residential setting for the past 4 years when FOCUS became involved. He would often act out by intentionally doing things that caused insulin spikes and seizures. He had pretty much given up on everything and the only control he did have was his medical condition so he would use this as a way to hurt himself. His siblings were adopted and their adoptive family would periodically do a visit with him or send a card, but this was his only contact with people that weren’t his caseworkers.

FOCUS did an archeological dig and discovered an aunt and uncle along with grandparents in his file that at one time wanted to be a part of his life. It wasn’t easy to get everyone that had or was working with this child open to allowing this contact with his birth family. We were finally able to get permission from the team and his placement facility to start visits with these family members, in hopes this would help us better help Josh. At the same time we were all very nervous how Josh would react to this, however, it made a huge difference in his outlook on life. He started controlling his diabetes better, and stopped manipulating his insulin to cause serious medical issues. These visits went so well, that the grandparents wanted to find a way to get him out of this facility and into their home.

We were able to not only PATH train his grandparents, but also their support system (community, friends, church members) to make sure that Josh had all the supports he needed when he stepped out of residiential and into their home. Josh did finally leave the residential treatment facility he had been living in for the past 4 years and go home to live with his grandparents. After the allotted time in his grandparents home they were able to finalize his adoption so he knew he wouldn’t ever be leaving them. This made all the difference in the world to Josh and his diabetes. He stopped trying to hurt himself with his diabetes and learned to control it because he now had a reason to live and something worth living for.

Learn more about Harmony’s FOCUS Program (Finding Our Children Unconditional Support)

Published on April 12, 2012 by .
Posted in Adoption

FIRST BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION

Pam Frye

Pam Frye, Adoption Services Director

Harmony Adoptions is one of Tennessee’s premier adoption agencies. Harmony Adoptions provides services for families seeking domestic, international, and foster adoptions. Pam Frye, our Director of Adoption Services Director shares this story of celebration.

A recent cell phone conversation with a birth mother and former client began like this: “I cannot believe it has been a year.” We went on to chat about the typical things – how’s work? how’s your family? I detected tears and excitement as we talked about getting together for a visit with her birth daughter and her daughter’s adoptive family.

We ended our conversation with talk of birthday cakes, balloons, and discussion of where we could find a suitable place to celebrate a very special birthday. We need a place, large enough to accommodate the birthday girl and her mother and father, her birth mother and family, grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins. All of the details have been ironed out and next week I have the honor of celebrating the birthday of one very fortunate little girl who is about to celebrate her first birthday surrounded by a lot of people who love her.

It takes fearless people to walk an open adoption. It takes birth parents that are willing to deal with their grief head on. It takes adoptive parents secure enough to share their child with others. It takes aunts, uncles, and grandparents who have enough room in their heart to welcome in a set of strangers who have one thing in common – their love for a child.

Published on April 04, 2012 by .
Posted in Adoption

A WORN PHOTO

Tina Graves

Tina Graves, FOCUS Regional Case Consultant

Harmony’s FOCUS Program (Finding Our Children Unconditional Support uses intensive research methods to find families for children in state guardianship. Many are older youth who have experienced numerous placements, foster, and group homes. FOCUS staff member Tina Graves sent us this story, the young man’s name has been changed.

After having been in foster care for over eight years, more than half his life, Cory had all but completely given up hope of ever having someone to care about him and a place to call home. Multiple placements, both foster homes and residential, had become a way of life. Cory never knew for sure where he would lay his head at night or if he would ever have a home to truly call his own.

Approximately three miles away lived a man who carried a photo of the young Cory – a boy he had loved dearly and had never forgotten. Cory’s mother had left, and not having any legal right to the child, he could only wonder what happened to the boy he had helped raise for two years while living with Cory’s mother.

Meanwhile a FOCUS staffer, searching for any possible connection and digging through stacks of paperwork, discovered this early relationship, contacted the man, and set up a meeting. Tears came to the man’s eyes as he pulled from his wallet that worn photo taken so many years ago.

He and Cory were re-united. Not related by birth but definitely united in love – he adopted Cory, and now, at last, Cory has a home to call his own.

Learn more about Harmony’s FOCUS Program (Finding Our Children Unconditional Support)

Published on April 03, 2012 by .
Posted in Adoption

CLAIMED AND LOVED

Sarah Collins

Sarah Collins, ASAP Family Therapist and Clinical Supervisor

Harmony’s ASAP (Adoption Support and Preservation Program) provides therapeutic and support services to parents of children adopted from foster care. ASAP therapist Sarah Collins recently shared this story, the client’s name has been changed.

Debbie, the mother of two birth children and two adopted children, struggled with the concept of claiming. Claiming she would say, like the way you claim your bags when you get off an airplane? To her, the idea of claiming an adopted child was that of routine, logistics necessity.

