Book Review: The Luckiest Girl in the World by Steven Levencron

I finished reading what I feel is a really true to life account of one girl’s struggle with self-injury, its roots and the recovery process.

14 year old Katie is a high level skater. She’s been skating competitively since she was very young, coached on by her demanding and overbearing mother Catherine. Katie’s world is a strict routine of private coaching, practices, compititions, and schoolwork. She has no time for friends or anything else except the day in and day out regeme. All for what her mother calls “the dream” Right from the startit’s clear that it’s Catherine’s dream that is being lived out through Katie.

Katie is physically and emotionally tough she feels. Life is all about control. She has been told this by her mother all her life. Everything is “mind over matter.” She is not allowed to complain about any physical or emotional issue even her period. Which is why what’s been happening to her for the past two years is so terrifying. When Katie reaches an emotional breaking point her heart races and her mind “just leaves.” She calls this “ spacing out.” Katie quickly found a way to control this overwhelming experience. She cuts herself to focus her mind on the physical pain. This overpowers the emotional sensations that are so strong and brings her mind back where she is in control. She’s kept her cutting a secret and continues to plan to do so.

The pressure increases as her first big program is coming up. She is spaceing out more often and so is cutting more. She is very worried when a caring English teacher notices blood on her sleeve. Things come to a head one day after a very difficult practice. She spaces out and slams her hand in her locker door over and over again. She basically loses all control and has to be physically restrained. After this incident the school staff is painfully aware that Katie has a big problem. Being a private school and close knit some staff would rather “let her be someone else’s problem.” However the English teacher and other staff are in Katie’s corner. The school psychologist gives a half hearted assessment and then refers Katie to Sandy Sherman who has experience with teenagers.

Sandy (a male therapist) comes to Katie’s case with curiosity and knowledge that this will be a difficult situation. Katie lives under the thumb of a very overbearing mother who is resistant to Katie even being in therapy. The school had to threaten that they’d pull Katie’s scholarship in order for her mother to agree to it. Katie is used to pleasing adults and telling them what they want to hear and so is particularly walled off emotionally. From the first session however Sandy has moments of disarming Katie by anticipating what her reaction might be to his interventions and so saying things to throw her off guard. For example, Katie expected Sandy to ask her a lot of questions about why she does what she does when she doesn’t answer he’d tell her to leave. She is conflicted, a part of her thinking good I don’t need help! While another part is terrified and tired of carrying this on her own.

So Sandy talks a lot that first session. Most importantly showing her that he respects cutting as her only coping skill of the moment and that he won’t tell her to stop before she’s ready. That this is her choice in the end. And he talks about the general issue of cutting, why people do it and how hard it is to face feelings that cutting covers. This shocks Katie and she shows both tears and anger at that first meeting.

Their progress is extremely slow. One family session only goes to show Sandy how little support Katie has. Her parents divorced when Katie was very little. Her father came to the family session only to bash his wife. The session was a screaming match and ended with Katie in tears.

Katie is able to intelecutally talk about self-injury but not connect it to her own experience. It is extremely hard for her to admit to any feelings about skating or her family or anything.

Things pick up speed when her coach tells her he’s not working with her anymore. A sensitive man Ron didn’t believe in forcing kids to skate when it’s not fun anymore. After the incident at school though of course Katie or her mother didn’t tell Ron, he sensed Katie wasn’t able to continue to be a championship skater. At her next session Katie spaces out and cuts in Sandy’s office. Thus bringing the issue into the room and forging the relationsip between them.

With things out in the open Katie takes the risk and tells Sandy about spacing out. He clearly explains that this is a combination of an extreme anxiety attack and dissociation. And that with time and therapy she can overcome this. She now does write in a journal and shares some at sessions. Sandy brings in his dog and this adds another dimension of comfort as well as emotionally telling insights to the process.

As time goes by Sandy can see that Katie needs another push. And so he refers her to a teen therapy group. This is a process group of six teens all dealing with various issues from eating disorders to anger issues and there is another cutter in the group as well. This is huge for Katie as she never met anyone else who cut. The girls are extremely honest with each other and it is a safe space to share anything. It seems the progress Katie makes is twice as fast and intense with the group behind Sandy in helping her open up and face her feelings. It is in group that she reveals that her mother was physically abusive to her when she coached her as a child even breaking her ribs. Katie also has the experience of spacing out and then being brought back by Sandy’s insistence she focus on him.

