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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