The breakthrough came through crochet.
Like many girls who have suffered abuse or neglect, Kacy didn’t want to talk to a counselor. At just 10 years old, she had come to our Youth Villages Girls Center for Intensive Residential Treatment for intensive help in a safe setting. She hadn’t been successful in other places, but she wasn’t doing too well with us either.
Youth Villages helps girls in all our programs, but our Girls Center was opened in 2009 specifically because of the lack of effective help for girls with the most severe emotional and behavioral issues. Like many of the girls who come to us, Kacy hurts herself — cutting her skin with any sharp object, even attempting suicide. That’s a common way that girls respond to trauma.
Children usually don’t respond to trauma the way we think they should. Trauma, just like any stress, can trigger “flight or fight” responses. But, girls and young children most often freeze rather than fight or flee. They don’t act out; they act in, disassociating from the world around them. They can look calm and be compliant. It may be some time before their self-harm, destructive behaviors or just withdrawal draw attention.
In the last 10 years or so, we’ve learned a lot about how the brain works in children and youth who bear the mental scars of trauma. When your brain is constantly in the flight, fight or freeze mode, it’s impossible to think clearly. The cognitive part of the brain has shut down. In order to reach Kacy with trauma-informed interventions, our therapist had to get her brain to open up during a human interaction – something the young girl had learned to fear.
You can’t force treatment on a child who has shut down. Counselors must take a step back and find creative and unique ways to engage. As it turned out, the young girl loved to crochet. The needles can be dangerous, and Kacy’s crochet time was very limited at the center.
The counselor told Kacy she could crochet all she wanted during their trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy sessions. That made the difference. As her fingers clicked away, Kacy was able to talk to her therapist and listen. In each session, she learns a new “skill”: relaxation, breathing, mindfulness. These are techniques that will help her be able to “self-regulate” — control herself when she is stressed by life situations like going home or back into a regular classroom.
Helping girls is different from helping boys. To get the best outcomes, to help girls live successfully in their homes and communities, counselors use everything we know about the brain and the most effective trauma-informed practices. It doesn’t hurt to know a little crochet, too.
Tim Goldsmith, Ph.D., is chief clinical officer at Youth Villages, where he directs a staff of clinical specialists who oversee the treatment of more than 23,000 children and youth every year.
This month, rock superstar Steven Tyler announced Janie’s Fund, a philanthropic partnership with Youth Villages to bring hope and healing for many of our country’s most vulnerable girls who have suffered the trauma of abuse and neglect.
All parents have moments when they wish they could consult with an expert. If you have a question about your tween or teen’s behavior, send it to DrTim@youthvillages.org. If Dr. Tim and his staff of experts feature your question in a column, he’ll change names and other specifically identifying information.
Scarlett, 16, hopped on the living room couch with a cookie and a glass of milk. She brushed her hair out of her face and giggled.
“When I first moved into Jack and Christie’s foster home, I was very quiet,” Scarlett said. “I kept to myself and had a horrible temper.”
Scarlett faced abandonment in her biological home. She lived with numerous foster parents and experienced a failed adoption.
“She had a hard time developing positive and trusting relationships,” said Tara Shepherd, Scarlett’s Youth Villages counselor. “She was introverted, self-harming and angry.”
But with Jack and Christie Barton, Scarlett experienced a loyal relationship for the first time.
“She was adopted into an open-minded, nonjudgmental and loving forever family,” Tara said. “After a few months with them, Scarlett blossomed.”
Jack and Christie provide Scarlett with unfailing support. They meet with a physician to maintain a healthy balance of medication. They look for new ways to help increase her confidence.
“Scarlett has an exceptionally good sense of humor and she is witty,” Christie said. “She is fun to be around and we encourage her to be herself.”
Scarlett used to hide behind her long black hair. She wouldn’t speak to anyone unless her hair covered most of her face.
“Every time we spoke, we reminded her that we wanted to see her pretty face,” Christie said. “After a while, she didn’t feel the need to hide anything.”
Scarlett’s temper tantrums lasted for days when she entered Jack and Christie’s home. Now, she draws, journals and writes fan fiction to cope with her emotions in a healthy way.
“She’ll always have stability here,” Jack said. “She will attend the same school for more than one year for the first time in her life. She’ll go to prom, graduate and receive her diploma with these classmates.”
Scarlett’s personality shines with Jack and Christie’s encouragement. Their stable home allows her to be confident and comfortable in her own skin.