One thing I wish could have been brought out further was the other girl’s reasons for cutting. Which were probably different from Katie’s though a similar internal process was occurring. It would show that everyone cuts for different reasons. Still it is perfectly clear the girls are like their own little family guided by Sandy’s firm but always compassionate hand to face their problems and get as much out in the open as possible.

In the end Katie faces her mother and the experience of just how far her cutting could push her. The book ends on a realistic note. With Katie having the experience of for once being scared by her cutting and how it could get out of control. As well as the slow realization of her need for independence and of her mother’s harmful side. She has the full support of Sandy, his dog, and the group members behind her. It’s clear that she’ll need much more therapy but that she’s on the right path to healing and self-discovery.

I felt the dialogue and therapy process in the book was very realistic. I felt the author did a great job of telling different sections of the book from different characters points of view. I recommend this book for anyone interested in self-harm, at least it’s one perspective on the situation. There could be a million books and you’d still have endless reasons for why people cut and what it means to them. But this is an unflinching account of the why and also most important the healing and what good care looks like. It should be noted as well that this book was written in 1996. I’m sure the author would have even more insights if it were written more recently. Look forward to your thoughts on this book!

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tired day

So today I was very tired. Was supposed to be part of a referral only DBT group here at Albany. Was just very grumpy and did not want to go! So after throwing several I don’t wanna go! Fits I didn’t go. LOL Then after lunch we had our room deep cleaned so had to sit in the dayroom on six. The only thing that brightened my day was seeing Kate my deaf friend and learning the sign for “how”

Then I came back and actually had a bit more energy and just did online stuff.

So yeah. Edith will probably not be happy with me for not going to DBT. I don’t want to go because it’s too early in the morning. And I don’t feel I need it as I no longer self-harm.

So yeah that was my day kinda all over the place. Oh and started reading another good book.

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Book Review: Boy in the Cupboard by Shane Dunphy

I just finished another amazing Shane Dunphy book. I recommend all of these books to psychology or social work students or professionals. But especially students or those thinking about going into the field as it candidly addresses the ethical/ professional as well as emotional/ personal issues of being a social worker or working in the mental health field.

In this book Shane is working on a couple of very tough cases. The first is with a boy named Letovi. He’s part of a Romanian family. Shane is called in because the boy is hoarding food and is very isolated from the other children at his preschool. Shane makes a quick and insensitive assessment of the mother as just being too lazy to give her kid lunch/ breakfast ETC. After talking to someone more versed in Romanian culture and the possible struggles of the family entering this country fleeing persecution and possible gang violence, Shane is much more able to connect with the family and want to help. He starts by getting the family a new couch as the one they have is literally falling apart and it’s the only bed in the house. He connects with Letovi through learning some basic Romanian and in this way builds a bridge of communication and establishes himself as an ally.

Things become very complicated however when Letovi comes to the preschool extremely physically injured beaten and with a broken arm. Of course Shane suspects the husband but is convinced by his wife and others who know the culture of gang violence that this was a gang related incident. That The father is involved in gang activity which is it’s whole other underworld and culture. Shane perhaps foolishly jumps into this world aided by an odd ex-criminal turned child protection worker, and discovers a world filled with danger but also where deep alliances are formed. Even when the violence affects him personally he fights for this desperate and fragile family.

His second case envolves Edgar. He’s living at a residential home. His mother is continuously neglecting him and he’s been in and out of care. Edgar is extremely hard to handle as he’ll do anything possible to push people away. From making nasty comments to destroying their personal property. Shane is determined to connect with Edgar. This case also touches him as his colleague Melanie has not been able to make much of an impact and feels she has failed. Shane is met with Edgar’s manipulative and unemotional nature. Looking at the case from an attachment perspective it’s possible Edgar has an attachment disorder. The signs of unemotionality, lack of remorse, manipulation destroying property ETC are all very much present. Shane though very annoyed at Edgar’s antics continues to try and connect with the boy.

They find a surprising opening in Edgar’s love of history. They come upone the story of a saint of a local church. This saint Oliver was beheaded for whatever crimes he committed. Edgar somehow identifies with him and says he must be sad and lonely. In this way he’s able to let shane a little into his world.

The story of Edgar sadly doesn’t have a happy ending as Shane feels that even though he tried his best Edgar isn’t capable of forming relationships.

