A New Book about an Important Issue: “Stolen Lives”, by Netta England

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There have been over 300,000 children abused in NZ state care. I am one of them. So many suffered hideous abuse. This is our nation’s greatest shame.

My name is Netta Christian (nee England). My book ‘Stolen Lives’ is the record of my journey from a neglected and abused state ward, to a woman who discovered her heritage and went on to create a positive life, regardless of her upbringing.

Netta and her brother Ray as children

Netta and her brother Ray as children

I was raised with my brother Ray as a ward of the state in Papatoetoe, Auckland, New Zealand. I was educated at Papatoetoe Primary School and Otahuhu College, where I passed the school certificate examination.

Ray and I hardly knew our mother. She was a strange woman who made occasional visits, and we did not even know we had a father. From a very early age we lived with foster parents and at school we were treated as different. Growing up, I became increasingly aware that my foster mother disliked me. Though never starved, I suffered neglect, as well as mental, physical and sexual abuse.

I am now widowed and have three grown up children and three grandchildren, and live in a Hamilton retirement village.

Netta as a child with her doll

Netta as a child with her doll

In April 2011, the NZ Herald ran a front-page feature story about my wish to start a support group for those who were abused in state care. In 2013, I helped to set up the NZ branch of CLAN (Care Leavers Australasia Network) www.clan.org.au. This group offers support, justice and healing for all those who lived in institutional care as a child.

I believe that my book ‘Stolen Lives’ will positively impact upon people who have had similar experiences and upbringing in care. It is a captivating and beneficial read for all types of people, holding particular interest for care leavers and political activists.

Netta today

Netta today

Copies of Stolen Lives (NZ$30 plus postage) are available for purchase on my website www.StolenLives.co.nz or contact me at stolenlives00@gmail.com

See also Facebook Page:  https://www.facebook.com/Stolen-Lives-by-Netta-England

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How To Survive The First Few Years Of The Adoption Journey, by Mike Berry

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You got into this because you were passionate about loving children. But you soon found out, the journey is more difficult than you anticipated. How do you survive the first year or 2 of the adoption journey?

It’s the early hours of a Monday morning when I open my laptop to check email. The glowing light of my screen is the only light in my quiet house. The sun hasn’t even begun its ascent over the treeline in our backyard.

After a long weekend, and mostly ignoring email or social media for a few days, I’ve got tons of new mail. I give my inbox a quick scan, selecting a multitude of Spam messages to feed my hungry Trash folder. There at the bottom of New Messages I spot it. A personal email with a Subject that says it all- “I need help!”

Her storyline is one I’ve heard a million times over the past 15 years of personally traveling the adoption journey:

…We decided to adopt.
…And got really, really excited.
…Filled out all of the paperwork.
…Chose foster-to-adopt to save money.
…Jumped in with a full heart.
…Brought home a beautiful baby girl…a sibling group.
…Realized pretty quickly how hard this journey is.
…At the end of my rope. Questioning my choice. Need help!

I get it. I really do. We were just 2 years into our journey when everything started to fall apart on us. We were head over heels in love with our children, but there were many things we weren’t prepared for, didn’t know, or didn’t do when we first began. Our hearts were full, but we quickly became tired. We too needed help.

The journey can be long, uphill, and filled with ups and downs that feel like a punch in the gut. I would love to tell you that all you need to do is focus on loving your child and everything will work out. But, that’s just not reality…for the adoption journey….or the parenting journey in general. You will never be fully prepared, but there are some key steps we’ve learned to help make the first few years of the adoption journey less stressful and more meaningful…

  1. Seek Community. You and I were never meant to travel this road alone. The adoption journey is beautiful, amazing, and adventurous. But it can also become extremely difficult. Most of the world won’t understand the unique trials and tribulations we go through. We need others around us who understand, are in the same trench as us, will never judge us regardless of the situation, and help us grow. When everything falls apart, your child is out of control, or you’re dealing with a foster care system that yanks you around like a bullwhip, a strong support community can get you through it.
  2. Grow in your knowledge of trauma and attachment. Your child has come from trauma, even if they were adopted privately and their birth mother took care of herself. There’s still deep loss. The person who carried them in her womb for 9 months is now gone. But imagine how deeper this loss is when your child has come from the foster care system or an orphanage in another country. This trauma can play out in their behavior, poor choices, refusal to attach themselves to you in a healthy manner, or more. If we could go back, 15 years in the past, and learn one thing, it would be how to parent children from traumatic places. Trauma-informed care and knowledge of attachment issues can be a game-changer in relating to your child, and helping them form healthy bonds with your family.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

http://confessionsofanadoptiveparent.com/how-to-survive-the-first-few-years-of-the-adoption-journey/?mc_cid=6edbdcd537&mc_eid=169008643f

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)… and Aotearoa/ New Zealand

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“A 2003 UNICEF report said New Zealand had the third-worst rate of abuse and neglect of children in the OECD group of developed countries and Helen Clark, the prime minister at the time the law was passed, called the country’s child abuse record “a stain on our international reputation”. (Original story here)

What successive New Zealand Governments, including that of Helen Clark, would claim is that New Zealand has a solid track record of respecting the rights of the child …

However, let’s  look at New Zealand today re child rights.

  • New Zealand has the highest rate of domestic violence in the developed world
  • Between the years of 2007 – 2010 data showed that 1 in 6 Pakeha children (white European), 1 in 4 Pacific Island children and 1in 3 Māori children were living in poverty (figures show that children in homes below the poverty line increased from 22 per cent in 2007 to 28 per cent in 2010, and had dropped back only slightly to 27 per cent by 2012). By 2015 child poverty rates were back to 2007 – 2010 highs.
  • A 2003 UNICEF report demonstrated that New Zealand has one of the highest rates of child death from maltreatment (physical abuse and neglect) among rich OECD countries. NZ ranked 25th on a league table of 27 countries with 1.2 deaths per 100,000 children
  • Over one in four NZ adults has experienced childhood trauma or abuse, family violence and/or sexual assault.

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  • NZ Police respond to one ‘family violence’ call every seven minutes. Police say that in 60% of domestic violence cases children are also being abused.
  • An international survey found that one in four New Zealand girls is sexually abused before the age of 15, the highest rate of any country examined.
  • Research shows the police only hear about 20% of all family violence incidents and 10% of sexual violence offences.
  • Rates of child abuse in New Zealand have risen by 32% in the last five years, with instances happening to children who are already in the care of the state.
  • New Zealand’s suicide rate for 15-19 year olds is one of the highest in the OECD and double that of neighbouring Australia.
  • New Zealand was called to task by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in June, 2015 for failing to adequately protect children.  The UN report heavily criticised aspects of law and government programmes which failed to address high child mortality rates, unequal access to services for Māori children and a lack of data around child abuse.

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  • In 2013-14 there were 117 children in the custody of Child, Youth and Family (CYF) reported to be abused; 88 were in the care of a CYF caregiver, 25 were formally placed with their parents but still officially in CYF custody, and five were abused while living with an unapproved caregiver or in an unapproved placement.  A 2015 report by the Children’s Commissioner slammed the government’s handling of children in State care. Principal Judge Andrew Becroft said the report was a vital piece of work. He said the Youth Court dealt with the most damaged, dysfunctional and disordered young people in New Zealand, and the overwhelming majority of them had a care and protection background. Judge Becroft said it sounded simplistic, but what the report highlighted was the need to do the care and protection work better. “So that we’re not left, for instance, with, as I understand it, 83 percent of prison inmates under 20 have a care and protection record with Child, Youth and Family.”

New Zealand ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1993, the 131st country to do so.

1-CH-Large-However, New Zealand has entered a reservation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which reads: “Nothing in this Convention shall affect the right of the Government of New Zealand to continue to distinguish as it considers appropriate in its law and practice between persons according to the nature of their authority to be in New Zealand including but not limited to their entitlement to benefits and other protections described in the Convention, and the Government of New Zealand reserves the right to interpret and apply the Convention accordingly.”

Reservations to human rights treaties create technical difficulties that do not arise for treaties on other topics because the intended beneficiaries of obligations in human rights treaties are the people in each state, rather than the other state parties to a treaty. It is therefore more problematic to allow states to enter reservations to a human rights treaty, which allows states to modify the extent of their obligations then it would be for an ordinary treaty that has been entered into between states on a reciprocal basis. In short, when a state enters a reservation to a human rights treaty the reservation acts to diminish the rights of the people/citizens of that state.

slide_8Of particular concern are widely formulated reservations, such as that which NZ has entered to the Rights of the Child, which essentially render ineffective all Covenant rights which would require any change in national law to ensure compliance with Covenant obligations. No real international rights or obligations have thus been accepted. And when there is an absence of provisions to ensure the Covenant rights may be sued on in domestic courts, and, further, a failure to allow individual complaints to be brought to the Committee under the first Optional Protocol all the essential elements of the Covenant guarantees have been removed.

In simple terms, while New Zealand is a signatory party to the UNCRC its ratification of the Convention is little more than window dressing because New Zealand has effectively entered a clause/reservation which negates its responsibility to respect the rights of the child according to international human rights norms.

Committee’s recommendation

“In the spirit of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights in June 1993 which urged States to withdraw reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Committee wishes to encourage the State party to take steps to withdraw its reservations to the Convention. Furthermore, the Committee encourages New Zealand to extend the application of the Convention with respect to the territory of Tokelau.”

