Hazel* turned eight in foster care. Previously, she had been living with her mother who struggled to keep her safe and provide for her. Caught in a cycle of domestic abuse, Hazel had been exposed to many traumatic instances, all of which left an imprint on her emotionally and developmentally. Before care, she had a lot of difficult behaviors, including being combative with her peers and mistrusting the adults in her life. When she was brought into foster care for her safety, Hazel was placed in an FCNI Therapeutic Foster Home where she would receive a lot of one-on-one attention from her specialty trained foster parents as well as in-home support and mental health services in order to better meet her needs.
Hazel’s foster parents, Dean and Megan, were relatively new to the foster care world. Initially nervous, they were thankful for the team which surrounded them and Hazel before Hazel even entered their home. In the beginning, the team spent a lot of time helping the family positively engage with one another, supporting them during team and family meetings, and sharing ways that they could get to know one another while keeping in mind Hazel’s emotional needs. While it didn’t happen right away, eventually Hazel, Dean and Megan bonded strongly. And over time, Hazel saw herself as part of Dean and Megan’s family, and the couple’s inclusion of Hazel into their lives and the traditions of their extended family proved very helpful to her overall healing.
In care, Hazel was matched with one-on-one support, a Rehabilitation Specialist named Rachel who was assigned to spend time with Hazel several days a week at home and during school. Together, Hazel and Rachel talked about areas that Hazel felt were really hard for her to handle, including the other kids at school and adjusting to any kind of change in her life. Through each challenge, Hazel and Rachel worked together, building up Hazel’s confidence as she learned to use better coping and communication skills.
Having not had much control over her life previously, Hazel found that unexpected things--schedule changes, a reaction she didn’t understand from a friend or her not understanding the rules of a game--triggered a lot of her emotions in her; emotions that she didn’t understand or know how to control. To help her regain some sense of self-control, Hazel was given a lot of daily choices—she could walk to school or be driven, she could choose to do her homework right after school or after a 30 minute break to play outside, and so forth. Once she learned that her thoughts mattered, Hazel let down some of her defenses, and was able to deal better with some of the changes that were not in her control. Each small victory Hazel had, helped her handle the next challenge she faced even better.
Hazel also bonded and worked well with her mental health therapist, Angie, the two learning more about how emotions work and how Hazel could identify hers better. They also talked through a lot of Hazel’s past experiences during Play Therapy, something that Hazel really enjoyed even though it could bring up fearful or sad feelings for her. Angie really worked to help Hazel create a good toolbox, full of healthier coping skills, mantras and ways she could give herself space as she needed it. With more effective tools, Hazel learned that she didn’t have to resort to having an outburst to be heard—which was truly a breakthrough realization for a little girl who hadn’t felt heard or seen for much of her young life.
While Hazel improved in care, she still struggled with the uncertainty of being a foster child. Foster care is never a permanent solution for kids like Hazel. In care, Hazel had developed a strong bond with Dean and Megan, and wanted to stay with them. And having weathered some significant ups and downs with Hazel, Dean and Megan saw her as their daughter, an important part of their family. After talking through options with Hazel’s caseworker, the family decided to explore adoption. While Hazel and her new family are still a work in progress,--no one is ever perfect and no situation is without its challenges--she knows that she’s found a place where her voice matters--where she matters--and that’s makes all the difference.
*All names and details have been changed in order to maintain confidentiality.
If you’d like to learn more about ways that you help support kids like Hazel, please call FCNI at 805-781-3535 or visit our website at FCNI.org!