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Creative Therapies for Complex Trauma – Book Review

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From the Cover of Creative Therapies for Complex Trauma: Helping Children and Families in Foster Care, Kinship Care or Adoption edited by Anthea Hendry and Joy Hasler:

“A burgeoning evidence base supports that arts, play and other creative therapies have potential to help children in care to recover from complex trauma. Written by contributors working at the cutting edge of delivering effective therapeutic interventions, this innovative book describes models for working with children in foster care, kinship care or adoption and presents a range of creative therapeutic approaches spanning art psychotherapy, music therapy and dance therapy.”


Grade:
For Families

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Transfiguring Adoption awarded this book 4 Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a foster/adoptive family. [Learn more about our Hoot grading system here]

For Professionals

5 hoots out of 5

Transfiguring Adoption awarded this book 5 Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a professionals interacting with or treating foster or adopted children.


What Our Family Thought:

The target audience appears to be therapists, school personnel, and other professionals seeking to help children recover from complex trauma. Edited by professionals in the United Kingdom, this book focuses on therapeutic interventions in the UK but touches on their counterparts used in the United States. As someone who has a degree in psychology, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and its case vignettes. It gives background to theoretical developments in complex trauma and attachment as well the creative therapies used in treatment, their histories, effectiveness, and evidence base. It highlights the need for interdisciplinary interventions and teams of all involved adults working together to help children. This is an academic book which assumes at least some working knowledge in attachment, trauma, psychopathology, and psychotherapy.

We highly recommend this book to professionals in the field who interact with or treat foster or adopted children. This book would also be helpful to caregivers who are seeking to learn more about creative treatment options which may be available to their children.


Buy From Our Links and Support Transfiguring Adoption:


It’s Your Turn:

  1. Have your children taken part in therapies which were ineffective for them?
  2. What therapy would you like to try for your child?
  3. Has your child experienced success with any creative therapies? If so, what therapy was helpful?

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Loss, Grief, and Moving Forward in Foster Care: Part 1 – Thoughts From A Former Foster Youth & Foster Parent

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Guest Blog by Felecia Neil

Felecia Neil is a foster care alumni who has
12 years of experience working within residential
settings and has served as a foster parent for
the past 5 years.

Despite all of us foster parents knowing the logistics of how fostering works, it can be difficult to navigate the feelings associated with the loss of a placement when they move on from our homes. Regardless of the situation, as sometimes children do get to leave our care for what is their fairy tale storybook ending, it is hard to let them go when they have become embedded in our families. Even if the opportunity to care for them was brief, their stories become a part of ours, and we can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness, at the very least, when they begin their next page or chapter without us. These feelings can be made worse in instances where the foster family is not in concordance with the re-homing of a child and/or the situation involves a lack of communication, considerate planning, and best practices.

Unfortunately the foster care system, though hopeful, is struggling in numerous ways, and my family suffered the loss of a child who we intended to adopt. In our hearts this child IS our son, and the situation has been one of the most painful experiences that we have endured. However, pain can be a rather cleansing thing in ways as it makes clearer the journey that we are navigating. All families are different thus, require different approaches and supports during difficult times but, for what it’s worth, this is how our family has found some solace in our ongoing endeavor to find peace with our situation. Though this loss is one of great magnitude for our family I feel like three topics are applicable regardless of the intensity of feelings that correspond to the loss of a placement. I will be addressing these in a three part blog series.


Part One: Loss, Grief, and Moving Forward in Foster Care

It is important to be there for the children whom remain in your care and remember that they too are experiencing separation, loss, and grief which they all do differently.