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Source:  http://newzealandchildabuse.com/helen-clark-ex-nz-pm-a-nominee-for-un-secretary-general-youd-have-to-be-kidding-right/

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Queen’s Birthday Honours List Recognises Child Advocates, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

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A couple in  Invercargill New Zealand, who have fostered children with special needs for over 25 years, have been recognised in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours list, receiving the Queen’s Service Medal.  Talking about their decision to become foster carers, John Mooij says, “Everyone’s lives pan out in different ways. Some want to travel, some want to get their kids off their hands. Not everyone could do this, but it’s something we love.” [Source: The Southland Times].

This is not the first time people have been recognised for services relating to the care of and advocacy for children, but it is wonderful to see that this is becoming increasingly common.  Children’s issues, including the right to a place to be and grow up in are increasingly being seen as important and it is great to see, in this case, the care of children with special needs being acknowledged and supported.

“We don’t need a world full of rocket scientists but we just want our children to be the best they can and to have good life skills and get on and enjoy life, because that’s what it’s there for.”

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Foster Carers Lynda and John Mooij   [Source: Southland Times}

Mrs Mooij said she hoped their honours would draw attention to other children in need of a permanent foster home, particularly those with special needs.

“I get upset by how many placements some children have – especially those with fetal alcohol syndrome – who go from house to house.” [Source: Radio New Zealand News].

Lynda and John Mooij have five biological children between them and have fostered more than 21 children over the years.  They currently have four “forever” foster children.

The couple modestly say they are “…just a couple of foster carers from Invercargill…”, but it is encouraging to see how their important work has been recognised and how it has drawn attention to foster care, in particular for children with special needs.

“The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog”, by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz. A Book Review and Analysis by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Dog

I found “The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog” a fascinating read and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in child psychology or who works with traumatised children… or even if you just have a general interest in how our minds (and the developing minds of children in particular) respond to trauma.  The full title of this book is “The Boy Who was raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook, What Traumatized Children can Teach us about Loss, Love and Healing” and the authors are Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D, and Maia Szalavitz.

One of the things I liked about this book was that, despite saying that traumatic events can “leave indelible marks on the mind [and the]…impact of PTSD [Post Traumatic Shock Disorder] is actually far greater on children than it is on adults” [p.2], the overall tone is positive and hopeful, both for children who have been affected by PTSD as a consequence of  severe abuse and/ or neglect or due to witnessing horrific events, as well as for adults affected by PTSD.   Bruce D. Perry, a child psychiatrist and Senior Fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy (USA and Canada) is the “voice” of this book, which he wrote together with Maia Szalavitz, an award winning journalist who specialises in science and health.  Perry compassionately and respectfully acknowledges the immense importance of “The Forever Years” (childhood) and the importance of investing in and creating a serious strategy of therapy for children  affected by trauma.

As a “lay person” (non-psychiatrist) I found “The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog” clear and self-explanatory.   On page 21 there is an excellent description of how our human brain develops: …“there are four major parts of the brain: the brainstem, the diencephalon, the limbic system and the cortex.  The brain is organised from the inside out, like a house with increasingly complicated additions built on an old foundation.  The lower and most central regions of the brainstem and the diencephalon are the simplest.  They evolved first, and they develop first as a child grows.  As you move upward and outward, things get increasingly more complex with the limbic system.”

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Source: “The Boy who was raised as a Dog,” appendix, figure 2, p. 248.

The younger a child is when a traumatic event occurs, Perry says, the greater the affect on the lower and most central regions of the brain.  This, he explains, is “developmental trauma” (as opposed to inherent anxiety or stress disorders caused in utero or by genetics).  Trauma in early childhood causes “altered receptors” or heightened sensitivity to “threat”: an over-exaggerated “fight or flight” reaction, based on triggers which the person may not even  be consciously aware of themselves and which, in others who have not undergone similar trauma, would probably not cause such a reaction.  A clear indicator, Perry realised,  was that children with this “heightened sensitivity” had, even when calm and resting, an accelerated heart rate at a level significantly above that of their non-traumatised peers of the same age and gender.

The responses of traumatised children, Perry explains, can be to create more “chaos”, as this has been their “norm” in the past and brain pathways of accepting chaos as normality have been set up.  Adults who undertake social work or foster care, for example, should be aware of this.  “The responses of traumatised children are often misinterpreted.   …new situations are inherently stressful… attempting to take control of what they believe is the inevitable return to chaos, they appear to “provoke” it in order to make things feel more comfortable and predictable.   …we tend to prefer the “certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty.”  This response to trauma can often cause serious problems for children when it is misunderstood by their caregivers.”  [p.55].

Following from this, Perry says that he and his colleagues recognised that “…the nature of a child’s relationships–both before and after trauma– seemed to play a critical role in shaping their response to it.  If safe, familiar and capable caregivers were made available to children, they tended to recover more easily, often showing no enduring negative effects of the traumatic event.  We knew that the “trauma-buffering” effect of relationships had to be mediated, somehow, by the brain.”  [p.66]

This is where the amazing capacity of our human brains to “heal” and create “new pathways”, even years after traumatic events which have occurred during early childhood (during the first, early stages of brain development) comes into play.

