Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Safe Place

Families Together is the Museum’s therapeutic visitation program, providing a safe space for parents and children who have been separated by the Family Court due to abuse or neglect. Program clinician Amanda Grandchamp shared this story of one family’s growth.
As a clinician for the Museum’s Families Together program, I facilitate a series of visits between parents and their children who have been legally separated by the Family Court due to abuse or neglect. I observe and assess parent/child relationships and skills as well as provide case management, feedback and support. Almost forgot to mention one thing…I get to PLAY!

This is a story – one story – of a family’s growth during their time at the Museum.

In the beginning there was CHAOS. Two young girls ran around the Museum in opposite directions, laughing as their mother chased after them. I went one way, Mom the other. We rounded them up. A few minutes later the scenario repeated itself. This wasn’t the last time either. RULES. Together Mom and I set expectations for the girls. Stay together and follow Mom’s directions. Over time they were able to recite them. Following them, another story. Testing the limit, absolutely.

TEARS. The bond this family shares is incredible. There is no way to count the number of times they tell one another “I love you” during a visit. Or how many times the girls refer to their mother as “my best Mom.” It is many. Their emotions may OVERWHELM them, become exhausting or paralyzing. Situations are INTENSE. A time-out may involve crying, screaming, hitting, kicking, biting, throwing things. When that time-out is finished, there is a possibility another will follow shortly. MORE TEARS. SADNESS. SMILES…SMILES?

POSITIVE DISCIPLINE. Mom and I had a number of conversations about redirecting behavior. We also discussed “1, 2, 3 Magic,” a technique for giving consequences like time-outs. With repeated effort, practice and consistency, Mom’s effectiveness blossomed. Effectiveness led to a boost in self-esteem and positive experiences. Mom works hard. The girls respond well.

SAFETY. When you’ve endured traumatic experiences, everything is about being safe. Descending a ladder. Sitting in a chair. Playing safely. Staying with Mom. Feeling safe with Mom. Mom and I taught the girls about being safe. Now they remind other children in the Museum to be safe, too.

LAUGHING. SILLINESS. MORE LAUGHING. LOVE. Mom becomes more comfortable working with me and with the atmosphere of the Museum. She is content being silly. In the ship in Coming to Rhode Island, when the girls least expect it, Mom suddenly makes the sound of a caged rooster. They all howl with laughter. In Littlewoods, the girls become wild skunks, spraying Mom and me, shrieking with laughter. In Water Ways, the girls become excited when water shoots and sprays everywhere, including in Mom’s face and mine. But that doesn’t matter, water soon dries. And in Play Power, not even using the exhibit! Enjoying their special time together, Mom trails the girls, saying she is hungry, pretending to eat them. I am sure their laughter echoed throughout the Museum. It is nice to see the girls and their Mom smile. They must notice I am smiling as well.

PLAY. For 90 minutes, this family plays together amidst the magic of the Museum. There are sad times, there are happy times, there are difficult times, all as expected. Their journey does not end here. All families are unique, but it's families like this we don’t forget and families like this it hurts to remember.


Anonymous said...

Amazing Amanda. Love the personalized story.... such a valuable resource, would that all DCYF involved families, scratch that, all families had the opportunity and took the opportunity to do this together. What a great way to create and heal relationships. You explained it beautifully, I felt like I was running along side (getting wet too). Thanks again!

Valerie Haggerty-Silva (Graphic Designer, Providence Children's Museum) said...

Wow! This gives a better appreciation and a bigger perspective on the kinds of things that go on in that amazing program. What a powerful story to share. Amanda, thank you for your commitment to this family and all of the others that you work with.