Catherine and Robert made the ultimate commitment in 2011 when they adopted three siblings, ages 5, 7, and 11. What began as an opportunity to provide love and care for three children quickly deteriorated into a struggle nobody could anticipate. The oldest, Charlene, began to grow away from her new family and her initial happy self. She started acting out, and not in the sense of a temper tantrum. Charlene began down a road of destructive and divisive behavior.
The parents lacked the resources to get Charlene proper clinical help, as nearly 20 percent of Apple Valley residents do. They were left to fight this uphill battle on their own. But they provided all the love and support they could for Charlene, and after gaining enough of her trust, it was learned she had been a victim of sexual abuse from multiple members of her birth family.
Charlene had been fighting with something much bigger than fitting in at school or getting comfortable with her new family. Charlene was dealing with a traumatic generational malaise that never was addressed or treated.
Uncovering it was step one on the road to recovery. But where are parents with limited resources to go? How are they to address such issues as deep and damaging as these? Clinical treatment for children who have suffered from trauma can cost upward of $250 per hour.
Fortunately, after scouring the directory for local services, Catherine and Robert were able to get in contact with the Rural San Bernardino County office of Lutheran Social Services. It was then that they learned LSSSC could provide the care that seemed so inaccessible for so long. And LSSSC had just the program for her.
Charlene entered the LSS Our Children Project, a unique program for children who have suffered the devastatingly stunting trauma of being sexually abused. She was placed in a group of girls, each of whom had encountered the same situation in one way or another. The LSS clinical staff understands the incredibly delicate nature of these experiences and commit themselves to providing the care and compassion needed to treat these traumas.
Initially, Charlene was not excited about being in group therapy. But after bravely sitting through the process and opening up to the listening ears of survivors just like her, she came home one day and announced: “I’m not the only one, Mom. Those girls are just like me! They know how I feel!”
This was a turning point in her life. She was embraced by a group of girls she never imagined existed, just like her, and was mentored by a therapist who understood the processing she needed to do. Over a period of three years, she found a new way of living in the present, without the constant torment of the past she once tried so desperately to escape from.
Meanwhile, her mother, Catherine, participated in a parents’ support group. In the beginning, she didn’t believe it to be necessary, but it was required by the Project, and for good reason. After meeting and sharing with all types of parents: biological, adoptive, foster, and grandparents rearing the younger generation, Catherine was enlightened on many levels, and thus prepared for the long journey back to normalcy for her daughter and their entire family. Recovery is a vast process, and by having the understanding and compassion for Charlene’s experiences, they could recover as a family.
Charlene is now in college, working in programs that develop support systems for those who have been abused. She is also studying to become a Social Worker, so she can give back to others the way others gave back to her. The LSS program that so gently embraced her and her family in a time of desperate need cannot exist without the commitment of service by people like Charlene and other service workers. It is the work of God, through our hands.
“We knew the children had been abused before we accepted placement in our home, but nothing could have prepared us (not even the classes through Foster Certification) for the deep wounds our children suffered, and how to help them heal. Without the Our Children Project, our family would not have survived the trauma of early childhood sexual abuse. Although it was one child who received services, it was our entire family who received the benefit.”