“…we tend to care for our children [and, interestingly, for ourselves as adults] the way we were cared for ourselves during our own childhoods, [so] a good “brain” history of a child begins with a history of the caregiver’s childhood and early experience.” [p.83].  Our “Forever Years”, then, are also effected by the “Forever Years” of those caring for us when we are young.  The diagnosis “failure to thrive” in a child ” (discussed on p.88) can stem from a parent or parents not having  thrived themselves during their own childhood years.   In extreme cases, even  when other, basic needs (such as for food, shelter and clothing) are met, if a carer is emotionally “distant” a child may fail to gain weight or be delayed in other ways (such as speech or other developmental milestones).  This is purely a “nurture” (or lack of nurture) issue, and nothing to do with anything innate in the child.  Perry talks about how until recently, doctors were “...unaware of the damage that neglect alone can do to the brain.  They assumed that something so clearly visible on scans had to be evidence of a genetic defect or intrauterine insult, such as exposure to toxins or disease; they couldn’t imagine that early environment alone could have such profound physical effects.” [p. 129].

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Neurologists say that the sizeable difference between these two brains of two different 3-year-olds has one primary cause: the way that their mothers treated them. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D./Ch Source: http://www.medicaldaily.com/chilling-brain-scans-show-impact-mothers-love-childs-brain-size-243328

“Fortunately the positive cycle is every bit as cascading and self-amplifying as the vicious cycle,” Perry says, [p.121] and while emotional scars may always be present, the intervention of a loving, understanding environment can reprogram reactions and triggers.  This is enormously positive  when considering the effect on  future social interactions (including romantic relationships) for traumatised children as they grow into adulthood and becomes parents themselves.  The more relationships are positively retained and jobs and parenting situations are handled in constructive ways, the stronger and more confident the “traumatised child now adult” will become, which in turn further aids healing of old, emotional scars.

Perry doesn’t just put this forward as a vague hypothesis, however.  Throughout “The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog” he gives concrete examples through case studies of real patients he has worked with (obviously, these children’s names have been changed to protect their privacy).   Each is an example of a child suffering from severe trauma, including the “boy who was raised as a dog,” who gives the book its title.  Through his work, Perry says, he and his colleagues “…only gradually came to understand how the sequential development of a child’s brain is affected by trauma and neglect.  It only gradually dawned on us that this understanding could help us find possible treatments. These insights led us to develop what we call the neurosequential approach to theraputic services for maltreated and traumatised children. [p.125].

I love the “neurosequential” approach Perry and his colleagues take, along with the immense positive ramifications it has for the children they are working with.  The nuerosequential approach works on the basis of assessing which areas in a patient’s brain have sustained damage or neglect from past experiences, and then addressing these one by one.   “We would use enrichment experiences and targeted therapies to help the affected brain areas in the order in which they were affected by neglect and trauma (hence the name neurosequential).  If we could document improved functioning following the first set of interventions, we would begin the second set appropriate  for the next brain region and developmental stage until, hopefully,… [the patient] would get to the point where his biological age and his developmental age would match.”  [p.139].

Just as our brains develop sequentially, then, neurosequential therapy is aimed at addressing “loss” in development (caused by abuse, neglect or trauma) in a sequential manner.  Perry uses the example of a boy called Connor (not his real name), now aged fourteen, who had suffered from severe neglect as a baby.  “In Connor’s case, It was clear that his problems had started in early infancy, when the lower and most central regions of the brain are actively developing.  These systems respond to rhythm and touch: the brainstem’s regulatory centres control heartbeat, the rise and fall of neurochemicals and hormones in the cycle of day and night, the beat of one’s walk and other patterns which must maintain a rhythmic order to function properly.” [pp.139-140].  For Connor, “treatment” began with massage therapy, as early neglect had left him with an aversion to touch which was affecting his ability to even make eye contact with others, and hence affecting his social relationships.

Perry goes on to describe the “levels” or “layers” of neurosequential therapy, each of which respond to and attempt to address a deficit caused by trauma earlier on.

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Touch

kangaroo-careTouch is, of course, our earliest form of validation and security from our carers.  This is the reason for the importance placed on giving newborn babies “skin to skin” contact and the psychological benefits of this can be seen throughout life.  (See previous articles on this blog about the importance of positive touch in early childhood and throughout life, by following the links below).