A subplot envolves his colleague Melanie and her spiral into alcoholism and depression. Shane pulls her out just in time and is able to witness her pain of child abuse she herself had dealt with. It shows how as someone in the mental health field you have to watch out for your own demons coming up and often you need an outside perspective a friend who knows the emotional hazards of the job to help you keep from burning completely out.

These stories explore cultural issues, attachment disorder, and the personal toll this job can take on someone silently struggling with their own issues. Again I feel there are important lessons in the details of each story for those studying at any level. I feel this way about all of Shane’s books and feel they should be required reading in entry level classes.

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upset that I haven’t seen my therapist in three weeks

So I’m very disappointed and upset that I haven’t seen Jonathan in three weeks. For everyone that follows this blog you probably know that he’s the clinical director of this facility. He normally doesn’t have the time to meet with residents on a weekly basis. There are a few he does meet with and he tries so hard to make himself available for everyone when needed. Which is probably why he gets so busy he loses track of so many things. Anyway originally we started working together because we really needed to address the self injury. And I really didn’t even want to go to therapy anyway. So I met with him, he said I could call them “chat sessions”. Well needless to say about three months in I knew I was in a relationship with an amazing therapist! So I’ve stuck with him.

There have been many periods however where he suddenly has become unreachable. Either you can’t get him to respond about when I can see him. Or he never is around at the time he’s planned. Or as I said you basically just can’t get ahold of him. During these times I’ve nearly backed out. I even talked to another outside therapist about working with her and was encouraged by my friends to do this. Because he was just plain not responding. But it’s been so hard for me to connect with professionals and open up. That starting a new relationship terrified me. So I ended up meeting with him and asked straight up if he could still be my therapist even though he has the responsibilities of clinical director and he said yes.

So I do of course try to keep in mind that he has responsibility for everything mental health related here. At the moment we’re changing licenses and I can’t imagine the amount of work involved in that. Plus his assistant is out on medical leave and they don’t yet have a permanent replacement. I do get that.

However as those of you who are clients know, you’re gonna get really mad at your therapist. For a number of reasons about anything. And certainly not showing up when expected and not even making contact is really upsetting. It’s a natural reaction when in this type of intimate relationship where you’re depending on the person as a caretaker. For the past few weeks I have written him the day before/ day of to confirm meetings. We try to at lunch the day of find him to confirm. Often we’ve done this to find out he’s not even in the building. Like today we found out he was at a seminar. I understand with last minute stuff. But come on you can’t tell me that this seminar was last minute! Why didn’t he just write me or text just to let me know himself. I think one week very last minute he did send a text saying can’t meet today but when asked had no response on when we could meet.

Like I said I know the cause of all this. And I know this will end eventually and we’ll go back to meeting. But still. There’s so much that’s happened where I’ve needed him and he’s not been there. Like when Jess was in the hospital I couldn’t contact him all that week. Even left crying messages on his phone. When I had the dentist and was anxious couldn’t contact him. There’s stuff going on with a family member at the end of her life and just out of control family dynamics there that I’d like to discuss. I just heard about some horrific things that recently happened to one of my best friends. Like basically they were at a shooting! They’re not hurt but you know very scary!

So yeah was feeling really bad after lunch when I found out. Took two naps which helped. Like my morning and then afternoon nap. So yeah just want to vent about that. I did send him a long e-mail expressing all my feelings. I know he won’t respond he stopped responding to e-mails and phone calls long ago in our treatment. I’m just hoping one of these days we can track him down and actually schedule something.

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considering singing again!

Hi everyone,

So a huge development for me over the past week or so is that I’ve been really wanting to get back into singing. Yeah you heard it! Sam wants to start singing again! This is like a huge therapy goal, well from the perspective of my therapist and staff and jess!

Singing was such a part of my identity since high school. I didn’t have any kind of hobby until chorus in seventh grade. I had serious pitch matching issues, due to no music at home and a lot of tention in my throat but actually had no idea I sounded bad! LOL.

Then the chorus director gently well pointed it out to me, and suggested voice lessons. I got hooked up with Indian Hill music center. I highly recommend it. It’s a community music school in Littleton. Open to anyone from early childhood on up. They literally have something for everyone. All the latest stuff related to early childhood music education, summer music camps, private lessons in all instruments, musicals that get put on twice a year, plenty of informal recitals, the hospice choir ETC. I think now they even have a music therapist.

