She sat sullen on our couch waiting for her "interview". Another child, not even a teenager yet, who is alone on the planet. Another girl who had been sexually abused and brutalized - mentally, physically and emotionally. Her matted braids and slight frame showed no signs of thriving. She couldn't muster a smile. She blinked incessantly to shun the tears that were defying her steely stance. I took a deep breath and approached her with a careful cadence that would offer no surprises, so as not to startle or trigger her.
Every time that I interview a girl for our program, I prepare myself so that I am extremely aware of my facial expressions and body language. The things that the children say are often shocking and their life experiences are jarring, but I cannot let on that I feel that way. I smile, but try not to over do it. I appear relaxed, but I definitely am not. I engage them as much as they can endure. Even a gentle hand on their forearm, as it rests on the table, can be a reminder of their abuse. Physical touch, for girls who have suffered such acute and prolonged physical and sexual abuse, is never without horrifying reminders.
We began to chat and she never relaxed. I asked about her favorite colors, foods and television shows. She answered in rote as though she were trying to get every answer "right". As the interview went on, she began to share, quite matter-of-factly, about her brother's death and her grandfather's abusive treatment. She shared how the two tries at adoptions just hadn't "worked out". She was completely shut down and her affect was totally flat. She had methodically and successfully shut her emotions down. She was in protection mode and did what was necessary to survive.
She arrived for her "move in day", and she was extremely tense. She choked back sobs and pretended as though she didn't care about anything. It didn't matter how many gifts we had given her or how many hugs we offered, she did not budge. She was determined to remain isolated and hold-up inside of her own psyche. Her muscles were hard as rocks and her shoulders could've carried the weight of the world...and it seems they did. Her world crumbled...again, and she found herself entering another unknown. She was being "placed" into a residential facility. This fate is reserved for the most profoundly traumatized children in foster care. How was this her story? How had she gotten here? Just 24 days ago a family had promised that they would adopt her and be her "forever". Forever seemed to be much shorter than she had hoped for.
She settled in to the routine at HOP. Her first months dragged on and they were not easy (for any of us). She was (understandably) angry and she let everyone know it! She didn't trust us and she made it known almost every moment. She didn't owe us her trust and we were determined to earn it. Almost like it snuck up on all of us, momentum was suddenly on our side! She began catching up in school and believing what we said. She decided to try trusting one. more. time. She began discovering herself. She realized that she loved coffee (pretty much a prerequisite at HOP) and that she was extremely athletic. She quickly discovered that she was the best dancer, and that her sarcasm, previously used to keep others away, was actually a natural hilarity that brought belly laughs to the house! She reluctantly joined a basketball team and much to her own surprise, she shined and made basket after basket.
Slowly, but surely, this child's ego strength was building. She was processing her trauma in therapy and reframing it as a profound tragedy that she endured because of the brokenness of others. She trepidatiously accepted that her story and trauma weren't things that befell her because she was so easy to hate and abuse. The shadow that darkened every interaction had dissipated and she was lighter, somehow. She was becoming bubbly. This angry girl who could only cling to hate as her safety net to protect from any intimacy that would result in ANOTHER rejection, was transforming into the most conscientious sister in the house who gave encouragement and hugs like they were going out of style! Forgiveness was now her freedom!
Two years later and she is well and she is kind. She is funny and she is a GREAT soccer player. She was the center forward and she scored nearly every weekend. She is doing great in school and she has learned how to authentically cry when she is hurting. She is active in our therapeutic groups and recalls her mile markers of growth. She tenderly encourages the other girls who are not quite as far along in their journey.
Won't you please consider opening your home to a kid like this? There are so many opportunities to wrap your arms around a girl who just needs a chance. A girl who just needs a family and a bedroom to call her own. A girl who just wants to be chosen and wanted. A girl who needs her "forever family" to really mean FOREVER!