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/infant-massage-nurturing-touch-and-self-care-for-the-caregiver-by-erin-e-sonnier-from-nurtured-child-nurtured-you

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/touch-as-nutrition-by-john-tuite/

Music and Movement

Many of us parents take our preschoolers to “Music and Movement” groups thinking that that’s just “what you do” and that it gives us a chance to socialise with other parents and connect with and focus on our children in a child-centred environment.  All of this is true and the benefits of music to our babies and children has been well documented.  (Again, there is a link to follow below if you would like to read an article about the benefits of music to our kids).

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/5-ways-in-which-kids-benefit-from-learning-a-musical-instrument-by-justine-pierre/

After reading “The Boy Who was raised as a Dog”, I came to realise that, beyond being merely “beneficial”, music and movement are essential in brain development, affecting crucial areas such as language acquisition and breathing and heart rate regulation. Music and humanity have been linked since the dawn of time, with every culture having songs and rhymes for children passed down from generation to generation.  They are part of the fabric of who we are.

Play Therapy

mi1_675Perry describes how “play therapy” is used in treating traumatised children and in particular talks about Sandy (not her real name), a three year old girl who witnessed her mother being raped and stabbed to death, before having her own throat slit and being left for dead.  Sandy was alone with her mother’s body in their apartment for eleven hours before being discovered, taken to hospital and having the wounds on her neck treated. [p.33].   Perry discovered that Sandy had a need to role play the scene which had traumatised her again and again.  This involved  Perry himself lying on the ground, in the role of Sandy’s mother, while Sandy attempted to “wake” him and “feed” him, which she had done with her mother during the eleven hours after the brutal attack on them both.  [p.52].  “While she did this [role play] , I had to do exactly what she wanted: don’t talk, don’t move, don’t interfere, don’t stop.  She needed to have total control while she performed this reenactment.  And that control, I began to recognize, would be critical to helping her heal.”  Over the course of manyPlato-play+blue months, Sandy began to alter this re-enactment and, on her own, changed it to a scene where Perry would read her a story book, thus reverting to a positive memory of times with her mother before the attack.  This is not to say that Sandy wasn’t scarred by her extremely traumatic experience.  But “play therapy” in this way enabled her to process what had happened and move towards healing.  Perry says that, with ongoing therapy and encouragement, Sandy went on to lead a satisfying and productive life, despite her horrific early  experience.

The importance of “play” is something for all parents and carers to be aware of.  A particularly useful article on “Attachment Play” (especially beneficial to children being fostered or adopted, who may have attachment issues or disorders, but also beneficial to our children generally) was recently published by Marion Badenoch Rose, here on the “Forever Years”.  (To read it, please follow the link below):

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/an-introduction-to-attachment-play-by-marion-badenoch-rose/

Some other articles on the importance of play can be found at the links below:

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/the-remarkable-power-of-play-why-play-is-so-important-for-children-by-karen-young/

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/let-the-children-play-outside-by-greenlife-matters-the-nursery-and-garden-industry-new-zealand/

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/help-my-toddler-cant-play-without-me-by-janet-lansbury/

Interaction with Peers

kidsplaying-on-playgroundPerry says the next step in neurosequential therapy is being able to aptly interact with peers.  This is a big step, as adults make allowances and try to protect or help a child who they see as having “issues”, but successful peer interaction (and acceptance of and by peers) is necessary to be able to function throughout the rest of life, with implications for all future relationships.  Perry discusses the case of Peter (not his real name) a seven year old boy who was adopted at age three from an orphanage in Russia.  Due to early lack of stimulation and neglect during his time at the orphanage (where intentions were good, but there were simply not enough adults to go around, meaning that Peter and the other three year olds there were fed and changed, but spent all day in cots), Peter, who was an intelligent boy, showed behaviour which was young for his age and, inspite of loving and patient behaviour from his adoptive parents at home, this caused him to be rejected and marginalised by his peers… which in turn led Peter to having angry, bewildered outburts (which only served to further ostracise him from his classmates).

Mandela“The behavior of his classmates was predictable.  What was happening was a small version of what happens all across the planet in various forms every day.  Human beings fear what they don’t understand.  The unknown scares us.  When we meet people who look or act in unfamiliar, strange ways, our initial response is to keep them at arms length.  At times we make ourselves feel superior, smarter or more competent by dehumanizing or degrading those who are different.  The roots of so many of our species’ ugliest behaviors– racism, ageism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, to name just a few– are the basic brain-mediated response to perceived threat.  We tend to fear what we do not understand, and fear can so easily twist into hate or even violence because it can suppress the rational parts of our brain.”  [p.225].

The biggest predator of humans is humans and we have, therefore, a built in fear of other people who seem “different”.  Perry says, “...Peter was intellectually advanced, but socially clueless.  I realised that if he was going to catch up, he was going to need the help of his peers.” [p.226].

choose-wiselyWhat followed was an amazing (and yet simple) exercise in understanding.  Our fear reaction so often kicks in, but the empathy reaction can take longer to activate (in children or adults), but, it has been shown, empathy once activated is stronger than the fear reaction.  To get Peter’s peers “on side” in his healing, Perry (with the permission of Peter, his parents and the school) came along to his class and spoke about the brain… at a level at which seven year old children could understand.