Anyway so I started there with an amazing patient teacher. We really hit it off and she was not only my voice teacher but a huge important role model and mother type figure in my life in a way. We recently reconnected I found her on linked in. Both our lives have changed dramatically and ironically both of us have kind of gone the opposite direction of singing for different reasons. Still she’ll always carry a special place within me.

Anyway so during that time I really loved the whole thing. Even when it was hard clearing up my pitch issues and learning different technical issues I enjoyed progress. I enjoyed working hard on songs and then singing at recitals and yes people telling me I’d done well! I was a strong supporter of all the singers there. As it was a community music school environment there was to my knowledge no competition at all between us and we all were as I said very much supportive. There was tention between different teachers, like the one that lead the voice department was umm kinda controlling. But yeah I guess that goes with the territory.

When I left high school/ community college I had to leave Indian hill. I tried to find some voice teachers in Cambridge but they weren’t that great. This one was ok until she started getting on me for not practicing and kept holding my neck in this uncomfortable position while I sang that was supposed to be the right way to have your posture. I just felt like someone was trying to wash my hair in the sink or something with my head far back like that.

So yeah. Then I saw a grad student for one lesson that was interesting. Talk about uptight. Just yeah. She said the only way I could become a good singer was to sing Italian songs. So yeah didn’t really agree.

Then somehow I found voice movment therapy and Deborah crane. And my whole life changed LOL! Seriously it did. Not at first. I just saw it as something interesting to do. I really didn’t see much difference between VMT and voice lessons. As this is an overview of my singing journey I’m not gonna go into it but we’ll just say that VMT is more about exploring yourself psychologically/ emotionally/ physically through your voice. As well as exploring different vocal components which impacts on yourself. So not about performance or hiding behind characters, which I insisted on for a long time. I’m quite stubborn and spent a long time escaping from my emotions by pretending to be people in the song. It took awhile to realize that by connecting with my emotions in the moment it improved my acting.

There was a turning point with the two of us where I stopped fighting the therapy part. And saw the difference between that and voice lessons. And got emotional one day when stuff was just too much. And that was an opening for me to actually do therapy that was really powerful. Our relationship was and is the foundation of our work. VMT training aside Deborah is just plain a good therapist. She has healthy boundaries and yet cares so deeply about the people she’s with. I’ve seen her work with others in the same compassionate intuitive manner it’s really amazing actually.

Anyway we worked together for like three years. And my voice really improved without me really thinking that much about it. So did my ear for the different aspects of the work. She had me listen to videos of people talking or singing and pick out different aspects/ components of the person’s voice. Which ones were stronger or weaker, how the person’s voice made me feel. I loved that aspect of things and still find myself going back to it in my mind when listening to a voice.

But then I moved in 2012. It was very sad. Deborah and I decided to never say goodbye. I stay in touch periodically. I write when I need to she responds when she can. It works out. I know she’ll always be a part of my life in one way or another. She’s said that she has this intuitive sense that we’re not finished with each other in terms of working in person. I hope she’s right! I trust her deeply and would love to work together again.

So while here I really haven’t been able to find much in terms of voice related stuff. A huge part of that is money. At Friedman I only had $90 a month plus stuff from my parents which fluctuates. I think I went to a music therapist for a few sessions but she really didn’t do much voice stuff. Some do some don’t. I researched Vocal psychotherapy while in school, a whole other branch of things. Too bad the founder is in NY so that’s where the others are for now.

So the singing I did I did on my own. But I still loved it. I was proud to help co-lead a choir with another resident. I used my skills there as a singer and well someone with a good ear for voice I guess.

I remember the last time I sang. Another member of the choir and I were rehearsing something on our own so it would be better in place for the next time the small group met. She had a beautiful voice and we blended so well.

Four or five days later I had the seizure and everything shattered.

My identity was just gone. I felt empty and lost and like I wasn’t myself anymore. Jonathan clarified after some careful assessment that it was more that I’d lost all my passions singing being a huge one.

