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In-home therapy helps a family in crisis stay together
Fini faced a possible future of being bounced around from one foster home to the next, or growing up in residential care, and never finding a family or place to call home. Then Becky and Marianne, a married couple looking to expand their family, met Fini at an adoption party. They already had a 6-year-old daughter, Emily, whom they had adopted as a baby. There was something special about Fini that caught their heart.
After the adoption party, Fini's social worker asked Marianne and Becky if they would consider being her pre-adoptive family. Fini moved in with them just before the start of school and her fifth birthday. The first two months were wonderful. Fini was smart, sweet and nurturing. She especially loved to take care of her dolls and stuffed animals. She enjoyed going to school. She started to use more words.
Then Marianne had a family crisis and had to leave home for a few days. When she returned, there was a dramatic change in Fini. She started to become violent, especially towards Marianne and Emily. It was as if Marianne's absence had unleashed something within Fini, perhaps fear that she might not return. Since Fini spoke so few words, she was using her body to express her emotions — kicking, biting, scratching, breaking things.
Over the next several months Fini's behavior continued to worsen. Marianne and Becky tried everything to get Fini the help that she needed. They felt on edge all the time and worried that if they couldn't keep Fini safe in their home, they might not be able to keep her at all. Things finally escalated to a crisis point and she was placed in a therapeutic residential program for two months.
When Fini returned home, the family began to work with Safe at Home (SAH), a program of The Home for Little Wanderers that provides in-home therapy. A team of two therapists, Janet Novotny and Courtney Rohr, visited twice a week to help Marianne and Becky find strategies to manage Fini's behavior and keep her safe. The team's support ranged from practical tips to emotional support. If Fini was having a bad day, the SAH team wouldn't leave until everyone felt safe, even if it meant staying well into the night. According to Marianne, "They did whatever needed to be done to help our family cope with incredible difficulties."
Fini had never had the opportunity to learn how to deal with big feelings, whether they were angry, scared, happy or sad. The SAH team helped Fini find ways to handle her emotions when they would start to overwhelm her. Marianne and Becky got a trampoline so she had a place to release some of her energy and set up a tent in her bedroom as a "safe space." Fini gradually began to learn how to slow herself down and tell adults what she needed.
Once the family got to a place where they were not fearful all the time that Fini was going to hurt herself or them, the SAH team worked on improving the strained relationship between the two girls. Emily had been struggling with feeling safe around Fini and accepting her as a sister. Through a creative process that included everything from role playing and board games to arts and crafts projects, the SAH team helped Emily and Fini to have a more normal sibling relationship.
About a year after Safe at Home began working with the family, Fini was adopted on National Adoption Day — a huge moment for her and her family. Fini, who even made adoption certificates for her stuffed animals, was especially excited about changing her last name. She would point to the adoption certificate hung up in her dining room and state with pride "The judge said I'm part of this family forever."
This is an exciting time for The Home's Third Century Campaign. Construction is in full swing at Longview Farm in Walpole. Excavation has begun, foundations have been poured and The Home’s vision of a new campus is beginning to take shape. We recently received a $2 million gift from the Yawkey Foundation — an extraordinary gift that brings us within $2.3 million of our goal! These significant milestones were celebrated at a ceremonial groundbreaking in October. The new campus includes the building of four new residences and a state-of-the-art special education school on the grounds of Longview Farm.
Learn more about the campaign and how you can help at www.thehome.org/thirdcentury
The Home takes steps to make kids in our care healthier
Nearly one in three children in America is overweight or obese. For children currently living in The Home's therapeutic residential and group home programs, this statistic is even higher, with almost 50% of youth scoring as obese or overweight. The children in our care face additional challenges that put them at greater risk than the general population, for example weight gain as a side effect of psychiatric medications or emotional eating triggered by traumatic events. The Home is committed to tackling this issue through an innovative wellness initiative. As part of the initiative, we've created two new staff positions — a Food Services Manager and a Dietician. This has made it possible for us to hire a single food vendor for all eight of our residential and group home programs and to create a centralized nutritious menu. Each group home now has one staff person designated as "the cook" for that program. These changes are significant, allowing us to train and educate staff, ensure consistent food preparation across all the programs, and measure and track results.
Getting the children to eat better is just the beginning. The wellness initiative also includes an effort to increase physical activity. From "kids vs. staff" softball games to weekly walks around Jamaica Pond, programs are getting creative around ways to keep children active. Many programs have been able to participate in community sports or obtain memberships to local gyms.
Our goal is to teach children how to make healthier choices, a skill that will benefit them long after they leave our programs. This is a huge effort that involves everyone, not just the chefs and cooks who prepare the food, but the staff who work directly with the kids, the doctors who prescribe medications, the families the children go home to. It also involves donors like you, who make initiatives like this possible through your generous support of The Home.
Brian Condron, The Home's Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, was selected as the recipient of the 2011 Providers' Council Ruth M. Batson Advocate of the Year Award. This award is given to an individual in the human services community for "his/her conviction, devotion and tenacity in fighting for necessary resources."
Through his work as a registered lobbyist in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Brain advocates for policies beneficial to children and families living in at-risk circumstances. From testifying on various bills pending in the State Legislature to his involvement on the statewide Youth Aging Out Taskforce, Brian's efforts have had an impact that goes well beyond the children and families we serve directly. Brian's insight and passion, combined with his ability to articulate the needs of kids and their families, have positioned The Home as a leading resource to the Massachusetts Legislature and its Joint Committee on Children and Families.
Brian is being honored at a ceremony in Boston at the end of November. Congratulations, Brian, on this well-deserved recognition!
Over 150 walkers joined the 5th Annual "Anna's Walqueria" with proceeds benefiting The Home. Organized annually by Daniel Rosmarin, participants received free food — from breakfast burritos to tacos — at all six Anna's Taqueria locations visited along the 13.1 mile route. Through the support of Anna’s owner Mike Kamio, his staff and the walkers, the event raised $6,100!
The recreation room at our Harrington House group home received a total makeover thanks to Sugarman law firm. In addition to a fresh coat of paint and new blinds, Sugarman contributed some fun items for the kids, including new bean bag chairs and a basketball arcade game. The day ended with a barbeque prepared on the new grill donated by Sugarman!
Kids from the community volunteered their time to help film a series of public service announcements (PSAs) for The Home this holiday season. The PSAs, which will air on WCVB, promote The Home's Big Wishes Gift Drive and Stuff-a-Truck events. WCVB-TV's Liz Brunner and two of the world famous Radio City Rockettes also appear in the spots.