Without question, there is a major crisis when children and families are being divided, unhelped and unhealed.
“Research has shown that the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder is higher among foster care alumni than it is for war veterans.”
---Dr. John Seita, Professor of Social Work, Michigan State University
At Compassion House, we offer children and adults practical programs to give them access to hope, dignity, and emotional healing. We teach people that you can choose your future by how you respond to your past. Bitterness is generally rooted in a sense of powerlessness, so we help people move from this place of indignity and powerlessness to a place where they feel like they have some control over their lives and future.
Our Grief Recovery program is key in this process. It gives people access to crucial life skills that most people didn’t receive—practical techniques that reconcile feelings of loss and change.
Compassion House serves a population of people whose lives are filled with life’s everyday losses: death of a loved one, divorce, separations, estrangements, financial changes, and health problems. However, for our children, their grief-losses too often include the loss of biological parents, grandparents, and other relatives. The loss of a familiar home, along with the intangible losses of safety and trust, contribute to a loss of dreams, expectations, and hopes. Their parents and relatives so often suffer what is perhaps the deepest wound they can experience: the loss of their children.
Foster parents, who open their hearts and homes to these children, are too often not equipped with tools to truly help the children in their care. Because over twenty years of research has proven that Grief Recovery skills truly work, we have trained and certified six of our staff members as Grief Recovery Specialists. This represents, by far, the greatest investment of our time and resources into any one program. Why? We are thoroughly convinced that these practical steps help families and children reach emotional completion and wholeness. Participants also acquire a skill set that will enable them to reconcile losses in the future.
“Grievers do not lack courage or willingness. What they lack is helpful information and correct choices.”
--- John James, Founder, Grief Recovery Institute
Grief is the word we use for the conflicting emotions caused by a change or end in a familiar pattern of behavior. There are more than 40 events that can create the range of human emotions called grief. Whether the loss was recent or long ago, it may still be limiting one’s ability to participate fully in life. Grief Recovery techniques assist in the ultimate journey back to one’s heart and ability to embrace life in a positive way.
Myths About Grief:
- Time heals all wounds
- Replace the loss
- Grieve alone
- Be strong for others
- Bury your feelings
- Keep busy
Russell Friedman, Executive Director of the Grief Recovery Institute and Co-Author of
The Grief Recovery Handbook
and When Children Grieve
, describes the situation as follows:
“Technically, we would say that unresolved grief is cumulative and cumulatively negative. Graphically, we say that the kids’ insides are like trash compactors filled with the horrors of their pasts.” He continues, “If after food and shelter are taken care of, the foundational emotional issue for foster children is unresolved grief, then until you effectively deal with the impact of their mounting litany of losses, then all of the fancy plans for education, advocates, special programs, and so on are a virtual waste. As statistics show, children in foster care fail in life at a very high rate. Why? Because the underlying grief issues are not addressed.”
Parents obviously need these same tools to improve their own lives. Our experience is that most parents want to do whatever it takes to see their families back together again. The children obviously feel the same way. So what is the obstacle?
In a word, the obstacle is unresolved grief. These are families that are already wounded (and are often dealing with addictions to mask the pain of the unresolved losses that have already taken an immense emotional toll). Now add to this the outright trauma of having their children removed from their homes, and you have a recipe for disaster, for both the parents and the children.
The initial context for our interaction with families is when they come to Compassion House for their supervised visitation. This is a time when the emotions of families are heightened, especially in the early days and weeks of separation. Very young children cannot understand the separation, and they tend to respond with bewilderment, sadness, and grief. Following visits, infants and toddlers may show regressive behaviors, depression, physical symptoms, or behavioral problems.
Parents also find visits to be a time of emotional upheaval, particularly during the first phase of placement. Parents often experience pain and sadness resulting from the separation. They may feel shame, guilt, depression, denial that there is a problem, anger, and/or worry about the child. During the first visits, the parent is likely to be awkward, tense, and uncertain. We strive to help the parents process their emotions and interact appropriately with their children.
Similarly, foster parents go through their own set of struggles and emotions as they attempt to help the children adjust to the stress of separation and to their new environment. Later, if the children are returned to the birth family or moved into an adoptive home, the foster parents need to come to terms with their own feelings of change and loss.
New research has shown that 87% of all illnesses are caused by negative, mostly repressed thoughts. Dr. Stutz-Martin has seen dozens of people with autoimmune diseases improve or even heal completely after doing Grief Recovery work.
Our goal is to help as many people as possible (including children, biological parents, foster parents, and others in the community) gain the skills to move beyond the constant pain stemming from their losses, to a sense of hopefulness and emotional completion—completing the pain without forgetting the relationship.
Compassion House Grief Recovery Specialists have all been trained by Dr. Nancy Stutz-Martin who has worked in the mental health field for over twenty years. She lives in Fort Oglethorpe and has agreed to advise and assist us with any special needs we may encounter with our clients. Over the past decade she has used this program with outstanding results in helping “at risk” students in public schools, victims of peril (9/11, etc.), hospice patients, church members/leaders, and others. We are also invited to call Russell Friedman and John James, of the Grief Recovery Institute, anytime. We adhere to the strictest confidentiality.
With an incentive to participate, our population of children and adults at Compassion House can be helped in achieving healing and wholeness. These people will not just learn to live in a place of dignity, but they will then be able to offer this gift to others.