For awhile I just saw no point. Just connecting with people was hard enough. For awhile, I wasn’t sure about life and whether or not I wanted to stick around. But then once I got going living first for others sake, and then my own singing was still a question mark. It’s hard to put into words why. Maybe it’s because if I get this part of my identity back it will mean I’m really healing. And that’s so scary to think about. Because a part of me is afraid I could lose everything again. I think maybe I’m afraid of the power singing will have, as it has in my days with Deborah, to unlock emotions in a way all the therapy I’ve had since the breakdown can’t. I guess it’s a mix of things. One being the concrete evidence of not having been singing. I get halfway through a simple song, (when no one is around to be like OMG you’re singing!) and my jaw is really tight and I’m physically tired.

I also think I’ve lost everything I gained over the years of singing and would have to like start over physically. Like I know mentally all that goes into singing I don’t have a memory block. But physically getting it back into my voice sounds daunting. The whole thing does especially the emotional effects if any.

I was listening to old recordings of my recitals and things and realized how much richer my life would be if I sang again. So I searched for a teacher. Someone who had a solid technical background but would be patient and compassionate enough to know about the emotional aspects of singing.

I found one woman who seemed ok. Rachel.

Then I scrolled down and found this site.

I looked over her site. I especially think it’s cool she was in MA and moved to Chicago like me. Her brand of teaching sounds like what I’m looking for.

So I contacted her. She was as warm and approachable as on the site. Of course money is the big issue as always. Considering there are some family issues right now around a very sick family member I hesitate to ask my mom for more money. She gave me $100 about a month ago. That money somehow turned into pizza subs and snacks! So it’s gone yeah we went kinda overboard with ordering out. But it was very much necessary at the time, i.E literally nothing picky Sam would eat for meals and so she was in danger of almost passing out. Really it happens.

So I’m back and forth. I think we can get the money together. She has this offer where a person could go for an hour and a half for the price of one lesson. This would give us a good chance to see what this has to offer and how we work together. There’s no way I could go every week and no way she would be able to accept the small amount I could pay her so I could afford to go every week. Not sure I could even afford to go two weeks. Which is I guess why the hour and a half thing is good.

Already I’m going back and forth about it. Just don’t know if it’s worth doing or if I’ll like it or get scared off or what.

I think it will be like the NRS thing where I’ll go back and forth and drive people nuts.

But yeah so that’s a big interesting development in my life.

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dentist went well!

Hey everyone,

Just wanted to quickly update that the dentist actually went awesome. I know taking an ativan helped. The worst part was actually the waiting room. OMG. So it’s like pretty small. We had all these weird people from another facility there. One woman was talking about having 14 cavities ahh! Anyway they were all kinda obnoxious. There was this stupid game show on and they were kinda playing along with it. It was just so irritating. There was someone ahead of me and so I was worried they’d never get to me and I just wanted it over with.

Finally they did get to me. And she was really nice and gentle. Jess sat right there at the foot of the chair. She says next time she should tickle me next time. Anyway they didn’t even have to numb me. I guess they drilled but it didn’t hurt at all. Then just put the filling stuff in which tasted like Styrofoam. The worst part was not eating or drinking for an hour after mostly drinking as I was very thirsty. Other than that came home and ordered out pizza!

So all that anxiety for nothing. Story of my life!

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night before the dentist


So it’s almost nine. I’m doing ok actually. Anxious but wanting so much to get it over with. Which is why though I am amazed the doctor would do the consultation it’s best to just get it done and have people talk me through it.

I’m hoping it won’t take long and won’t hurt or feel weird after. At least both cavities are on the right side of my mouth so I have a whole other side of my mouth to chew and such if it hurts later.

I know Jess will be there all the way which makes it better. Edith dropped off paperwork that we will need.

I was very upset that Jonathan couldn’t meet with me this afternoon. I know he has a ton of admin stuff to do especially as his assistant is on leave. So Edith did come have a good check in tonight which was nice. I’m so happy to have her in my life.

Really not much else to say. Just hoping for the best tomorrow.

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still nervous about the dentist but know what to expect


So my mom kept her promise and called and talked with the dentist today.

Apparently she’s not Spanish. My mom says she sounds Indian. But my mom was still able to have a great conversation with her. My mom for all her issues is great at getting stuff done. She told her about me and that I’m blind and very anxious about stuff. She amazingly offered that the upcoming appointment could be a consultation where she brought out props of teeth what a cavity feels like (fake obviously!) and the different stuff she’d be doing. So I’d have that and the actual appointment later.

As much as I’d love a lesson on how to fill cavities since I’d then come home and start drilling away, we really want to get this over with. Especially Jess as she’s getting tired of hearing Jess I don’t want to go! I’d have the appointment learn all about cavities and still be anxious for another couple weeks or however long.

My mom walked me through it over the phone. How they prenumb you with Jell then do the novacaine. Then do the very loud drilling which is the worst part. Jess is gonna have to cover my ears! I’ll just bury my head in my stuftie I’m taking. Then they fill it and that’s it. My mouth will just feel weird for awhile.

Sounds simple but I know I’ll still be a crying anxious mess. Who knows maybe I’ll be totally chilled out from ativan.

I’m glad my mom talked to her and thinks she’s nice. It’s good to know my mom is there for me with stuff like this.

I’m really sad though that I’m not gonna learn how to drill people’s teeth LOL!

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long but good day!


Today was very long. We left for Oakton community college at ten thirty. We got there and Jess did some talking with financial aid. Then we had lunch in their cafeteria that has awesome but expensive food. We got cheeseburger for Jess chicken fingers for me two orders of fries doughnuts and drinks and sadly all that cost
$16! We think next time we won’t get two orders of fries.

Then we went and met with Kate the disability coordinator. She had a nice quiet office and was a very caring person. She said that they’ve had a lot of blind students as well as deaf students. I said I might want to take an acting class but thought the professor would have a heart attack knowing that a blind person wanted to do this. She actually said she would see what she could do if I wanted to do that. I said I had a deaf friend and wanted to take their ASL class. That she said she didn’t think would be possible but she wasn’t like overly shocked that I’d want to learn this. It was awesome to be a helpful little sister and bring up things that might help Jess do her best at school. They were both open to my ideas. I discovered that the school seems to handle psychiatric disabilities with compassion and wanting to do the best for students.

After this Jess went and took her placement math test. I was very happy I didn’t have to participate in this because I hate math! Really hate math! So I sat in the nice waiting area going over my ASL letters from the Book the everything sign language book. It’s on bookshare and seems to have good descriptions of how to do the letters. I couldn’t hold my hand the right way by my face because there were others there and I didn’t want them to think I was weird or anything so I did it all in my lap. Which is a bad habbit because then I forget when I’m with my friend and try to sign that she can’t see it unless I hold my hand by the side of my face make sure I’m turned towards her with my palm facing her. But anyway at least I’m practicing the fingers in the right positions. Soon my fingers got stiff from playing twister so I decided to give it a rest. By that time Jess had finished the test.

Then she went for a meeting with her advisor. This time I started reading a book called Deaf blind reality where people wrote in about their experiences with being deafblind. So that was kinda cool.

So Jess has had a full day of school stuff. We’re gonna come back in two weeks to do more forms. She’s gonna take two summer classes math and history. Sorry I hate both subjects so can’t help. I’m happy to be the little sister shadow.

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Book Review: The Boy No one Loved by Casey Watson

Hi everyone,

I just finished reading the boy no one loved by Casey Watson. Well actually rereading as I first read it on kindle and now on bookshare. It will be awesome when harper audio gets it in gear and gets all of Casey’s books in audio so I can listen that way as well. I strongly believe you get different experiences from reading a book in different formats and believe as many as possible should be accessible.

Anyway this is the first of Casey’s books. It’s the story of Casey and her family and their journey with Justin, their first foster child. In the book Casey explains how she was a special education teacher for years in a behavioral unit. And then wanting more one on one time with children rather than in a group setting dealing more with paperwork than the kids. She stumbled upon an add for becoming a foster parent. This is a specific kind of fostering. In the UK ( and perhaps in the US I don’t know) there is respite fostering, short term, long term ETC.

This is considered specialized fostering where a child who has not done well in previous placements is placed with carers trained in a behavioral modification program. It’s basic behavior management. Rewarding good behavior and having consequences for the bad through a points system. As I’ve read more about foster care and current experiences of parents who look after such children I’ve read that such behavioral modification systems don’t work for many. That many children don’t have cause and effect wired into their brains. Or will manipulate the system.

However this was at the time the newest advancement on how to work with such children. The hope being in a year the child would go through the various levels targeting more and more complex positive behavior which would earn more priviliges. Of course life isn’t all about the earning of points. The heart of any fostering/ child raising is having a loving family. Which Casey and her family know they can provide. When Justin comes they’re anxious but know they have gone through all the training.

