KVC Kansas provides in-home therapy to put struggling families on the path to recovery and joy. Julian Brown, Intensive In-Home Therapist with KVC Aftercare Services, shares his story about providing therapy to a family who recently adopted their young niece.
It was a small blue house at the end of a typical cul-de-sac in Shawnee. As I got nearer, I noticed that the paint was peeling and several shingles had fallen down into the front yard where they lay curling and ragged. In the driveway sat an old Chevy, the back axle on blocks and the wheels nowhere to be seen. On the thin strip of grass to the side of the house was an old pink play castle, the color barely discernible beneath the dirt. A bike drooped on its side, and a collection of naked barbies were scattered all over. I walked up to the house and knocked.
The man who answered the door was massive. Muscles rippled beneath his plaid work shirt and his palms felt like bricks as I shook his hand and introduced myself. He never smiled. As his black eyes looked into mine, I heard the message loud and clear. “If you hurt her I will crush you.” He showed me into the living room talking idly along the way. He mentioned that he was her uncle and, after seeing how she had grown up, he and his wife had both agreed that they would take her and raise her as their own.
The first thing I saw as I stepped into the living room was the girl. On her right stood her aunt who’s hand was resting lightly on the girl’s shoulder. The girl looked up at me, all brunette curls and black eyes just like her uncle. She wore a bright yellow shirt covered with smiling Pikachus and a pair of blue jeans, her knees slightly soiled from playing outside. Along her left jaw line was a faint scar, one of the few things given to her by her mother. And in her tiny fist, she grasped a fold of her aunt’s pant leg, as if holding on for dear life.
The uncle immediately brushed past me and walked over to stand next to the girl. She reached up and took his hand. Flanked by these two shining pillars of strength, the girl seemed to brighten and almost defiantly she stated, “You’re not taking me away.” I crouched down in front of her, coming eye to eye. “Absolutely not. I want you to stay here and be happy, and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen,” I said. She smiled and her shoulders relaxed so visibly her head bobbed forward.
We stayed like that for the next fifteen minutes, her aunt and uncle standing watch over her as she and I had a conversation about aftercare services. She nodded gravely as I talked about big ideas like confidentiality, releases of information and court hearings.
“Will I have to speak in court? Because I will,” she said. “Only if you want to, or if the judge wants to ask you a question,” I answered, amazed at the maturity of this young child and saddened at how rapidly she had been forced to grow up. When I started talking about family therapy, the uncle spoke up for the first time.
“I think family therapy is a good idea. Let’s make that happen,” he said. The girl looked up at him and nodded her head. “Yes sir,” I said.
We made arrangements for regular visits and started family therapy. Over the following months, the family met regularly with me and we talked about what it meant to be a family. At times the girl talked openly and other times she was shy and reserved. I spent time with her individually and asked if she wanted to talk about what happened before she came to live with her aunt and uncle. At first she refused, but as time went by, she got to know me a little better. At the end of a visit she came up to me.
“Maybe next time you come by, we can talk about some stuff, OK?” Her skin was taught across her cheeks and I could tell she was holding back tears. “Of course, when you are ready,” I said. She nodded resolutely and waved goodbye.
At the next session we talked, or rather, she talked. I sat on the couch and she sat next to me while her aunt and uncle sat across from us, their hands intertwined as if seeking comfort from each other. The words this girl spoke reminded me of an article written by a war correspondent talking about the horrors of combat. As she spoke, tears streamed down her cheeks and she wiped them away with irritation, never stopping. Finally, at the end, she leaned back into the couch and her aunt picked her up, hugging her desperately as if to shield her from the world and her past experiences.
“That’s all over now baby,” she said choking up on the last two words. As I left that day, I saw the uncle pulling two ten-gallon buckets of paint from the back of his newly repaired Chevy.
“It’s time to put a new coat on, don’t you think?” he barked at me over his shoulder as he walked away, swinging the buckets of paint as if they were toys. The shingles had long since been repaired and the collection of dirty toys in the yard were gone. In front of the garage sat a brand new bike. The side door slammed and the girl came sprinting out, a single pony tail flying out behind and her arms stuck straight out. She ran in circles into the back yard. This house had a new heart, and the girl living inside it, a new life.
Learn more about the life-long effects of childhood trauma.