Book Review:Skin Deep by Casey Watson

I just finished reading a another amazing fostering memoir by author Casey Watson. It came out last year I think and I just never got around to reading it.

In this story eight year old Felipa Phlip comes to the Watsons after a housefire that was accidently caused by her alcoholic mom.

The family knew that Phlip did have FAS, Fetal Alchol Syndrome caused by the effects of drinking on an unborn child.

This lead to learning difficulties and behavior problems and extremely difficulty with empathy and forming attachments.

Social services thought that the behavior program Mike and Casey do would be great for this child.

When she gets out of the car holding “pink Barbie” her first words to Casey are “New Mummy, am I ugly?”

This statement is at the core of Phlip’s personality/ self-esteem and issues. Right away she put Casey in the Mummy role, seemingly to brush aside her birth mum right away. Casey decided to roll with it.

Right off Phlip was beyond challenging. The second thing she did was take a poo in the backyard! Her soiling issues were a daily struggle and took a long time to settle. A lot of it was cognitive not putting together that when she felt like needing the toilt she needed to actually go to the toilet.

Another behavior was screaming. Out of nowhere it seemed she’d just start up screaming a high pitched constant shrill peercing scream. Not really tantrums. Casey saw them as a way for her to get what she wanted at first. And then realized that at these times she was emotionally very out of control. Deep breathing was used to try to help with this. And other things to try to head off these episodes.

Some good changes helped Phlip get into a routine. They found a school that agreed to take her for a trial period. Said she could spend time in the “nurture group” I assume for children with behavioral problems. She connected with the teacher right away, connected not being quite the word. More like jumped in her lap and instantly glued herself to her side.

This behavior is said to be at the heart of FAS and it’s a struggle to try and tease out if Phlip could actually maintain attachments or if it was all surface. She was certainly motivated by toys and food.

Contact with her mother was arranged and went on for several weeks where she went with a support worker. It looked maybe like her mom might get her act together. But things hit a crisis point when her mom admitted that she just wanted Phlip in her life for the extra benefits! She traumatized Phlip by saying if Phlip wasn’t there she’d starve.

This took a long time to undo. A whole lot of Phlip’s feelings about herself were based on whether she was seen as pretty or ugly. When someone couldn’t do something for her, like when she had to leave her first school due to not having the resources to keep her there she was utterly convinced that the teacher thought she was ugly!

In spite of this deep rooted trauma based response over the months with Casey and her family Phlip started to do well. They weren’t sure if it was due to taking her off Ritalin for her ADHD. And the Dr. and Casey came to the conclusion that it’s beyond difficult to tell about this because she lacked a stable environment to figure out just what her baseline/ normal is. So the meds were done away with.

The soiling episodes eventually left due to the points program and her being more settled I think.

The best person in the family for her was Tyler. Who the family had decided to take on as a long term member of the family. He had been in care and so knew inside out what she was going through. And so they connected in ways that she couldn’t with anyone else.

Other things helped her reconnecting with a neighbor, the one motherly figure from her past,as well as her biological gramma did wonders for her. She also made a memory box which would be a tangible reminder of her life past and present.

As Phlip turned the corner and was doing so well the family was thinking of holding off on the search for a long term carer and letting phlip stay for however long. Shocking but good news was that social services had found a couple for Phlip. That was a perfect match for her. A couple who’s daughter died from drinking and drug use. Who devoted their life now to fostering FAS children.

Though Phlip seemed to have genuinely formed strong connections to the family and seemed way more emotionally attached, the appearance of a Barbie still was enough for her to jump right into the family almost not saying goodbye. I have a feeling she will have significant attachment issues like this throughout her life and more complex as the years go on. Triggers around her physical appearance would also be prominent for her.

I really enjoyed this story. I hope that the family were able to stay in touch with her and her family over the years. I also feel the book did a great job at describing FAS and the many issues it causes and how to address them as a long term one step forward two steps back kind of thing.

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