More than 130 children in Ulster County live in foster care. These children often experience physical and/or emotional traumas that require their removal from their biological parents’ care. They often experience a nomadic life moving from foster home to foster home.
These compounded traumas make for a rough childhood. Fortunately, a group of dedicated local therapists volunteer their time and expertise pro bono to be paired with these foster youth, bringing them into their private practices for as long as the children wants to continue therapy. They are welcome, even after leaving the foster-care program.
Seven therapists of the Hudson Valley chapter of A Home Within (AHW), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting children who experience foster care at all stages, work with foster youth in Ulster County. Additional volunteer therapists to help address this critical mental-health void for one of the most vulnerable populations would be welcome.
“Fifty percent of young adults who age out of foster care end up homeless or incarcerated,” said Kathy Adorney, clinical director of the Hudson Valley’s AHW Chapter. “One of the best things we can do to prevent this is to provide them with uninterrupted therapy that is free. These children are pulled from their biological parents due to some sort of trauma, and then they’re put into foster home after foster home, and their attachments to adults are constantly broken. This can cause them to give up on attaching to a caring adult.”
In the early 1990s, Toni Vaughn Heinman, a California psychotherapist, and a group of like-minded colleagues formed an organization to focus solely on the therapeutic needs of current and former foster-care youth, a population experiencing the multitude of complex traumas and loss that left them vulnerable to all the things parents try to protect their children from — teenage pregnancy, drugs and alcohol, dropping out of high school, trouble with the law, abusive relationships.
The HV chapter volunteers specialize in an entire range of approaches to help children learn to cope and to heal: art therapy, play therapy, trauma expertise — an entire range of approaches to help children learn to cope and to heal.
A consultation group
When a licensed therapist or one in the process of being licensed agrees to take on a client referred from a foster-care experience, Adorney explained, they make them part of their private practice. “Toni [Vaughn Heinman] knew that once money became involved the care could be interrupted, and she did not want to see that happen, which is why we use only professionals that volunteer their services,” she said.
The therapists are members of a consultation group which meets regularly to discuss the foster clients they work with, They problem-solve together and bounce perspectives off one another.
“Private practice can be a very lonely thing,” said Adorney. “Therapists just go from problem case to problem case, and having the ability to just talk to one another about the last time they saw their particular child and what the trials and successes have been — without violating HIPPA laws — is so helpful. That is such a necessary resource for therapists to help them be the best provider they can to these children and young adults.”
The service is also available to anyone who has gone through a foster experience who still would like to seek therapy.
“The therapists help serve as a place to contain the struggles of the child,” explained Adorney, “and the consultation group works to help contain the therapists.”
Ten times the stress
Therapists working with several foster-care clients recognize that they’ve been able to provide the balance, stability and healing that has helped these young adults stabilize and connect. “We’ve put some videos together where you can just see the joy in these therapists’ faces,” said Adorney, “and testimonials about how wonderful it’s been to work with these children and young adults.”
What about the effects of the pandemic on foster-care youth? “Imagine the stresses that the average family went through and then amplify that by ten times,” replied Adorney. “The lockdown and having children going to school online at home and having to work. And these were not their biological children, they are kids in their foster care.” The stresses related with this time only magnified the complex traumas that some of these children have from their past and acerbated them.
“Many of these kids come from extreme trauma,” she said. “Add stresses onto that like we had in the pandemic, and it can force them inward and have them shutdown, or it can make them oppositional and defiant and difficult. It was hard on the foster parents, the kids, the families, and we’re doing everything we can to help alleviate that and to provide this critical service.”
There is no shortage of children seeking professional therapy, but there is a shortage on therapists to work with AHW. “Without treatment, children in foster care who have suffered the trauma of abuse and/or neglect by their parents are likely to be impacted for life,” Adorney added. “This can make all of the difference in the world for these kids.”
AHW needs more volunteers. It’s very flexible with the type of licensing, as long as there’s a commitment to being part of the consultation group and an interview with Adorney and one of the members of the consultation group.”
AHW’s vision is that “all children who experience foster care are provided this essential support, ensuring that as they transition from foster care, regardless of which stage of life they are in, they have the inner tools they need to thrive. By matching youth with experienced therapists, we address the trauma and disruption inherent to foster care, help youth manage stress and anxiety, and develop the inner tools they need to become healthy adults.”
Anyone interested in learning about joining the Hudson Valley Chapter of AHW (ahomewithin.org) as a therapist, or someone with a foster experience that would like to seek treatment or a foster parent who would like additional support should contact Adorney at firstname.lastname@example.org.