How We Help Kids Heal: Zoe’s Story

One of the common questions we get about Children’s Center is how exactly we go about our work to end child abuse and neglect through assessment, treatment, and prevention. People are curious about all steps of the process – from referral, to intake, to treatment, to graduation.

To help shed light on the process of how we help children heal from trauma who come to us for help, we’ve invited our Therapy Program Manager Bisty Taylor (LCSW) to share her experience.

Bitsy, along with the other staff members on our Clinical & Family Support Team, work hard every day to help create a world where all children feel safe, valued, and heard.

Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at how we help children and families at Children’s Center, and to hear the inspiring story of how Bitsy helped little Zoe*, a sweet six year old girl who was referred to us after experiencing abuse from a family member.

As the Therapy Program Manager and a licensed clinical therapist at Children’s Center, I work with kids who have experienced child abuse or neglect.

The children I see suffer symptoms from their abuse such as emotional distress that manifests as anxiety, depression, self-harm, anger; flashbacks of the abuse which might include both emotional and physical memories; and other problems that stem from the loss of trust and safety.

I know you might be thinking how hard my work is or perhaps how sad it must be to see these problems on a daily basis.  However, the truth is, while it can be hard, it is also a satisfying, hopeful experience helping these kiddos on their journey to reclaim their lives and move forward.

To shed some light on how we help kids heal, let me tell you about Zoe who was referred to Children’s Center when she was six-years old. This brave little girl told her parents that she had been sexually abused by a family member at a family gathering. Fortunately Zoe’s parents jumped into action, called the police and worked with the investigating team to make an appointment at Children’s Center.

Zoe and her parents came to Children’s Center and met with their team that included a family support specialist, medical provider, and forensic interviewer. Her parents described that she was experiencing nightmares, frequently crying, and feeling fearful about the world. While it was clear that Zoe was very nervous, the team did their best to help Zoe feel comfortable. So, with her face hidden behind her favorite teddy bear that she brought for comfort; Zoe quietly answered all the questions she was asked.

While Zoe was having a medical assessment, her parents met with their family support specialist. They were heartbroken to know that someone so close to them could violate their child in such an awful way. Like many parents they were anxious to know what they could do to prevent Zoe’s experience from having a negative impact on the rest of her life.

After each assessment our team provides recommendations of what to do next. For Zoe, we recommended evidence-based Trauma Focused – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). This type of therapy helps a child, who has experienced abuse or neglect, greatly reducing the emotional and behavioral difficulties associated with traumatizing events. Though Zoe’s parent’s insurance would not pay much for therapy, Children’s Center was able to offer this program at no out-of-pocket cost.

As therapy began, the family reported that Zoe, when at home, cried a great deal and slept poorly. Issues or events that went unnoticed before, now bothered her deeply. So in therapy she began blowing bubbles to practice taking deep breaths; closing her eyes and picturing a safe place when she felt scared; doing yoga poses to learn to stretch the nervous feelings out of her body; we drew pictures and laughed; and her favorite, playing in the dollhouse, gave her the freedom to tell me about her upsetting memories. As we progressed together in therapy her fear and grief began to decrease because Zoe was talking about her feelings instead of acting on them.

As part of coming to terms with what happened, both Zoe and her parents came to understand that:

  • what happened was not their fault.
  • Zoe did absolutely the right thing by telling her parents immediately and her parents did the absolutely right thing in calling the police right away.
  • though this bad thing happened to Zoe, she can still have fun and be who she has always been.

Believe me. There is nothing more powerful and hopeful than being in a room watching as a child remembers, all the talents and qualities they possess, which make them unique. Helping them accept that those qualities have always been part of who they are. Seeing them realize that absolutely no one can take those qualities away. Observing the confidence bloom when they understand that though this bad thing that happened may be part of their life-story, it does not define them as a person.

Zoe graduated from our Therapy program on a warm blue-sky day.  Her face beamed with joyful confidence as she placed her brightly painted rock in our healing rock garden. She gave me the cutest picture of us! I keep it on display in my office. 

I recently reached out to Zoe’s parents and they tell me that she continues to thrive. She had a great year at school, and she is handling COVID-19 changes without undue fear or anxiety. I reminded her parents that they can contact us anytime if they have a concern about Zoe’s emotions or behaviors. They assured me, emphatically, that they would.

And Zoe is just one of the 15-20 kiddos we serve each year in the Therapy Program. There are many more stories of hope that I could tell you if I had more space. What I will tell you is this: even though the world is, at the moment, turned upside down, I never have a day of sadness because of my work. Instead, it is a privilege to help children renew their experience of self-confidence and a hopeful future. Each child and family who comes through our program teaches me new lessons about courage, resiliency, strength and the healing power of deepening the connection between a child and their safe caregiver. 

Thank you to Bitsy and our whole Clinical & Family Support Team for your dedication to providing compassionate, professional, and effective care to the children and families who come to us for help!

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of the children and family involved. 

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