Book Review: Damaged, by Cathy Glass

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The story line:  Cathy Glass fostered fifty children over twenty years but none of them were as challenging as Jodie, a troubled eight year old whose special needs and challenging behavior had caused her to live with five foster parents in just four months.  When Jodie arrived to her home, Cathy had no idea what lay beneath Jodie’s reported & shocking behavior, which included smearing feces all over the house, erupting into violent rages and even cutting herself.  Little by little, as Jodie’s rage was met with patience and understanding, she began to trust Cathy and to confide a dreadful background which had led to her present torment.  Jodie had been sexually abused at the hands of many within her biologic family and as result was violent, loud, vulgar, detached, outspoken and defiant.

Jodie’s childhood had been a litany of mistreatment and neglect, which should have alerted the numerous social work professionals involved in her case.  Jodie’s case file was so big it filled two suitcases, but as result none of her social workers had ever read the entire file.  If they had, Jodie’s story and future might have been very different.  Finally, in Cathy, Jodie found one adult worthy of her trust, one who could help her begin the process of recovering to her fullest potential. (please note:  “Her fullest potential” does not include a recovery to normal childhood development.)

My Review: This book is a sad & very tragic story that is hard to read without feeling completely upset and disgusted.  It gives teachers, foster parents and social workers insight into disturbed behavior and identifies “signs” of abuse that shouldn’t be overlooked.  The emotional pain experienced by caregivers and invested social workers is intense throughout.  Unfortunately, this isn’t a typical abuse story depicting an abused child being saved by the intervention of social services and foster parents.  There is not a happy ending to this story and certainly nothing has been “sugar coated.”

Who should read this:  Social workers, Teachers and Foster Parents seeking to work with, or who may cross paths with children who have extremely adverse histories.  Anyone who wishes to work with children with known Reactive Attachment Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder – or who have been sexually abused, would also benefit from reading about Cathy’s experience.   Ultimately, this book clarifies that not all children can fully heal from love, nurturing, attention and time to heal.

Unfortunately, Foster Parents who intend to foster/adopt children who do not come from a background like Jodie’s – will find the story frightening and may jump to inaccurate conclusions that all children are this damaged.  Therefore, I do not recommend this book for this population.

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On waiting for the right match: A Fost/Adoption Story

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November is National Adoption Awareness Month. In the spirit of bringing awareness to adoption, our agency mission and the successes of families we serve — we hope to fill our blog with guest stories throughout this month. Chrysalis House, Inc. believes in the power of sharing experiences and in learning from the stories of others. We present this series, realizing the words might be the insight that an adoptive family, adoptee or birthparent is searching the internet for! Our sincerest thanks to the families who have put their lives into words.

We are still seeking & accepting submissions through the month of November! Please send your submissions to stacy@chrysalishouse.com. Below, please enjoy the story of a family’s: Fost/Adoption.

In the event you wish to discuss our Fost/Adopt program, please contact the office at 559.229.9862.

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In 2011, after several miscarriages and having participated in two Ukranian orphan hosting programs, my husband and I decided that we were ready to enter the noble world of adoption. At the time, we had 3 biological children ages 11, 9 and 5.

We chose Chrysalis House as our fost/adopt agency and began our home study process. What an exciting time of anticipation this was for our family! We complied with all of the foster regulations of having first-aid kits and extinguishers on-site, completed our class hours, chose our parameters (for us it was a Caucasian or Hispanic male, 5 or under), and poured over all of the books about adoption that would make us an instant success in parenting a hurt child (I fail to mention that I skipped a few lines in these books, because I was certain that our family was unique from all others and these wouldn’t pertain to us!) Additionally, I was just sure we would be placed within a few weeks of our home study completion….certainly the county social workers would see what a wonderful family we were!

