Monday, April 18, 2011

My Recent Travels

I have had the honor and privilege of participating in two special events over the last two weeks. The first was the Vermont Foster/Adoptive Family Association 24th Annual Spring Conference: Hope and Healing. At that conference I attended a one day workshop by Dr. Bruce Perry. I was so delighted to finally have a chance to hear Dr. Perry in person, after having read all his work and listened to him on video tape. When I remarked to the conference organizer that he reminded me of Seinfeld she told me I wasn’t the first person to notice that. As I have written in this blog, his ideas are opening new avenues of learning and teaching for me, and I hope to write more about them here in the future. Dr. Perry expanded on the idea that rhythmic, repetitive, rewarding physical activities with another engaged person are necessary to rebuild the brain stem of children hurt in early life.

The next day of the conference I delivered a keynote address and then led two workshops. The subject of my keynote was: What is Trauma Informed Care and What Does It Mean for Foster Care? The workshops were: The Trauma Survivor as Parent and Maintaining your Sanity While Walking in The Minefield: Helping Youth With Challenging Behaviors. I received much positive feedback for all of them.

Vermont has prioritized supporting and training foster parents. They offer this conference to foster parents and those who work with them every year, and it combines education with a break, recreation and connection. They also raise money at the conference through a silent auction and fifty/fifty raffle for a fund that provides extras for foster children. I found the foster parents to be very knowledgeable and thoughtful, tuned in to the adaptive nature of their youth’s behavior, and extremely caring and committed. I was also impressed with the professionals I met such as the conference organizer Karen L. Crowley, System of Care Manager, Family Services Division, Department for Children and Families. Vermont’s governor Peter Shumlin was present, as was the new DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone. Their presence also spoke to Vermont’s commitment to foster parents. Vermont is emphasizing the concept of co-parenting between the foster parents and the bio parents, which made my “trauma survivor as parent” workshop especially relevant to the foster parents.

One foster parent asked me a question which we agreed we must defer to Bruce Perry. She has a teenage foster son who is very sexually active. She said that it occurred to her that he was engaging in an activity that is rhythmic, repetitive, rewarding and physical with another engaged person. Is he building his brain stem?

On the third day of the conference we watched a movie entitled “Ask Us Who We Are ~. From the program description of the film: “Directed and produced by Bess O’Brien. This documentary film focused on the challenges and extraordinary lives of youth in foster care. The film is a reflection on loss and the search for belonging and fining family. Although the film highlights the heartbreak that many foster care youth carry with them as they move through their lives, the documentary also reveals the tremendous strength and perseverance that grows out of their determination to survive and thrive. The documentary also focuses on the lives of foster care parents and kinship families that open their homes to children. Through small and large acts of kindness these adults can change the course of children’s lives and give them a sense of place. In addition, the film highlights two parents who lose their children.” It was very moving and I look forward to the time that it will be released for greater distribution outside of Vermont.

The following week I travelled to the Change Academy Lake of the Ozarks (CALO), a specialized therapeutic school that I have described previously in this blog. This school was founded specifically to utilize attachment principles to help children heal. They specialize in children who have been adopted. Their canine program allows each child to adopt and learn to care for a golden retriever, and take the dog with them when they leave. This is one of the powerful elements of the healing process.

I am honored to have been asked to be on the Board of Advisors of CALO. On this visit I got to know the program and people even more, and attended a conference CALO hosted. On the Board also are a parent advocate (who is also an adoptive parent), a lawyer who advocates for children and who is an adoptive parent herself, and an attachment specialist in private practice in the Washington DC area. For me it was a great treat to be among people who are so immersed in this trauma informed, relationship based way of thinking. I was soaking it in, being reaffirmed and recommitted to the importance of what we are doing. I learned some new ideas as well. And all this in the midst of the beauty of the Ozarks in the Spring, with many lovely flowering trees.

I feel very lucky to have been able to participate in these events.

No comments: