JR, at twelve years old, was in his 13th placement in nearly six years. He had lived in his present home for almost a year; the growing attachment for the family was evident and his foster parents wanted to adopt him. With a history of early sexual abuse, JR knew how to leave families, but he didn’t know how to stay in one. As the date for his adoption approach
ed, JR became unresponsive at home. He avoided eye contact, skipped classes at school, and began stealing from family members and classmates. When his foster parents showed no sign of giving up, he became physically aggressive in school, refusing teacher directions. His classroom teacher referred JR to Fred Finch.
Our clinician met with JR at home and in school. With help, JR put words to his feelings: he feared that his parents would be “too nice” if he was adopted. He stole material things from his family, but feared what they offered him emotionally. Although JR wanted the closeness and sense of belonging his foster family offered, he had previously learned to avoid abuse by keeping his distance. The Fred Finch therapist worked with JR’s family to find ways to be close and reassuring that were customized and non-threatening. JR invented a secret handshake with his father that only the two of them shared, while his mother put hand-written notes in his lunchbox affirming that he was special to her. In school, the therapist worked to identify JR’s strengths.
With support from Fred Finch School Based Services staff and family, he joined an after-school sports team, which motivated his interest in doing well all day, everyday. JR struggled again when assigned a cultural project for school, as he was worried that everyone could see he did not look like his foster parents. But, the Fred Finch therapist worked with JR’s family to create a family coat of arms that included symbols from JR’s culture, together with those from each of his parents. After 12 weeks, JR announced he was ready to be adopted. He is now a proud and permanent part of the family. His mother reports a monumental shift in his confidence.