In the beginning phases of our work together, her belief was that the adoption process itself should be claiming enough. After all, she had taken these children into her home when they had nowhere to go. “Isn’t it obvious to them that I claim them?” But through gentle, purposeful, and thoughtful leading and encouraging, she was able to understand claiming in all its glory. Debbie’s aha moment came to her four months into treatment on a sunny Tuesday afternoon when, during session, her youngest adopted daughter came hopping through the yard where we were chatting wearing her mother’s sunbonnet and garden shoes, both of which were entirely too large for her 7 year old body. “Look at me Mommy,” her daughter exclaimed, “when I grow up I wanna be a super tree fixer . . . just like you!” and she disappeared just as quickly as she came.

Debbie appeared perplexed by the comment at first, but a look of happiness, then guilt, washed over her face. She said, “Huh, never thought of myself as a super tree fixer . . . Isn’t it amazing how the little things make us who we are? I have been ‘claimed’ and have been ‘claiming’ right back all along through the little things. Our favorite thing to do together is prune the bushes and trees. How surprising that we have shared a claiming ritual together that I had no idea was that important to her and totally escaped me until this second.

To commemorate the occasion, Debbie and her daughter planted a special Azalea bush right in the front of the yard and named it Claimed and Loved . . . so that they may cultivate it together for many more years to come.

Learn more about Harmony’s ASAP Program (Adoption Support and Preservation Program)

Published on March 29, 2012 by .
Posted in Adoption

THE CHANGING FACE OF ADOPTION

Pam Wolf

Pam Wolf, Founder and CEO of Harmony Adoptions

The face of adoption has changed. The kids are older, the impact of abuse and neglect is more severe, and the scars left behind by emotional and physical traumas are deeper than ever before.

For kids, adoption begins a journey of healing. Adoption provides a forever family, a safe and loving place for children to face their demons and slay their dragons. But all too often, the adoptive family has very little understanding of the child’s history of abuse and how this impacts their family. Many families are not fully prepared to provide the complex care the child needs. The family’s road to health and well-being is riddled with challenges, and each year hundreds of families across the state turn to Harmony for the professional treatment they so desperately need.

Harmony Adoptions has redefined what treatment, support, and education mean to adoptive families. Our post-adoption services program is nationally-recognized, evidence-based, and the most comprehensive in the country. Less than 1% of the children we work with go back into foster care compared to a national rate of 10% or higher. What we do at Harmony works, and it makes a difference to the children, the family, and the long-term health of all of us in Tennessee.

And yet, there is still so much more we can do. Each year, far too many kids came back into foster care because their adoptive families gave up on them. These are kids we were not able to serve. Last year in Tennessee, over 700 youth aged out of care with no plans, no family, no future. Almost one third of the homeless people in our state report spending time in foster care, and 25% of Tennessee’s prisoners were formerly in foster care.

Each year, hundreds of children begin their adoption journey, leaving foster care for their forever family, and each year hundreds of Tennessee’s precious children are left behind, waiting for a family to call their own. As the needs of Tennessee’s children continue to grow, Harmony must respond to meet these needs.

Harmony’s next chapter is dawning at the base of the Smoky Mountains. Here in a rustic woodland setting lies the property once known as Camp Montvale and the ideal location for Harmony’s expansion. The 364-acre property includes cabins, a dining hall, kitchen, barns, ropes course, and facilities for outdoor learning. It is here that Harmony plans to establish a one-of-a-kind treatment center where children and their families can work together to learn, grow, and face their challenges – all with the help of our highly trained clinical staff. This residential adoptive family treatment program expands the number of families we can serve AND keeps families together rather than sending the child alone to treatment. Once the Harmony Family Center is fully developed, it will be self-sustaining, building on our existing funding and public utilization of the property.

Over the next year all of us at Harmony will share this amazing journey with you through the words of our children, parents, staff, and donors. You will learn more about Montvale – the difference this one-of-a-kind property can make in the lives of our families — and how you can participate and support our efforts. We hope you will share your thoughts and ideas with us and find ways to join us on this amazing journey!

Published on March 22, 2012 by .
Posted in Adoption

A CHILDREN’S BOOK FROM THE ADOPTIVE FAMILY PERSPECTIVE

HARMONY ADOPTIONS DEBUTS NEW CHILDREN’S BOOK

Harmony Adoptions Book Cover If Only I had You…

It is a wish shared by adoptive parent and child alike. In a new children’s book published by Harmony Adoptions, families can read along together the simple wishes that brought parent and child together. Proceeds from the sale of this beautifully illustrated book will benefit the mission of Harmony Adoptions and the planned Harmony Family Center. Learn more about the book and place your order today.

Published on February 05, 2011 by .
Posted in Adoption