Imagine being excited to go on a hike in a new territory when, before you know it, you are in the middle of a forest full of dense trees. Look to the left. Trees. To the right, more trees. All around you, all you can see is a sea of endless trees. The traces of light are becoming harder and harder to recognize and you feel desperately lost. Hopelessness fills the spaces where excitement once dwelled and you wonder if you will ever make it out of the forest. You wonder if you will ever see the light of life outside the trees that seem to hold you and your fellow adventurers captive.
This is the best way I can describe our journey in foster care and being exposed to the realities of trauma and mental health needs. We thought it would be a fun adventure and that our family would go on. We thought we would be able to make a difference in a child’s life without much change to our family. What we found was how ill-equipped we were to understand and work through the challenges that stood before us. Even as we took trainings to to better grasp the effects of trauma on the brain, it was still so so challenging to find trainings that helped with practical application of behaviors we faced directly related to trauma. This foreign ground left us grasping for straws and begging for a rescuer-not from our children but from the trees. We wanted all of us to make it out of the forest together- safe and sound.
We reached out for help for years; being connected to resources that were simply not helpful and others that we felt were even harmful. When a trauma therapist, recommended by a fellow foster and adoptive mom, came into our lives, we started to see the light. Our kids’ therapist not only had credentials but life experience as a fellow trauma parent. We started to be able to separate the buckets- what did we need to address that was due to trauma? What did we need to address that was mental illness related? We started to have more tools in our tool box to implement changes in our home that bettered the lives of our entire family. We started having breakthroughs. Trust and hope started to light up more spaces we didn’t even know needed to be lit. Our family is forever in debt to our therapist and the care she continues to give. We are no longer stuck wandering through the forest. There is light. It doesn’t mean our world and days are perfect. Trauma still rears it’s ugly head regularly in our home. But, we are empowered now. Our children are empowered and the future is looking so much brighter.
If you are where we were, I strongly encourage you with a couple things. First, never give up fighting for resources. Those of us who are parents to kids with trauma see how beautiful they are inside. Trauma and mental health needs do not define our children. I am incredibly blessed by each and every one of my children. Trauma and mental health needs creates barriers that, without help, take away the joy and gift of relationships. It steals the most from our kids and, as parents, we fight to take that ground back. The second is, do not do this journey alone. If I had not been around other foster and adoptive parents, I would not have known about our counselor. Doing life with other people that encourage you and also help share resources with you is life-giving. If you need help finding connections or resources, please reach out. There is light out there. You do not have to stay lost in the trees.
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CEO Foster Arizona/ Foster Arizona Housing Project