Dr. Bruce D. Perry (author of "The Boy who was raised as a Dog", "talking about the brain".

Dr. Bruce D. Perry (author of “The Boy who was raised as a Dog”, “talking about the brain”.  Source: http://davidsmithsegarra.com/born-love-dr-bruce-perry/

I talked about how they were exercising their “ABC” muscles [of the brain] in school and about the importance of repetition.  I described how they had many other similar kinds of “muscles” in the brain that also needed certain kinds of attention to grow big and strong.  I talked about how the brain develops and what makes everyone’s brain work, emphasizing how the brain changes.” [p.228].

Perry then went on to explain how Peter had had a different and more difficult start in life than the other children in his class.

An orphanage in Eastern Europe. Source: National Geographic.

An orphanage in Eastern Europe. Source: National Geographic.

“When he was a little boy, he spent every minute of every day for the first three years of his life in one crib.  …  Peter was born in another country where they did not know very much about the brain.  … Peter never had a chance to walk around, to play with friends, to get a hug from any loving grown-ups.  His brain didn’t get very much stimulation.  … his new parents came… [then] Peter’s amazing brain started to learn so many things.  Even though he had never heard English, he learned English in just a couple of years. … every day in school, Peter learns things from all of you.  He watches how you do things, he learns from playing with each of you and he learns from just being your friend.  So thank you for helping Peter.  And thanks for letting me come and talk about the brain.”  [pp.228-229].

Perry says that, in the weeks that followed, the children’s “natural goodness” came to the surface and they “included him, protected him and, ultimately, provided therapeutic experiences that helped Peter catch up…. adults have much more influence over the process [of helping children understand those who are different] than they may believe.  When children understand why someone behaves oddly, they give him or her more slack…” [p.229].

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In Conclusion

The Boy Who was raised as a Dog” has many more examples of the amazing capacity of the human brain to recover from early neglect or trauma, including the story which gives the book its title.  Perry also worked with the children from the WACO Texas cult and talks about his experiences with them in this book.  While Perry’s patients are extreme examples of trauma or abuse, he says an estimated 40% of children will experience some level of trauma before they reach adulthood [p. 233] and that some of our current practices of therapy and childcare are actually causing more harm than healing [p.235].  He advocates for an “infant and child literate society” [p.239] and a nurturing of empathy– which is why we at “The Forever Years” love this book, which fits in so well with our own ethos, of viewing the world “through the eyes of a child”, an ethos which Perry certainly puts into action when treating children who have suffered from trauma or neglect.

Related Links:

Life After Stress: The Biology of Trauma and Resilience

http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2012/08/02/what-americans-dont-get-about-the-brains-critical-period/

https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/529-baby-brain-map

http://nancyguberti.com/5-stages-of-human-brain-development/

Ab Collage 11

How Being A Foster Parent Changed Me For The Better, by Mike Berry

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We’re often asked by folks who are considering foster care, “Is it worth it?” We always answer, “Yes!” But it’s not because the road of foster parenting rose to meet us. It’s been a journey. And the heartache has made us better human beings for it!

 

If you could go back in time and have a conversation with 11-year old me, at some point in the conversation baseball would have come up. Eleven year old me dreamed of being a major league baseball star. It wasn’t just a pipe dream like all kids had when they were that age. It was bigger.

I would have told you my full-fledged plan to work my way into the starting line-up of my high school team. I would explain how I was going to try out for the walk-on draft for the Cincinnati Reds the summer after my senior year. And then (hopefully) land a spot in the lower Single A or AA farm system. If that didn’t work, I’d surely have a scholarship to a top-notch division I school of my choice.

Not only could I articulate this at 11 years old…I had it written down. Sketched out in a notebook I kept, complete with stadium diagrams, imaginary starting line-ups, and statistics. Yep…big dream! What 11 year old kid goes to these lengths?

I wanted to be a legend on the diamond. I studied my hometown hero, Barry Larkin, and dreamed of one day starting for the Cincinnati Reds. I emulated Chris Sabo snagging sharp grounders down the third base line. I matched every move Eric Davis made as he stepped to the plate.

Ask me then and I would have told you….I want to be a star….I want to be rich….I want to be famous.

A Different Path.

That’s not the story my life would go on to tell. I ended up opting out of baseball by my senior year of high school. After 3 years of riding the bench, I looked to other things. After high school I went to a small Christian college on the westside of Cincinnati with barely a sports program. One year they decided to start up their baseball program and I tried out. But the flame had gone out. After a few practices, I hung up my glove and cleats for good.

Many would look at that and see the disappointment of dreams not coming true. After all, I had worked all those years to become the legend I had dreamed of becoming. But for what? On the outside it looked like nothing. But what I didn’t realize until years later was how perfect the story that was being told through my life really was.