In the weeks following the time when “Our Big Guy” was re-homed, our toddler, “Potato” (yes, that really is his nickname…), was capable of shattering my heart all over again as he ripped it up through my throat every time he would drag a bucket of toys to his Bub’s bedroom door and bang on it for him to come out and play, as per their usual routine, only to collapse in a sobbing heap while screaming “Bub all gone? Why?” when Our Big Guy did not answer his calls. The worst of these incidents occurred at 3am one morning when Potato jolted awake and hysterically conveyed that his heart hurt with a “Bub all gone” “boo-boo.” As adults, our losses can be painful but watching your children process those same losses is excruciating. For a brief time these incidents, combined with my consuming worry of “who is consoling Our Big Guy?,” made it difficult for me to be as fully present for Potato, and other children in our family, as I needed to be but as we heal and get stronger we realize the importance of:

  1. Advocating for a closure visit and/or the ability to maintain a permanent connection
    Though thus far our family has been unsuccessful in these attempts as it would appear inconvenient and time consuming for our former LCPA and DSS, we strongly feel that the opportunity to provide reassurance to all children involved or the ability to maintain healthy family relationships would be invaluable.
  2. Accommodating your child’s grief
    For example (though it may not be the best one): Given Stephen’s (my husband) work schedule, he is not always home for dinner and because of mom life, it is typical for me to still be cooking, serving, feeding the baby, cleaning up, and eating my dinner out of the pans while Potato and Our Big Guy dined together at the table. However, one evening when Potato dined alone, he began to cry as he stared at his Bub’s vacant spot at the dinner table and stuffed spoonfuls of mac & cheese into his mouth between sorrowful exclamations of “Bub no sit!,” “Bub all gone!,” and “mine!” After that we decided that perhaps it would not be such an awful thing to eat in front of the tv as we adjusted to our new normal.
  3. Feeling the sadness
    While it would be easy, especially at Potato’s young age, to distract our children with more joyful thoughts every time they were missing Our Big Guy, it would not be healthy. Sometimes you just have to be with them in their grief and guide them to identify, claim, and share what they are feeling. This will look different for each child depending upon emotional maturity. Having these discussions openly and with objectivity has served us well in encouraging the children to do the same in lieu of suffering alone in silence.
  4. Giving LOTS of hugs
    This display of reassurance has been the most important for children of all ages in our family as not only did Potato and Oggie (the baby) lose a cherished brother, but my siblings’ kids lost a treasured cousin. They all have better days when we as parents are mindful enough to proactively check in with extra daily hugs, cuddles, and bouts of playfulness. Once I recognized and corrected the need for me to be present for the children who were left behind I recognized that active listening was not enough and I needed to be emotionally available as well. You don’t have to say a word, just be vigilant for moments of internal distress and know that frustration and behaviors are a request for you to be your most empathetic self.

Stay tuned for part 2 of 3 in this blog series when I will share Stephen’s and my experience in supporting each other through all of our placement losses thus far on our fostering journey. I would also like to encourage everyone reading this to comment their thoughts/suggestions and engage in discussion as you never know how impactful something you have to say could be for a family in need of healing.


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The Importance of a Foster Care and Adoption Tribe

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I was relatively unemotional, a bit to my own surprise, during our move to Florida this year, I guess because I was just really excited about it, but I had intense moments of realizing what an amazing group of people we were leaving. It took years to develop our “tribe” or “village.” It was not immediate. We moved to Florida not REALLY knowing anyone. We knew of a few foster and adoptive families. We have some acquaintances because of our frequent trips to Orlando in the past several years. We have people here who love what we do with Transfiguring Adoption. We have people who are eager to volunteer for us, but it is going to take a while to establish a tribe. Over the last six months, I have definitely experienced waves of grief and sadness over what we left, and so have our kids.

What We Left and Why It’s So Important

“For caregivers to ‘keep their mind and heart open to the child so that they can remain engaged’ (Hughes et al. 2012, p. 23), they need others who engage with them whom they trust to be empathic, who understand the challenges they have endured over months or years, and who can appreciate why they have lost hope, warmth, compassion and joy and that caring for the child may have just become a job.”