“My attitude and behavior have improved because Christie and Jack accept me for who I am,” Scarlett said. “They treat me well, they’re honest and I can trust them.”
Kat was quiet and lacked confidence when she entered Angie’s foster home. She was depressed and didn’t care about her future.
“Angie has had a very positive influence on Kat,” said Kristyn Vanderland, Kat’s Youth Villages counselor. “They formed a quick bond and have a lot in common.”
After being neglected and abused for years in her biological home, Kat craved positive attention. Angie has two older daughters who no longer live at home. With an empty house and an open heart, Angie is committed to supporting Kat.
“It is exactly what Kat needs,” said Elena Tanase, Youth Villages adoption specialist. “She receives the attention she has long deserved while also gaining supportive siblings.”
Since living with Angie, Kat’s depression has improved. She excels in school and gains more confidence each day. With their laid-back personalities and a similar sense of humor, Kat and Angie enjoy quality time together.
“Kat has done great in her new home,” Elena said. “She couldn’t wait for the adoption.”
Kat’s adoption was celebrated with her new family and Youth Villages team. They threw a party with cake and gave Kat a special bouquet of flowers.
“Watching the change in Kat has been amazing,” Kristyn said. “She has come out of her shell and her outlook on life has changed completely.”
Kat will attend community college next fall. She hopes to pursue a master’s degree in business administration.
“Kat is resilient and dreams big,” Elena said. “With Angie’s love and support, we are confident that Kat’s dreams are within her reach.”
Abrianne, 8, Clifton, 7, and Breanna, 4, were born into the foster care system. Their biological mother abused drugs and neglected them. After a time in foster care, they moved back into their mother’s home but the environment had not improved.
“They were placed in three different foster homes after that,” said Jenna Fulcher-Thompson, Youth Villages adoption specialist. “The children were being defiant toward the foster parents and had high energy levels. They were difficult to handle.”
Abrianne, Clifton and Breanna had never experienced the stability of a forever family. But when Youth Villages staff found foster parents Jessica and Ken, the siblings’ home life changed for the better.
“Jessica and Ken fell in love with the children right away,” Jenna said. “They treated them as their own from the moment the kids were first placed in their home.”
As the children transitioned into their new home, Jessica and Ken were not deterred by difficult behavior. Instead, they were committed to creating a comfortable and positive environment for the siblings. With patience and support, the children’s behavior improved.
“Jessica and Ken were able to build a relationship with them,” Jenna said. “With that relationship as a foundation, the kids responded well to their care and structure.”
Adopting the three siblings was a simple decision for Jessica and Ken. Only 10 days after they signed an intent to adopt, the family was celebrating the adoption finalization with extended family and Youth Villages staff. There was a party with cake, ice cream and gifts.
“Everyone was all smiles,” Jenna said. “You could see the close bond between the children and their new family as they sat together and hugged throughout the morning.”
Jessica and Ken have always been eager to provide a loving and caring home for children. Their passion for adoption has been key to the success of Abrianne, Clifton and Breanna. Thanks to Youth Villages, Jessica and Ken, these children have found their forever family.
“Jessica and Ken have provided the love and care these children needed,” Jenna said. “It is because of their permanent home and unconditional love that Abrianne, Clifton and Breanna have made such positive changes.”
Musician Steven Tyler announced today the launch of his new signature philanthropic initiative to help girls who have been abused and neglected: Janie’s Fund.
A partnership with private nonprofit Youth Villages, Janie’s Fund will raise money and awareness to help Youth Villages provide trauma-informed care and experiential therapies to girls who have histories of being abused and/or neglected.
Tyler’s hit song “Janie’s Got a Gun,” originally released Nov. 8, 1989, was born out of a growing desire to speak up for victims of child abuse. Each year, 1 in 5 girls in the United States experiences sexual abuse.
“As a father and grandfather, I want to focus my energy on things that really matter and leave behind something else in this crazy world along with my music,” Tyler said. “I am starting Janie’s Fund to give a voice to the millions of victims who haven’t had one and encourage everyone to join me on this mission.”
Janie’s Fund kicks off with “54 days of impact” running from Nov. 8, the 26th anniversary of the release of “Janie’s Got a Gun,” through the end of the year. Anyone who signs up to support Janie’s Fund during these 54 days becomes a founding member of the fund and receives limited-edition merchandise from Tyler. Fans can visit www.Prizeo.com/StevenTyler to become a founding member and register for a chance to win a once-in-a-lifetime experience with Tyler through Prizeo.