And it had nothing to do with fortune, fame, or accolades.

In the spring of 2004, just 5 years after Kristin and I got married, she told me of a woman who was about to lose her two children to the foster care system. She suggested we get our license in order to care for them. I hesitated. At that point, we were the parents to 1 perfect baby through adoption, and all seemed fair in love and war. Plus, I had always heard horror stories about foster parenting. What I didn’t realize was this woman had actually personally asked Kristin to care for her children. So, in-spite of my hesitation I agreed and we fast-tracked through the licensing procedures. Sometimes you just have to step off the edge and ask questions later. We jumped.

Legends and Legacies.

Twelve years later….we’ve never looked back. As we stand on the other side of this massive season of our life, we both agree: we wouldn’t change a thing. We ended up fostering over 20 children, and 6 of them stayed with us forever. Foster parenting is one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. It’s nearly taken the life out of us. We’ve been to the darkest places of parenting, the darkest places of human thinking, and we have the scars on our hearts (and our arms) to prove it. We’ve lived through CPS investigations, defeating IEP meetings at our kid’s schools, and the overreaction of a case manager who was trying to make an example out of us.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

http://confessionsofanadoptiveparent.com/how-being-a-foster-parent-changed-me-for-the-better/?mc_cid=70bd6e938c&mc_eid=169008643f

10 Powerful Truths About Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) That Will Change Your Perspective, by Mike Berry

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For the majority of the world, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is misunderstood and often judged. But, there are powerful truths that can change your life when you understand, and embrace them.

Anger.

That’s the word that comes to mind when I think about FASD. Anger.

I’m angry that my child’s birth mother would make the selfish choice to drink during her pregnancy, angry that the claws of addiction dug deeper than the conviction of pre-natal care, angry at the numerous therapists, doctors, and authorities who’ve downplayed or disagreed with my child’s diagnosis over the years, angry at a world that judges before seeking the truth, and angry when I think about the missing pieces of my child’s life.

The child I chose with love.

Most of all, I’m angry that he will never have a normal childhood. A part of his brain is absent thanks to a stupid choice, a lack of self-control, and an unwillingness to guard his precious life before he took one peek at the world. I know this sounds harsh but this is the stuff I wrestle with often. Sometimes it eats at me, grinding away at my soul like a jackhammer grinding away at concrete. Other times, it’s sadness. A deep longing to go back in time, before his conception, and beg his birth mother to not make the choice she would eventually make.

Yes, we reel in pain over this disease. After all, that’s what it is. It’s brain damage, and the worst kind too, as far as we’re concerned. We live with the devastation of our child’s violent outbursts that have brought trauma on our family so deep that we’re not sure we’ll ever heal from it. We wrestle but, we’re hopeful. In the midst of our life, which often looks more like a pile of ashes than a life, we have a hope and a belief that our child, our son, will succeed. It began a while ago, when we embraced some powerful truths about FASD…

(To read more of this article, follow the link below…)

http://confessionsofanadoptiveparent.com/10-powerful-truths-about-fasd-that-will-change-your-life/?mc_cid=e4f566056a&mc_eid=169008643f

Through the Eyes of a Foster Child… Now Grown Up. “Houses and Homes”. By Tammy Perlmutter.

Foster

Doll Houses. Ghetto houses. Foster homes. Group homes. Children’s homes. So many houses. So few homes.

I stand in front of a dilapidated building in an urban neighborhood. Its porch is sagging to the right, the railing on the stoop has long been broken off, leaving a jagged, rusted stump jutting up from the crumbling concrete step. The lattice work covering the basement window is leaning forward as if trying to get away while everything is quiet. The paint on the siding is slowly bubbling up and stripping off,  it had long since given up trying to conceal the imperfections.

This is where my mother lives. Or rather, lived. She died a year ago, lasting longer than anyone ever thought, and longer than most of us wanted her to. The bar fights, drunken falls, car accidents, decades of liver damage, none of it had been fatal. It was pneumonia that got her in the end. It was not the dramatic demise we were all expecting.

The narrow row home was barely habitable when my mother lived there, and now it’s been condemned. I don’t know exactly why I am here, standing in front of the porch. I never lived in this house with her, just visited here a handful of times as a teen and young adult.

My mother left us with sitters to go looking for an apartment and didn’t return for days. When she finally returned, after what most people thought was a “lost weekend,” my brother and I were placed in foster care. I was not quite 5. It was a lost weekend, because I lost everything.  My home, my family, what little sense of stability an alcoholic parent could provide.

