A Need To Know and Belong

Jessica Bailey

Jessica Bailey, Administrative Assistant for Adoption

My parents recently became obsessed with Ancestry.com. 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

RESPITE, EDUCATION, SUPPORT, AND TRAINING (R.E.S.T.)

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

CAN YOU REMEMBER BEING SIX YEARS OLD?

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

CYCLES OF HEALING 2012

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

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