Nia looked her therapist in the eye and said she was “fine.” But fourteen-year-olds starting foster care are not fine. Girls who call Child Protective Services on their own mother because they are afraid for their lives are not fine.
Nia had just joined Fred Finch’s Visiting Therapist Program (VTP), created in 2004 to provide mental health services for kids who cannot travel to an office.
Joslin Herberich, Senior Director, at Fred Finch, described the program’s rationale: “In recent years, there has been research that shows how trauma creates physical changes in the brain. And there are things we can do to lessen the impact of that trauma if the therapist, client, and caregiver work together.”
Youth in foster care often move from one foster home to another during their childhood and adolescence. “Not only are they constantly with a new caregiver, but each move means a new therapist as well,” Herberich said. “With VTP, Clinicians visit with youth at their home and at their school, and if their living situation changes the Clinician can stay with them. They have continuity of care, which is particularly important for youth with histories of trauma.”
Nia’s Visiting Therapist provided consistency. She showed up every week, listened without judgment, and gently challenged Nia to think about the kind of life she wanted to create for herself.
At first, even simple conversations were a challenge. Any mention of Nia’s mother resulted in more anger. And who could blame her? The memories were painful. Nia had made her own breakfast as far back as she could remember, while her mother slept in. She had endured insults and criticisms, as well as physical blows. Her grades were low, and she said school was a waste of time. She planned to drop out as soon as she turned 16. And she didn’t need another meddling adult in her life. But the therapist persisted.
As the months passed, Nia’s Visiting Therapist encouraged her to label feelings and to start a journal, so she could sort through the events in her life at her own pace, in her own way. Nia wrote about her mother, the father she never knew, and her foster-care placement. As she did, Nia became calmer, more thoughtful, more resilient.
When Nia turned 18 she found full-time retail work and enrolled in a community college. Soon after that, she moved into an apartment with a classmate.
It took five years for Nia to find her way, and to realize that there were adults in the world who could be trusted. She thanked her therapist for listening, for pushing her to make healthy choices, and for showing her how to gain the confidence she needed to live on her own.
Note: Names and identifying information have been changed to protect the identity of our participants.
For more information on our work at Fred Finch Youth & Family Services, check out our website www.fredfinch.org