Well, weeks turned to months as our social worker would send us bios every so often, which we would submit our home study on, and I would begin romanticizing about how each child might fit into our family. I believe this is a bit like “nesting,” for prospective adoptive mothers. I was beginning to get restless with all of the waiting. And then we received, “the call,” that we had been chosen for a young boy from a nearby county – who was being taken from a fost/adopt placement that was not working out. We couldn’t have been more thrilled. I remember the day we met him at the park. As he walked up the path with his social worker I remember quite clearly my heart dropping and thinking to myself ever so clearly, “This is not my child!” I played it off to nerves and we sat down and chatted with the social worker and the former foster parents as the kids played. According to the foster parents, the young boy had some anger issues (nothing we couldn’t fix with a little love! Yes, I’m being facetious) and the county social worker seemed eager to place (looking back I see this was a potential red flag). We headed home and for four long days I felt restless and uneasy about the placement. My husband assured me that everything would be fine. Besides, our biological kids liked him… How could I not go along with it? We decided to meet one more time at the park prior to the placement. It was during this second visit that the boy began verbalizing some startling threats…and he was only five. I called Chrysalis House upon returning home and let them know we couldn’t move forward with this match. In short, I came to realize that when county social workers say that a child has anger issues, they might not be referring to a child chucking the leftover bowl of Cheerios onto the floor. Not surprisingly, God used this experience to settle me down and to wait for Him to bring the right child to us.

Close to one year after we had begun the process, I was approached by our Children’s Ministry Director at our church. She asked where we were at with the fost/adoption and asked if we had considered the **** children, who were being brought by their foster grandma each Sunday. “Of course not,” I chuckled, “There’s five of them!” “Just pray about it,” she responded, with a big grin.

And so we did. And God placed it on our hearts that this was what He would have in store for us.

Monday morning I contacted our social worker at Chrysalis house and told her what I knew about the children who were ages 2 to 10 (which wasn’t much information – because foster care has strict rules about privacy). Megan searched the system to no avail. Two weeks passed and our social worker, Kara, called me excitedly, “We found them! They just came up in the system!”

County social workers can be very protective of “their kids,” and rightly so. Kara recognized this and tread lightly as we underwent submitting our home study, proving that we were capable of caring for this many children, and the like. We encountered many roadblocks, but were encouraged and supported by Chrysalis House the entire way (even if they thought we were nutty). The county required that we do a three-month transition time with the children. At the time I saw it as a “cruel & unusual punishment,” but it truly was a perfect plan for allowing the foster kids to get used to the idea of a new home and for us to recover after the long weekends.

It has been two years since the children’s placement in our home and one year since we finalized their adoption. Gone are the days of three therapy sessions a week, standoffs in the bathroom because someone wouldn’t brush their teeth, hours of sitting at the dinner table because another would not eat what was made, or a single child crying fifteen times every day and “stalking” me because they are sure I was going to leave them like everyone else had. (and admittedly, I came to realize that those issues I so arrogantly read about — DID actually pertain me!)

We are not the parents we used to be. We have had to learn to set boundaries and stand behind our words (yes still means yes, but no, no longer means maybe). We have chosen to homeschool the children and we have seen a tremendous improvement in behaviors. The children in our family have blended beautifully and get along quite well. Our adopted children continue to learn how to engage in healthy relationships, regulate their behaviors, work hard and make good personal choices.

We are immensely humbled that God would think that we were worthy of raising eight children. Some days we fail miserably as parents. I have seen sides of myself that I did not know existed prior to adoption: Embarrassing, immature, prideful, and angry sides. Thankfully there is refinement and grace for all of us. We now recognize our home as our missions field and each day we are doing the Lord’s work. And it is hard work. I never imagined I’d have to drive an institution type van, invite people into my dusty floored home, or tell my children to stop calling me Mom because I’d heard it too many times that day. But honestly, the blessings are immeasurable and we know that as long as we are in God’s will, he can make good of all things! (even my poor mommy moments). We wouldn’t change our journey for anything.

For those looking to move forward in adoption I highly recommend reaching out now and getting involved in a support group. City Without Orphans offers many additional resources in the valley, in addition to those classes offered through Chrysalis House. If you are in a marriage, analyze it honestly – is it solid? Marriages often crumble under the pressures of adoption. If you are a believer, guard your bible time. It will be taken from you. Seek respite and renewal. Having something to look forward to and then allowing yourself to be refreshed – is critical to proper parenting. Every adoption journey is unique and yours will be no different. Many blessings!

Doodle Therapy: Painting in Nature

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Sometimes turning a kid loose with paints feels a little too hazardous inside the house – with walls, furniture, etc. which may be accidentally embellished. Consider taking those paints outdoors for a wonderful sensory experience.

Sensory integration activities are unbelievably fun and a necessary part of development for any child, whether they have a sensory processing disorder or not. Sensory integration activities are activities that should be used with any child if normal sensory development is one of your goals (hint… it should be).

Without the chance to get their hands dirty and engage in free play, young nervous systems don’t have a chance to fully develop a tolerance.

Experiential hands-on activities that prove helpful in sensory integration include:

Finger painting, or even painting with pudding

Working with play dough

Working with shaving cream

Sand Play

Gardening

Baking and cooking

With Sensory processing disorders, children with tactile sensitivities or tactile defensiveness will shy away from play activities where the substance stays on their hands. These activities (finger painting, sand play, shaving cream) are all types of “tactile input” that children most frequently have difficulty interpreting correctly. Therapies allowing children to play in a nonthreatening space while pushing their tolerance levels – creates a safe environment to help them be increasingly open to new things.

For any child (whether they have a sensory processing disorder or not) our goal is to introduce tactile experiences slowly and gradually as the child is ready to experience them – so a defensive/aversive reaction is avoided. A child with tactile defensiveness should never be forced to touch anything they do not want to, as this will cause further apprehension and avoidance. In these instances, it is up to the parent to encourage, explain, understand and communicate with the child as we attempt to introduce touch sensations to them in a safe and non-threatening way.

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For this activity, you will allow your child to utilize nature as their canvas. Provide paint (washable tempera), brushes or sponges ~ and encourage the use of their hands. Help your child to locate and begin painting on trees or any flat surface areas (such as large rocks).  Using their hands allows the child to enjoy the rough bark on the tree, finding patterns within it. Enjoying the soft smooth texture of the paint working between their fingers is also important. Beyond sensory integration, this activity also offers the chance to strengthen hand and finger muscles as well as helping the child understand firsthand how to mix colors.

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***No trees were harmed in this project. By using Washable Tempera Paint – it will wash off in any rainstorm – or by using a garden hose.

As an alternative to paint, you can also use chalk on trees or flat surfaces as you find them:

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In summary, children find joy and excitement in the smallest of things and playing is their greatest natural talent. Finger painting is an emotionally satisfying form of creative expression and there is much value within encouraging young children to be artful (inside or out-of-doors).

Doodle Therapy: A Worry Box

A Worry Box: A Tool For Helping Children Process Their Anxieties 

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For millions of children, worry and anxiety can be a real but absolutely normal problem. Worries that fall within what we consider to be “normal” limits – can still negatively impact a child’s ability to play, interact with others, focus on schoolwork and even sleep. However, for children coming from adverse backgrounds – more intense worry and anxiety can occur. This stems from an acute stress response, which ultimately causes the child to respond with more intense hypervigilance and fear.Today, I’ll be sharing a creative activity and tips to help you begin addressing the worries of the child in your care.

Typical symptoms/signs of worry and anxiety can include:

  • Expressing irrational fears or concerns about their own safety or the safety of others.
  • Feeling nervous, sad or angry
  • Having difficulty falling and staying asleep.
  • Feeling too concerned with the opinion of others, perfection or people pleasing.
  • Excessively worrying about or refusing to go to school.
  • Experiencing symptoms such as frequent upset stomach or headaches. (These, of course, can be signs of other ailments. Be sure to consult your child’s physician.
  • Feeling overly self-conscious, doubting themselves or having unrealistic expectations of themselves.

To be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder, the above symptoms must cause severe distress in the child’s life and interrupt normal functioning. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worry about everyday life events with no obvious reasons for worry. People with symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder tend to always expect disaster and can’t stop worrying. Daily life becomes a constant state of worry, fear, and dread. Eventually, the anxiety so dominates the person’s thinking that it interferes with daily functioning. These symptoms will be present for most days for at least 6 months. It’s important to be aware that extreme worries may require services from a professional to fully overcome. Please also discuss any overt concerns or questions about your child’s anxiety with your CHI social worker.

If I should notice these types of symptoms in my child, what should I do?

The most important thing that you can do is talk with your child, remembering that an anxious child will likely have a hard time expressing themselves. They may not know what “it” is that they are specifically anxious about. It is helpful to ask questions and get the child to be as specific as possible about what worries him or her.

This is where a Worry Box can help. Writing worries down on a small piece of paper encourages your child to get right to the point of what is bothering him or her. Then, by creating a time and place to talk about his or her feelings, the Worry Box can help you open up lines of communication that are otherwise difficult to establish. That communication can go a long way to helping your child be able to manage worries better and give you an insight into how he or she is thinking and feeling about life. The Worry Box contents can also be supplied to a counselor or therapist when accessing a professional for assistance.
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 How Does the Worry Box work?

  1. Keep your Worry Box in a convenient place, like the child’s bedside table or on a dresser.
  2. Instruct your child that whenever they have a worry, he or she should simply write down this particular burden – and put it in the box.
  3. Every night, open the Worry Box with your child and review the worries they’ve made note of. Talk about each worry, how he or she is feeling and share some ways to handle the problem causing the worry. With each review – you might find some of the worries have gone away on their own, while others might not and continue to be a talking point.
  4. If the worry has gone away, discard the written worry. Cheerlead your child for handling it! If the worry has not gone away, keep it in the Worry Box for another review.
  5. If the child makes it through a day without any “worries” celebrate this accomplishment.  Touch base that this has been an honest achievement though.  If the child is withholding or internalizing the worries – there may be an issue with feeling safe enough to make their report.

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This common and effective therapeutic journaling technique used by child therapists can help your child learn to manage his or her worries better in three ways:

  1. By writing down their worries, your child can get a clear idea of what he or she is worried about. A Worry Box is a great facilitator of conversation and relating. Children who use a Worry Box know they will review the worries soon with an adult they trust, so they can express worries by writing them down and getting them out of his or her head for a while. When you bring out the box each time, explain that the first step in helping a worry is – acknowledging it.
  2. Second, the Worry Box sparks conversation between you and your child. Often, children can be uncomfortable or scared to bring up a worry out of the blue. The adult will get insight into what is on the child’s mind and the child will learn that the adult is “safe” for sharing their worries.
  3. Third, over time, your child may begin to learn better ways to manage his or her worries. A Worry Box helps your child recognize that some worries that are a waste of time and that by writing and talking about worries with a trusted person, your child can also find help to reconcile them. They celebrate progress as the worry is diminished and “thrown out.” They learn that the parent is a safe and non-judgmental resource to review their fears with.

How do I help my child? I’m just not sure what to say?

  • Help your child identify his or her worried (or irrational) thoughts by writing them down on a piece of paper.

For example: “I am afraid someone is going to break into our house.”

  • Help your child reframe his or her thoughts into positive or rational thoughts when you review worries with him or her.


For example: “I am safe, Mom and Dad won’t let anyone hurt us.” 
“We have a security system.” 
“The dog would always alert us and we can call the police.”

  • Help your child develop a healthy plan to help him or her reduce anxious feelings. 


For Example: You can use the Worry Box; Listen to calm music; Practice deep breathing; Read; or Do some Yoga poses. Teach your child to be assertive (if a child is worried a friend doesn’t like him or her, encourage your child to talk to that friend)

How to make a worry box: This is quite simple. All you need is a box ~ you can use a shoebox or purchase a fancier shaped cardboard box at a craft store. Let your child choose embellishments to decorate the box with. Stickers, paint or drawings will do the trick. For the example, we used magazine pieces collaged to the box and individual magazine letters to label it.

