Starting and Ending With Family

Lisa Norris

Lisa Norris, FOCUS Regional Case Consultant

Other things may change us,
but we start and end with the family. — Anthony Brandt

When I first received Miranda’s case, it was with a sarcastic smile and a “good luck on this one” caveat. And after reading through her files at DCS, I quickly realized why I was being warned. Miranda’s case notes were filled with scary words like, “bipolar, schizophrenic, suicidal ideations, homicidal ideations,” and the list went on. Miranda had allegations of sexual abuse against a child, nearly killing a peer with a swift blow to the head with a metal 3-hole punch, and other various violent acts against others. This child’s case certainly fell into the category of “doesn’t read well on paper.”

In an effort to even begin seeking out a family for Miranda, I had to go and meet her – and what I found when I did meet her was an incredibly intelligent girl who could write the most insightful poetry, meek by nature, and more polite than most children I meet (my own included). After speaking with her for just a few minutes, it was painfully clear that all Miranda wanted, or has ever wanted was someone to love her unconditionally.

After numerous attempts at revisiting former foster families, and being turned down, and unsuccessfully pulling stranger family matches from various websites, the team was beginning to lose hope for finding a forever family for this 16 year old.

Eventually, Miranda’s team was able to locate her grandmother. This grandmother lived in Georgia and wanted to reconnect with Miranda. Several months have passed and Miranda has been able to spend the holidays with her family and goes on weekend passes with them. The team is working diligently toward adoption.

I couldn’t think of a more fitting quote than the one at the beginning of this blog to describe Miranda’s situation. What a tragic start to life she had, but what a wonderful new beginning with family who claim her and love her!

Will Anyone Ever Love Me?
By Miranda Smith

Will anyone ever love me?
I don’t know.

Will anyone ever hold me
and actually want to?

The truth isn’t shown
Do you love me? I have no idea.
Why am I thinking about love? I am only a kid.

Do I even know the meaning of love?
Or is this just a feeling God gave me from above?

An emotion? Is there such a thing as a love potion?

This is the real big question…
do I love you?

Well, if you love me, then I will love you too.

It’s just an endless line of questions from deep inside my head.

Do you see where this has led?
Sometimes when I don’t have you in my arms, I wish I were six feet under.

I wish you would say, “I love her.”

I wish I knew why we went through the pain and the hurt we feel.

Well, I guess that will never be answered, as well as many of these other questions.

You probably will never love me.
Don’t I appeal?

Published on June 06, 2012 by .
Posted in Advocacy and Support

Unpacking Their Bags For the Last Time


Allison Cole, ASAP Family Therapist

Allison Cole, shares an ASAP story.

Carlos and his sister Eve grew up in the desert. Their biological mother was homeless and their father unknown. Eve cared for Carlos in the way that his mother did not – providing food, warmth during the cold desert nights and at times protection from predatory people who they came across in their travels. Carlos and Eve’s mother was involved in a cult-like group that was abusive both emotionally and physically to both she and her children. Eve tried her best to protect her little brother from the abuse. Sadly, she received no protection from it and suffered abuse from fellow cult members. Both she and her brother were finally rescued at the emergency room when Carlos was badly burned and their mother was forced to seek medical care. Carlos and Eve made their way to Tennessee to stay with relatives who quickly realized they did not have the capacity to care for the two of them. Both of the siblings were bounced back and forth from numerous foster homes – unfortunately some of the homes were abusive. Thankfully both Carlos and Eve were able to stay together and finally things began to look up.

The day they visited with their forever family was supposed to be another normal transition from foster home to foster home. They had their big black garbage bags packed once again, expecting to only be there for a short while. Normally when Eve and Carlos both began to feel comfortable in a foster home they would be ousted to another stranger’s house. When their adoptive parents first laid eyes on the siblings they tell me they knew it was meant to be. Carlos and Eve’s new foster parents had been looking for a child to call their own. They had been foster parents through a local agency for a few months but were really looking to adopt and provide permanence. They say that when they heard Carlos and Eve’s story and met the two kids they instantly fell in love. The siblings moved into their home. There were many issues that came up during this time and with the help of family and individual therapy the family was able to come to the conclusion that adoption was the right answer for everyone. Carlos and Eve now joke with me that they even favor their adoptive parent’s appearance and no one would ever guess they were adopted unless they choose to share the information. Both siblings take great pride in the fact that they were chosen by their parents – and consider this to be a special and unique part of their identities.

