My girls were removed from their biological family due to longstanding neglect and significant physical and sexual abuse. They are now 7, 8, and 10 years old and each of them has an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) score of 10 (out of 10). (Got Your ACE Score?) This is the only test they have all aced. Many labeled them “damaged beyond repair”.
Over the last two years, my family has spent countless hours in individual and family therapy making sense of our own stories, learning how to cope with them, and building the strength required to share our stories outside of our family. And in understanding, embracing, and sharing their stories, our girls are proving that it is possible to overcome the negative effects of a traumatic childhood. Strengthening protective factors and increasing resilience can be just as powerful as the cumulative adverse experiences.
For decades, research has supported the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related diagnoses. There are many trauma-informed therapeutic models that use CBT strategies – generally known as trauma focused-CBT (TF-CBT). For children, these models often include working individually as well as with non-offending parents and/or caregivers. Time-limited sessions focus on psycho-education, relaxation techniques, affect management, developing healthy self-care, interpersonal relationships, and coping skills, as well as exposure and habituation to triggering memories.
The culmination of most models is completing a trauma narrative. I vividly remember anticipating this part of the process. It is the grand finale and making it to and through this benchmark meant we were far along in the recovery process and everything was going to be okay. The survivor works with the therapist to write and depict (if appropriate) their personal trauma story including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Once comfortable with the story, it is generally shared with loved ones. In our case, the girls shared their narratives with both of us.
There is something truly empowering in being brave enough to share. I have had the privilege of seeing the added courage, strength, self-awareness, self-esteem, and confidence the girls have found through writing and sharing their stories. While we cannot change ACEs, we can build our resiliency, a process that has life-saving implications.
I am incredibly proud to share Chelsea, Savanna, and Shianne’s stories with you.
Chelsea, age 10
I was in 7 different foster homes. My favorite home was the Phoenix. But, I had to go to the hospital because I had unsafe behaviors. Sometimes I thought it was my fault but now I know it’s because of my feelings and thoughts. They were scary. I was thinking in my dreams that my biological parents were going to hurt me. I didn’t feel safe because I had to keep seeing them almost every Thursday. Also when we went to the judge they didn’t believe it was time for me to get adopted. I was feeling sad when I moved and had to leave Shianne, Savanna and my foster mommy and daddy. My social worker told me that since I’m not with them I can’t call them mommy and daddy. This makes no sense to me. I was worried because I was thinking I would never come back.
While I was gone it was hard because I had to leave my favorite family. I felt scared because I didn’t know who my family was going to be. When I left St. Vincent’s then I went to the C family. I was treated badly there. They didn’t let me have play dates. I had to stay in my room mostly. I only had the clothes that I got from my Mommy Kristin and Daddy Jeff. I felt weird when they were too small for me but I was glad because nobody really made fun of me and my friend had the same backpack that my mom Kristin gave me.
When I was at the C’s I had to go to respite a lot. It was really uncomfortable and weird. I don’t like going to respite because I like staying in one home. I didn’t think that the families would love me and take care of me. I knew that the C’s didn’t love me. They liked me but they didn’t love me.
Ms. Amy was my lawyer. She came to visit me and brought me Christmas and birthday presents. Those were the only presents I got so I was happy. She told me that she and Mommy Kristin and Daddy Jeff were fighting for me to come home to them. I hardly ever got to see my sisters or them. This made me sad but I kept believing maybe I would go home. I had a memory book that my mom and dad made me. I had a lot of good experiences and looking at my memory book I got to remember Halloween, making snow angels, helping Daddy skim the pool, and celebrating Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day and my birthday. This helped me feel better when I missed my family.
Shianne and my baby brothers and other sister got adopted first. This made me happy because my sister Shianne got adopted and I was proud of her to be a Phoenix. I finally started to be able to see my sisters and parents. Then I got to spend the night. And then the Judge and my social worker decided me and Savanna could be adopted. My adoption day is August 29th. Now we are a family of 5. I am a Phoenix forever and ever.
And I am an OVERCOMER. I have to overcome my fears and my feelings and my thoughts. It’s kind of hard and only sometimes easy. I had to go to therapy a lot to help me learn coping skills. Now I know how to use them but sometimes I can’t control it. So that’s something I’m working on overcoming still. It’s hard.
I’m thankful for having an awesome family who loves me and takes good care of me. I get to go to piano and voice lessons, church, shopping, play dates, swimming, and on vacation.
The conclusion is always to remember my parents and family love me no matter what I do. They are the best parents I can ever have. And now I will never have to move or go to the hospital again.