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You can overtly label the box “My Worry Box” or your child can choose to be more discreet about it – so that the box doesn’t draw unwanted attention from friends/visitors. Place a pad of sticky notes or notecards alongside the box, which can be used to make note of the worries as they occur. Place the worries inside the box as they are written.

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If you have more than one sibling experiencing worry and anxiety – you can have the children create separate boxes or utilize a combined box. The parent will want to decide whether to address the worries separately or as a group. I would advise addressing them separately so as to – isolate the “worries,” keep them from spreading to the group, and to give individualized attention and support in overcoming the worry. If presented in a group setting: The parent should divert the other siblings from advice giving that is not helpful. Focus on the feelings of the person who wrote the worry, how the rest of the group relates and if they have ever experienced the worry themselves. You can then talk as a group about coping and turning our worries around. 

 ~Stacy Dinkel, M.A.

 

Book Review: The Red Thread by Ann Hood

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Although I hoped to enjoy the story line of this book, I ended up being very disappointed. For your reference, you can read more reviews and information about the book here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7020981-the-red-thread

The storyline is best summarized as:
“In China there is a belief that people who are destined to be together are connected by an invisible red thread. After losing her infant daughter in a freak accident, Maya Lange opens The Red Thread, an adoption agency that specializes in placing baby girls from China with American families. Maya finds some comfort in her work, until a group of six couples share their personal stories of their desire for a child. Their painful and courageous journey toward adoption forces her to confront the lost daughter of her past. Brilliantly braiding together the stories of Chinese birth mothers who give up their daughters, Ann Hood writes a moving and beautifully told novel of fate and the red thread that binds these characters’ lives. Heartrending and wise, The Red Thread is a stirring portrait of unforgettable love and yearning for a baby.”

My Review:
Obviously, I work in the adoption field and fear that readers get a very wrong idea about what it’s like to pursue an international adoption.

The points I would like to make about this book are:

~families are never perfect and social workers shouldn’t expect them to be, but they MUST be stable to adopt. Amongst the dynamics of the prospective adoptive families, there was adultery, substance abuse, partners who were only doing it to please their wives, unresolved infertility, a mother that couldn’t accept a special needs daughter, a last minute pregnancy, unresolved grief and loss issues, etc. These are all issues that would have been massive red flags in the real adoptive world. An agency director having knowledge of these issues and encouraging applicants to move forward without addressing/resolving the issues fully – shouldn’t be working in the field at all.

~babies adopted internationally may appear “perfectly healthy” on record, but there is no assurance that there will not be any challenges going forward. Grief and loss issues (to varying extremes) are an absolute, and this wasn’t mentioned a single time in the book. There is certainly full disclosure on known medical history, etc. but since an abandoned child’s family history is almost entirely unknown – the child’s future should be accepted as holding unknowns as well. Stable families open to adopting internationally should have been better educated on the possibilities, rather than being repeatedly assured that the babies were “healthy!, perfect!, adorable!,” etc.

~Home studies are conducted on prospective families and the way the book describes the process really downplays the service. If any changes occur in a household – an updated home study is required. Education for the family is a huge component to the home study. And, if either of these facts were mentioned, the story line would have played out completely different (and perhaps been more enjoyable for readers like me).

~ Finally, at the end, the agency director moves forward in a manner that is a total conflict of interest. A director shouldn’t be using her own agency in this manner. She also would not be able to use an outdated home study to achieve her end goal. I could go on and on… but finding closure to unresolved grief issues over losing one child – by adopting another is also completely ridiculous.

I don’t want to entirely spoil the story for others… but, what occurred in this book would never be allowed in a true adoption scenario. This kind of story completely perpetuates the negative stigma attached to adoption. If you read this book, consider it to be a completely fictional tale.

Please also note: Many years ago, adoptions did evolve with less bureaucracy, monitoring, etc. However, this book was written in 2010. If you are a prospective adoptive family – please know that something is very very wrong if your adoption proceeds in a manner that resembles this story.