There were stories I was told later. My oldest brother Rob leaving Danny and I alone and walking to my aunt’s house to ask for food. When questioned about his siblings, they were told we were at home. They fed Rob, brought some food and him home to check on Danny and I. My aunt says I was filthy. Wearing my brother’s handed-down clothes. I was scrawny and dirty. They couldn’t even tell I was a girl. My uncle Ed cried when he saw me. They cleaned me up. Found me clothes. Wished they could do more.

(To read more of this article, follow the link below…)

http://themanifeststation.net/2015/02/15/houses-and-homes/

How To Combat 4 Strong Emotions In Foster Care: A Proven Path To Moving Forward When the Journey Gets Tough, by Mike Berry

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It’s something you might expect will happen when you begin the foster care journey, but still find yourself unprepared for: Emotion. Strong emotion, in fact. How do you combat the ups and downs, twists and turns, and unending roller coaster ride of foster parenting?

Our first-born daughter was a private adoption and a fairly normal baby, who even began sleeping through the night before she was 3 months old. It wasn’t long before our weariness as new parents began to drift away and we were back to normal, as normal as parenting can be.

Then, 2 years later our first foster placement arrived. A little girl and boy, biological siblings, both cute as can be. Our hearts were full. We were excited. The little girl was quiet, and spent most of the time watching us, trying to figure out what was happening. She was a good sleeper which was a relief to us. Her brother, however, not so much! Not only did he wake up all night long, every night at a year old, he was also the human equivalent of a run-away train. His first move on his first day in our care was to run, not walk, toward the top of our staircase. I quickly reached out and grabbed him before he stepped off the top step. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in shock. After a month or two, our shock mixed with the endless frustration of being told one thing by our case manager, and then having something completely different happen. By month 4 we were overwhelmed, tired, and defeated on more levels than we could begin to count.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever started the foster care journey, excited, only to wind up stuck, or in a state of shock after a month or two? Maybe you’re frustrated beyond belief and you’ve started to regret your decision to foster in the first place.

If so, you’re not alone. And, frankly, the emotions you’re going through are normal and to be expected. That may catch you by surprise. We know, because we’ve been there. Truth is, there are many emotions on the foster parenting journey, and undoubtedly you will face many, some you never thought possible. But for the sake of time and length I’ve narrowed it down to the top 4. They are:

  1. Excitement
  2. Shock
  3. Frustration
  4. Regret

As you ponder these 4 emotions, here’s a deeper explanation of how they play out in our life and our decision to become foster parents…

(Read more by following the link below…)

http://www.confessionsofaparent.com/how-to-combat-4-strong-emotions-in-foster-care/

 

“Foster Hope” and the “Pyjama Drive”: A Great Practical Way to Support Kiwi Kids in Foster Care, by Brenda Harwood

Foster Hope Collage

Giving comfort to children in need is the aim of a ‘‘pyjama drive’’ being run by the newly established Dunedin branch of the charity Foster Hope.   Local Foster Hope co-ordinator Juanita Willems is keen to gather as many pairs of new pyjamas as possible, as well as other items, to include in backpack kits which are given to children and young people as they go into foster care. At present there are 115 children, ranging from birth to 16 years, in care in Dunedin.   ‘‘The first 48 hours are critical for a child in care — they often arrive at their foster home with only what they are wearing,’’ Mrs Willems said.  

Foster Hope works closely with Child Youth and Family across New Zealand to provide practical support for its work with children in care through its ‘‘Kits2Kids’’ programme.   Being able to give children a back pack containing useful items, ranging from nappies and bibs for babies through to deodorants and books for older children, could really help with the transition, Mrs Willems said.   Adding toys and a new pair of pyjamas also helped the children to feel cared for, and took the pressure off foster carers who could focus on their emotional needs rather than rushing around shopping.   ‘‘We want these children to know that someone out there cares about them, and hopefully receiving a gift like this helps them to feel better in a difficult situation,’’ she said.  

Having herself been taken into foster care as a child, Mrs Willems is passionate about supporting Dunedin children in care.   ‘‘It is very important to me to be able to help children in foster care any way I can — this project has real meaning for me.’’  

People who wish to donate new pyjamas and other items to the Foster Hope Pyjama Drive are invited to do so through The Warehouse in Mosgiel, Mitre 10 in Mosgiel, Moyles Supermarket in Green Island, Les Mills in Dowling St, St Leonard’s School, and at level 2 of the New Zealand Transport Authority building in Moray Pl.

The pyjama drive continues until mid July.   For more information, visit the Foster Hope website http://www.fosterhope.co.nz/ or find them on Facebook.

GetContent

For the kids . . . Dunedin Foster Hope representative Juanita Willems looks over some of the many sets of pyjamas, slippers and other items that have been collected so far in the Foster Hope Pyjama Drive. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

 

Originally published as Pyjama drive to help create backpack kits, by Brenda Harwood in The Star, Dunedin, NZ

Related Links:

http://digital.thestar.co.nz/olive/ode/str_daily/

http://www.fosterhope.co.nz/