Justin comes to the Watsons after twenty failed placements! He was put in care at the age of five. This was after he and his brothers were found outside his house having been burned down and there being no sign of his mother. His mother is a drug addict and has had a huge string of boyfriends around. Justin grew up in such a depth of neglect, physical emotional and sexual abuse, often having to take care of his brothers when there was no food at all. At the age of five he was completely emotionally lost and so damaged.

He bounced around various foster parents, and children’s homes. His mother had a patern of manipulating social services to get him back in her care when a new boyfriend was around. She’d sahy that she’d changed and then very quickly end up turning on him emotionally and physically. For some reason she treated him this way, but his younger brothers were spared. You would think that based on the home life alone that all children would be removed however this wasn’t the case.

So by the time Justin arrives at the Watsons it’s no wonder he comes with a huge list of behavioral issues that he’s used just to survive. These include severe anxiety around mealtimes, exactly when and what will be served. Scary anger outbursts over the slightest correction. Severe self-harm. Fighting in school, and generally being difficult to be around. Justin it’s clear from the start could be gentle funny and polite one minute, then in a rage doing such things as smashing up his room, pointing a knife at Casey, physically aggressive towards the new family dog ETC. After he would be very remorseful.

Casey was shocked at first at the wide variety of behaviors she had to tackle. More important than the points system she realized was her instincts with working with children and getting them to open up. When she discovers his self harm Casey gently confronts him. This opens up a pandora’s box of memories of Justin’s traumatic past including severe sexual abuse. Casey is a calm witness though has to contain her horror and rage at how could a mother allow such harm to come to her child? Getting to the root of Justin’s PTSD, and seeing the behaviors as his way of just getting by day to day gives Casey strength and the ability to put in place the boundaries with the knowledge that Justin is a hurting child who does want to heal.

John Fulshaw is The watson’s link worker. He is the go between in the system between the family and Justin’s social worker in getting supports put in place. Because Justin has no social skills (a birthday party and sleep over show that socially he is at a preschool level at age twelve) John gets support workers to come out and do activities with him. After many anger outbursts including Mike having to restrain justin from injuring himself anger management counseling is put into place.

This proves very instrumental with Justin. As he is intelligent and can be quite insingtful, he has emotional depth and truly wants to heal. So the sessions do help him get to the roots of his anger and put the blame where it belongs on his mother, rather than internalizing what happened or projecting it on to everyone else. With these supports in place Justin starts to really blossom. He does very well at school and continues to move up the points levels.

Meanwhile it’s shown how Justin fits into family life. There are ups and downs but Justin’s healing is extremely inreched by the all members of the family, Casey’s older son and daughter welcoming him with open arms. During Justin’s time there Riley has her first child and this brings out a gentleness in him that is so touching to watch.

Before they know it Justin has graduated the program having made a complete turn around on so many behaviors. His celibration is one of the most touching scenes in the whole book.

Sadly the core of his issues has to do with attachment. Having had such early trauma caused him to have difficulty bonding to anyone and learning how relationships work. How one gets their needs met by a mother figure and so on. This was made ten times worse by all the moves he made. So as the program was finished plans were made right away for him to go to a mainstream foster carer. This was extremely heart wrenching for everyone. Casey and Mike considering keeping Justin so that he didn’t have to go through another traumatic move. But after much deliberation they realized that if they were going to comit to this kind of fostering they had to accept that when the child had completed the requirements of the program, they moved on and another child came to them.

Intelectually they understood this but to see Justin emotionally withdraw, start exhibiting old unhealthy behaviors and admit that he wants to do the program over again just to stay with them it breaks their hearts. Justin does move on to another foster home. But his inability to bond is something that is said continued to be a problem.

I feel that aspect is something for social services to consider when setting up the different levels of foster care. Ideally one would get a child and they’d be in placement until they no longer needed to be in care. Sadly though I don’t understand the system at all it seems that the reality is children end up bouncing from foster parents back to birth parents. Then in the UK they have a model with these different levels of fostering that a child might experience which makes developing a secure attachment almost imposible. I feel that social services should make it a goal to focus more on providing support for carers so they’re more able to support a child through the long haul rather than that child constantly being moved. Getting rid of negative behaviors brings the child a long way towards a healthy life. But if they see caregivers as temporary then they’ll never fully trust someone to be there allthere as a constant. And this will be a major wound to their developing any kind of healthy future relationships.

I highly recommend this book and look forward to discussing it with you all.

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