Healing Trauma Through Loving Relationships: Hope for Foster and Adoptive Families intertwines Fisher’s years of experience in foster/adoptive care with current social and neurological research to provide concrete and effective tools for working with traumatized children. A therapist, social worker, trainer, former foster parent, and current adoptive parent, Fisher provides unique insight into the world of foster/adoptive care and how we might strengthen our systems and families through a trauma-informed approach, shedding light on the vital role of loving relationships in ending generational cycles of trauma and helping children to heal.
Excerpt from Healing Trauma Through Loving Relationships:
It was a bitterly cold Thursday, early in 1992, when Sam came into our foster home with his older brother, Max. Sam was six, slight and blonde; Max was 12, sturdier and with dark hair. Because of Max’s behaviors, the two had been moved five times in two years in the system. Their circuitous, unstable path had led them from an emergency foster home to their maternal grandparents’ home; from there, they went on to spend six months in a county foster home, then six months in another; finally, they came into our home. We were designated as therapeutic, due to our willingness to take children with more presenting issues—often adolescents. The designation meant that we also had the additional weekly support of a case manager from the community mental health center. In other words, Sam and Max had been escalated to our home, after a bumpy road of failed placements. We hoped to keep them stable and safe for just a few months before they reunited with their father. Helping little Sam over the late-winter ice and into our ranch house, I had no premonition that this relationship would be transformative and forever for both of us.
Now, more than twenty years after that February afternoon, Sam, now my adopted son, and I sit talking on a family trip to Disneyworld. Our family is scattered now, but we have all descended on Florida together. Multiple generations of core family wander the theme park, some of us in mouse ears, some weighed down with backpacks of snacks and water, stopping so the youngest granddaughter can pose for a photograph with a Disney princess. Sam has joined us with his young wife and his child—his namesake, Sam Junior—a sturdy toddler who looks exactly like his father but has experienced a vastly different first two years. Attachment and trauma are not isolated events, and Sam’s story reflects both. There are different kinds of attachments and detachments, but every child who comes into the foster care system has attachment issues because they have experienced such profound losses. In other words, I might talk about attachment through the lens of a hundred other children, a thousand other experiences. I choose to tell Sam’s story because of how we approached attachment with this young man who would become such a definitive part of my heart and our family. Fostering attachment has been a part of my entire history in this field as a professional and as a parent, but with Sam every moment was intentional.
Here is Sam now: tall and strong, determined, lifting his son onto his lap. Speaking now of the last twenty years, what strikes me most is my hand, touching his shoulder as we talk, and everything that symbolizes between us—the careful, deliberate gestures of love and security that build attachment and relationship.
Sam is one of over 75 children that came into our home over the past 25 years. His story is not unlike the others. Dysfunction, loss and trauma all impact the children who enter the foster care system. My purpose, my goal was to learn and implement strategies to repair and restore these children so that as adults they have the ability to build healthy, lifelong relationships and break the cycle of abuse.
In order to best help the children placed in my care I learned about issues such as attachment, trauma and mental illness as well as gained the perspective that children express their needs through behaviors. In addition, I worked with many foster and adoptive families throughout the years. I began to understand that the principles of building attachments through kindness, nurturance and structure were also the principles that calmed the traumatized brain to bring healing. These principles work for all families, all children. I now see as my purpose assisting parents to address their own trauma in order to be most effective with children. As I work with individuals, parents and children, it is with great joy that I help individuals and families return to joy and positive, restorative relationships.