The Ultimate Rock Icon Experience with Steven Tyler prize includes walking the red carpet and VIP backstage passes to Tyler’s new solo album release party and concert as well as hanging with Tyler before and after the show. In addition, founding members are recognized in perpetuity on www.JaniesFund.org.
Youth Villages will use Janie’s Fund to support its work with girls who have been abused and neglected, including in intensive in-home services, residential treatment services, YVLifeSet services for girls aging out of foster care, and experiential therapies such as therapeutic drumming. During the past 10 years, the organization has helped more than 20,000 girls who have experienced abuse and/or neglect and expects to help nearly 4,000 such girls this year in its programs in 12 states and Washington, D.C.
“Youth Villages is thrilled to work with the legendary Steven Tyler to help fulfill his dream of helping these most vulnerable children in our country,” said Patrick Lawler, CEO of Youth Villages. “We use the latest science on children’s developing brains and what works to help them heal from trauma. We appreciate Steven using his big voice on these girls’ behalf.”
Tyler, the songwriter and voice of the best-selling American rock band Aerosmith, has been a philanthropist his entire life, performing at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway.
For more information, please visit www.JaniesFund.org or call 901-251-5000.
In fewer than 90 days, Chastity’s stable life spiraled into chaos. Tonye, her niece she’d recently taken in, was an escalating struggle. Chastity had concerns about being able to protect her own daughter. Chastity quit her job and dropped her college classes, but even that didn’t help her get control of Tonye.
“I was at the point where I was going to give her back just to protect my child,” Chastity said. “I knew Tonye needed help, but it was too much. I asked God for help.”
Further assessments of Tonye revealed that, before Chastity welcomed her into her home, the 10-year-old girl had been neglected and physically and verbally abused and was taken advantage of by family and community members. Tonye couldn’t read or communicate effectively and was far below her grade level in school. She didn’t care about her appearance or keep herself clean. These and the young girl’s physical and verbal aggression, homicidal thoughts and inappropriate behavior were all signs of the trauma she’d experienced.
Tonye was referred to Youth Villages’ Intercept® intensive in-home program, where counselors work with both the child and family in the family’s own home. Intercept Family Intervention Specialist Amanda Williams began meeting with Tonye and Chastity an average of three times a week. Tonye had been with Chastity three months when they started the program.
“The first priority was home safety and ensuring there was supervision in the home, “Amanda said. “We had to get things under control, because the environment was challenging Chastity’s ability to help Tonye.” The two women worked hard to help Tonye.
“Amanda was dedicated to this family,” Chastity said. “Other counselors had come here before and sat on the edge of the couch for their 45 minutes and then they’d leave.”
Christmas marked a turning point for the niece and aunt. “I think [Tonye] realized I wasn’t going away, and I’d be there and would support her,” Chastity said.
Chastity’s biological daughter and Tonye play together like sister now. Tonye smiles, her hair in braids. She does her schoolwork, has learned to read and has improved her grades. She plays volleyball and wants to go to college. When Tonye completed her Youth Villages program, aftercare services were established so she could still receive the therapy she needs.
Chastity has returned to college to finish a criminal justice degree. She never imagined the past year and, looking back, wouldn’t have made it without help.
“Amanda was in tune with this family,” Chastity said. “I thank God for her, and I’m blessed that she came to this house.”
Ashley’s often told by staff at Youth Villages’ Girls Center for Intensive Residential Treatment that she’s worth the moon and the stars, and no one has the right to treat her as if she’s less than that.
Youth Villages Therapist Erin Corcoran said Ashley’s beginning to believe it.
Ashley, 12, was referred to Youth Villages through the juvenile court system. She was abused by family members and told by her mother to recant her testimony. She was also trafficked by her mother. As a result, she sought out older boys.
“She knew something was wrong,” Erin said. “She knew that this wasn’t a part of being 12 years old.”
Erin and Youth Villages staff helped Ashley first to overcome her shame and began to work on her self-confidence. She also had to learn that what happened to her wasn’t her fault.
“Ashley worked so hard to get better,” Erin said. “She was enthusiastic and always on board with what she needed to do.”
Ashley is angry at her mother, but she doesn’t hate her.
“She’s come to a very healthy place in that respect,” Erin said. “Ashley’s very smart and has reached a level of understanding of her issues that few her age would.”
Ashley discharged home with her aunt and uncle.