Also not to ever forget about all the kids in foster care. May is almost over and it is foster care month. But every day should be foster care day because there are a lot of kids like me. I mean a lot. You should help them find the right and best family. Maybe everybody could get together in a group and talk about how to help foster kids.
Love, Chelsea Elizabeth Phoenix FOREVER
Savanna, age 8
Hi. This is Savanna. I was in foster care from when I was 3 until 8. My biological parents did not feed me when I was with them. They burned me with a pan and spatula. They slapped me and touched me inappropriately. This is because they did not learn coping skills like I have.
When I was in foster care I felt sad because I had to leave my 3 dogs, mommy, daddy, and sister Shianne. I had to go to Genesis at St. Vincent’s and my friends were mean. Sometimes I got QAed and I only got to play with Legos. No electronics. I had to go there because I was acting unsafe. I threw candles and the Christmas tree and tried to chew the lights. I was doing all that because I was really mad and angry. I was mad because I had to keep seeing my biological parents and having visits at the visitation house.
After I left St. Vincent’s I went to other foster homes. It felt bad because they didn’t take good care of me and they didn’t give me enough food. When I couldn’t see mommy and daddy I felt sad because they took care of me. And my dogs didn’t let anyone hurt me. I didn’t get to see them though. When I felt sad I looked at my memory book and got to see pictures that made me a little bit more happy. Sometimes I called mommy without asking because I missed her so so so much. I missed my friends and other family like my uncle and aunt and grandma and grandpa. I almost lost my memory book but then I found it.
I dreamed about my family and I knew I would always come back. I didn’t get to come back when I wanted to because I needed to learn my coping skills and use them. And my social worker and the judge did not want me to come back. They kept on changing their mind. We didn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas or Halloween at the foster homes. And someone that was supposed to be my cousin hurt me when I was there.
I had my attorney and CASA. They came to see me and my CASA bought me a Barbie house. I loved going out to eat and to get milkshakes at the Silver Diner with her. I was in second grade and had Ms. Ross as my teacher. She helped me a lot with my math and was so nice.
I been living with my mommy and daddy again. I came back home in February of 2014. I got to celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I got to go back to Brown Station for 3rd grade and play with the dogs and dance class and piano and swim. Dr. Meyer helped me a lot with my deep breathing techniques. She is my therapist. I got to earn prizes when I worked on my trauma narrative.
I got adopted a long time ago on August 29th. Now I am part of a real stable family forever. And my name is Savanna Louise Phoenix. I am so happy and thankful. My favorite part of being with my real mom and dad is that me and my sisters get to be together again and we are one family forever.
Shianne, age 7
My name is Shianne Lynn Phoenix. I was in foster care for 4 years. My biological mom and dad was hurting me. They poked me in my private area. That made me sad because I didn’t want to be living there. I wanted a new family. I was so little when I first came here. I had a crib and my mom used to rock me and read me the crab book. She taught me how to say Louie’s name when I was still learning to say different words. One time I got to watch my daddy play baseball and eat snacks. Now I’m a lot older but I still get to go to Daddy’s baseball games.
Chelsea and Savanna had to go to the hospital. I wanted to see Chelsea and Savanna. I only got to see them like one or two times. It made me sad to leave them at the hospital. They had to go because they were unsafe. I prayed for them to get better and to come home. They did get better because they learned some coping skills.
I had a therapist named Dr Meyer. She helped me stay safe. And she helped me do my coping skills. Like put something on my belly and watch it go up and down when I breathe and going in the blue room and talking to my mommy. I have bad dreams and am scared that R and K will come to my house and try to take us again. I know in real life that can’t happen. Sometimes if I think about this I have bad behaviors. Then my mommy and daddy help me so I can use my coping skills. Because I forget by myself.
I got adopted on my adoption day. It is August 29th. The same as my sisters but mine was a whole year before. The judge wouldn’t let them come home yet. That made me sad but I got to see my best friends and family and cousins and have a party. At my party we swimmed and had a stage to sing and dance on. It took a long time for Chelsea and Savanna to come home. We had a piñata and Rita’s for Chelsea and Savanna’s adoption party. It was so fun.
I’m glad to be in a new family so I don’t have to be hurt anymore. I have a family that will actually take care of me. I love my family. Now I am a Phoenix girl forever! Actually I’m a Krause Phoenix.
Written By Sylvia Paull
From abuse to adoption: Three sisters share their stories was originally published @ ACEs Too High and has been syndicated with permission.
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