Several years have passed and Carlos and Eve are now teenagers expecting to graduate from high school very soon. Their father recently told me that Eve wrecked her new car (which she had been anxiously awaiting after getting her license) into a neighbor’s mailbox. Their dad joked that they were going to take things a little slower and give her more time to practice driving. He then said something very enlightening – he was happy and a bit relieved that Eve had the chance to have driving mishaps as a teenager. Her dad said he was happy that she gets a chance to make “normal” teenage mistakes and as scary as driving can be – it made his heart swell with pride to know that Eve was growing up into a strong, confident young woman.

The road has not been easy for Carlos and Eve. The ASAP program has provided them with intensive trauma-focused therapy as well as family sessions that have helped to improve communication, attachment and empathic understanding. I can also say that I am so thankful to this family for adopting these two amazing kids. They have been through a great deal of trauma at a young age but they are both incredibly resilient. I know there will be more bumps in the road just as there are for any of us but at least they know they have unpacked their bags for the last time in a place where they can safely grow up – even if they damage a few mailboxes in the process.

Published on May 31, 2012 by .
Posted in Adoption

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

A Need To Know and Belong

Jessica Bailey

Jessica Bailey, Administrative Assistant for Adoption

My parents recently became obsessed with We traced our respective family branches all of the way back through Ireland, Scotland, England, France and Germany. They became so entranced with the idea of needing to know precisely who and from where they came from, that it made me think about how important it is to each of us to understand who we are. Whether we realize it or not, our need for self identity revolves around knowing what our place in this world is, and who our people are.
Many adopted children have the same need to know who they are, where they come from, and the details of their heritage combined with the challenge of adapting to a whole new world in their new family. Many adoptive parents have the challenge of helping their children not only create a new identity with them, but also to help them remain rooted in their own personal history by providing as much detail as they can about who and where they came from. We all need to know who we are. For the adopted child, that may be a special challenge in and of its own right, and part of what we do here at Harmony is assist those children with knowing that’s ok to be who they are while also establishing their new identity with their forever family. It matters, because it affects our ability to feel secure, and no one should ever be denied that right.

Published on May 17, 2012 by .
Posted in Adoption


Shea Watts

Shea Watts, ASAP Family Therapist

Since coming to Harmony in 2006, I have been fortunate to work with some of the best Resource Parents in the country. These parents are committed to making a difference in the lives of children across the state of Tennessee, and always going above and beyond the call of duty for these children. Harmony recognizes the tremendous, personal sacrifices of these parents and is dedicated to helping these caregivers receive the services they need in order to continue the healing work of parenting adoptive and foster children. This being said, I often ask the parents I work with what they need in order to be the best parent they can be for these precious children and I always receive the same type of answers:

“Time to recharge my batteries so that I am better able to help my children”.
“The opportunity to meet with other parents to share ideas and be a support to one another”.
“New information regarding parenting adoptive/resource children”.
“New tips and techniques that I can learn quickly and will make a difference in my home”.

Based on these above needs, Harmony recently hosted the first R.E.S.T. Initiative at Buckberry Lodge in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, located within the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. True to its name, this unique and innovative retreat provided a weekend of Respite, Education, Support, and Training to sixteen adoptive/ resource families in the East Tennessee region. This retreat provided a weekend of rejuvenation, relaxation, and shared learning for these couples who have created forever families for approximately fifty children in East Tennessee. Buckberry Lodge provided the ideal location not only for caregivers to relax and spend time focusing on replenishing their depleted energies, but also for meeting and interacting with other resource parents and expanding their support circles. In addition to supplying respite, Harmony provided three trainings: the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program, Circle of Security, and Respite Development over the two-day period. Each couple reported of tremendously enjoying their experience and had the following comments to say about the R.E.S.T. Initiative:

• This has been the BEST respite we’ve had
• This was a much-needed, perfectly-timed opportunity
• Great way to recharge & reconnect with spouse
• Nice balance of REST with training
• Very relaxing, one of the best places we have ever stayed
• Taking time for each other & yourself enables you to be better for your family
• Very relaxing
• Education is a cornerstone for successful fostering and adoption
• Presenters & information was relevant and not drawn out
• Critical time to focus on each other & to get great training, too!
• Thank you so much for this opportunity. This has really benefited our family & I have learned about some great resources that I will implement in my family
• Had a wonderful time, met wonderful people, gained lots of helpful info for the future

Published on May 10, 2012 by .
Posted in Advocacy and Support, Training


Lisa Norris

Lisa Norris, FOCUS Regional Case Consultant

“All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.” Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

May marks an anniversary, of sorts, for Ben, now 16 years old, for it was May 2006 when Ben was first removed from the home of his mother and entered his first residential placement.

Ben was 6 years old when his mother first started abusing him sexually.

Can you remember being 6 years old? I, personally, have a hard time remembering being 6 years old, but when I observe my 3 year old (who, in my opinion, oftentimes projects the thoughts of a 6 year old) I am taken back to what it was like to be that young and that innocent.

Six years old! and instead of experiencing 6 year old things like playing with bugs or jumping in creeks, Ben was continuing his journey of not just a smudged childhood, but a shattered childhood wrought with abuse both sexual and physical, and years of moving from placement to placement ahead of him.

However, Ben’s story doesn’t end there. At one point in Ben’s early childhood, he encountered a landlord, Mack, who took special note of Ben; watched him play, ride his bike, and through the abuse, attempt to be a normal child. After the final removal of Ben from his family, Mack lost contact with him. Years later, all Children’s Services professionals were at the end of their ropes. No one had a clue where to go with Ben. He had been placed in a home for adoption, which, through no fault of his own, fell apart and ultimately landed Ben back in another residential facility. Ben had given up hope until one day after Ben’s FOCUS worker had completed a search through his files, one sentence mentioning Mack was stumbled upon. The FOCUS worker contacted Mack and scheduled a home visit with him to discuss his history with Ben. Tears fell as Mack recounted his memories of Ben as a young child and his love and attachment for him. Within weeks, Mack and Ben were reunited.

Mack and Ben now spend most days throughout the week together. Mack visits with Ben every family day at his residential facility. Although untraditional, Ben now has redefined family for himself and has a connection and a permanent support he can claim forever.

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

Published on May 03, 2012 by .
Posted in Advocacy and Support


Shea Watts

Shea Watts, ASAP Family Therapist

A little over a year ago, I gathered together a group of Harmony’s clinicians in order to decide which professional we would like to ask to be our speaker for our annual Cycles of Healing conference. At Harmony, we pride ourselves for bringing the best of the best to our families we serve, and we strive to always remain up to date on the leading research and interventions being developed by the top professionals in the fields of adoption and foster care. So, several of us got together for lunch and I asked the question, “If we could invite anyone to be our guest presenter, who would it be? Let’s dream BIG- if we could have ANYONE come, who would we ask?” To my surprise, each and every clinician at that table had the same answer: Dr. Karyn Purvis.

Dr. Purvis is the Director of the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University and is known worldwide for her work with children who have come from ‘hard places’; children who have experienced trauma, such as abuse and neglect. We were fortunate to have her colleague, Dr. David Cross, present at our Cycles of Healing conference a few years ago, and it was then that we became familiar with TCU’s work and the unprecedented impact their interventions were having on families across the globe. What drew our clinicians to the work of Cross and Purvis is that it was not only intervention-based, but that it promoted attachment and healing within the context of the family. Through Harmony’s relationship with Dr. Cross, my colleague Pam Frye and myself were afforded the incredible opportunity to be one of the first clinicians in the country to receive training in Purvis’ and Cross’ newest treatment modality, Trust-Based Relational Intervention © or TBRI. Working alongside Dr. Purvis is an indescribable honor. Both Pam and myself were not only amazed by her knowledge of the impact and experience of trauma, but also the treatment model she and Dr. Cross had developed. We knew that Dr. Purvis was, without a doubt, the speaker our families deserved, and that each and every participant would leave that conference armed with the skills necessary to parent these precious children who come from the ‘hard places’.

This past Tuesday, I joined over 150 parents and professionals gathered at Cokesbury Center for our 2012 Cycles of Healing conference. From the moment Dr. Purvis walked on stage, she captivated the audience’s attention to the very end. During breaks, numerous families came up to me and commented on how “magnetic”, “energizing”, “remarkable”, “enlightening”, and “refreshing” they found Dr. Purvis to be. Two families said to me, “This is exactly what we needed”, and one parent commented on how she was “so grateful that Harmony brought this angel to us”. Colleagues spoke of how concise the material was and how they could see why we chose Dr. Purvis to be our guest speaker, calling her “the total package”. Innumerable participants asked to have her back and wanted to know where they could purchase her materials and find out more information regarding TBRI. The praise for Dr. Purvis, TBRI, and the conference was amazing.

Cycles of Healing 2012 was a tremendous experience with profound impacts on all participants who attended. As I sit here and type this, I have no doubt in my mind that each and every participant left better parents or professionals because of ‘Cycles’. I know that I am better at both because of it and Dr. Karyn Purvis.

Published on April 27, 2012 by .
Posted in Advocacy and Support, Training


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)


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.


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

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


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