~ Janet Smith in Creative Therapies for Complex Trauma

There is something to be said about having people around you that “get you,” people you don’t have to explain yourself to or give long backstories. I love this quote from Janet Smith. It communicates a need for a tribe of people around foster and adoptive parents who speak the same language and have compassion and empathy for their whole family. We left a host of people whom I miss so dearly, who knew us and our kids, who journeyed through the good and the bad with us (listed here in alphabetical order…not necessarily importance).


  • Adults who have been in our children’s shoes
    We had a group of people in our lives who had been in foster care or who had been adopted. These individuals help us understand our kids at times when they cannot verbalize their feelings or they do not understand themselves, and they provide modeling for our children of what they can do in life or overcome their trauma. When we had two foster kids last year, one neighbor who had been in foster care as a child and who had also fostered in the past, was a safe place for our teen to land when the stuff really “hit the fan.”
  • Church and pastor
    We had a wonderful little church family in Tennessee with other adoptive parents and professionals in the congregation. They understood and loved our kids and us. While we were only in Tennessee for about five and a half years, we have known our former pastor, Phil, and his family for almost two decades. He was our pastor in Illinois before we were even married, he performed our wedding, and our families were often substitute extended families when our families were far away. They were some of the first folks our kids met and connected with after moving into our home. Our youngest, who was really into superheroes, somehow started calling him “Captain Phil,” and the name lovingly stuck. They were with us from the decisions made about foster care and adoption to finalization and all the highs and lows during and after.
  • Doctors
    While I wasn’t fond of every single one of the specialists who cared for our children, we had a wonderful PCP who was proactive in getting care for our kids (and us as well). Most specialists were within a 20-30 minute drive. They knew our kids’ histories and were able to quickly ascertain medical needs.
  • Neighborhood
    We had some fabulous neighbors in Tennessee. We lived on a cul-de-sac in a very small subdivision, and most folks helped each other when it came to keeping an eye out for the neighborhood kids.
  • Network of professionals and therapists
    We found a new therapist last week, but it is going to take a long time to build what we had in Tennessee. We had a network of post-adoption therapists and service providers around us. Our family was able to grow and thrive through groups, adoptive family camps, home therapists, equine therapy, attachment therapy, and so on provided by these amazing people at places like Harmony Family Center, Shining Light Equestrian, the office of Helen Lyle-Joiner, and Built2Bond Attachment Institute. Even after our kids were discharged from these places, we knew we could call on them in a crisis and go back when needed. They could quickly answer questions and give suggestions having knowledge of our kids’ stories and needs.
  • Other foster and adoptive families
    Over our time in Tennessee, we were surrounded by a great group of foster and adoptive families who were on the journey together, fighting for our kids, fighting for healing, fighting for attachment. They spoke our language and shared our struggles. I always had people to call upon for advice, practical needs, or a group of ladies to go grab some time away with. I was able to be on the receiving end of desperate phone calls from other parents in the trenches. For me, it gave purpose to our struggles as we learned and were able to help others. It helped us all to know we were not alone and to have better outcomes for our kids.
  • School nurse
    Oh, how we miss our “Nurse Ashley.” As Dalton was leaving elementary school, we would have moved on from her care anyways, but we love her. As a foster adoptive parent herself, she understood Dalton and us. Her office became his safe place during difficult times. She provided the same for our elementary-aged foster child last year. She was priceless to our family.
  • Schools
    Our kids were enrolled in some amazing schools with great staff who helped to meet the kids’ needs at school. It wasn’t always easy, and in the beginning, they didn’t always “get us,” but by the time we left, we knew they had our backs and our kids’ backs.

We have floundered a bit over the last six months trying to get established here and find a similar system of support, like when one child had to go a few months without much needed meds because of issues getting a psychiatric provider. For now, I am thankful for the caregivers we have connected with through Transfiguring Adoption. We just found a therapist that two of our kids spoke with for intake and loved. We are starting to get plugged in to groups of caregivers. I know it takes far longer than we would hope, but I’m looking forward to building a new tribe here as it is a vital part of the life of a foster or adoptive family.


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