Read stories about clients of St. Mary’s.
Names and some biographical details are changed to protect confidentiality.
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What the children we serve really need
In December, Santa and Mrs. Claus visited with the children served by St. Mary’s at our George N. Hunt Campus School. A little boy sat down next to Santa and when asked what he wanted for Christmas, he didn’t request presents for himself. No Legos or remote control cars. Instead, he said he wanted a “happy family” and for “everyone to get along.”
In another classroom, Santa and Mrs. Claus entered to say goodbye to some of our youngest children. The students crowded around Santa and one of them shouted “group hug!” The youngsters threw their arms around Santa’s belly and they grasped onto to each other for several minutes.
These scenes from the holiday season show what the children who come to St. Mary’s need – they need to feel heard and loved. They need a stable home. And they need hope for a better future no matter what trauma they have already suffered.
The children served by St. Mary’s face all sorts of obstacles that can derail their potential. Whether it’s a family that is stressed due to trauma or a child with a psychiatric disorder or a child struggling to learn, St. Mary’s is there for them. Helping a family that is strained by a trauma such as sexual abuse takes a full team of experts in mental health because we don’t just assist the child in need, but their entire family because everyone is affected when something bad happens to a child.
About 76% of our clients are children. In addition, our Outpatient Department helps adults to deal with traumas they have suffered. The children we serve have all the potential in the world. But when they struggle with big problems, their lives can go off track, veering towards issues such as drug
abuse, homelessness, or uncontrolled anger – issues that can literally ruin their futures. But St. Mary’s knows that with the right services and a lot of love, these children can overcome their circumstance and grow into healthy, productive adults.
A client in her own words
The day I walked into St. Mary’s I was a shell of a human being. I was existing in this world feeling hollow, and indifferent about my life. After suffering a lifetime of sexual and physical abuse, my sense of who I was, and what I had to offer was very broken. I was terrified, and I felt completely alone.
I had been convinced that if I shared my experiences with anyone, I would be disliked, thought to be disgusting and found guilty of causing the situations in which I was suffering. My very first session, I couldn’t speak, when I tried to say
why I needed to be there the words got stuck in my throat. I was so afraid that my secrets would get away from me, that I would lose control over who would find out about the traumas I had gone through and that I would be judged and even
criticized for “allowing” the abuse to continue into my adulthood.
My experience with the staff at St. Mary’s has given me the strength to grow, to explore my worth, to learn self-care, and to stop blaming myself for the crimes that were committed against me. It has been through my telling that I have been shown how strong I am, how resilient I have been all along, and that I don’t have to be alone to deal with all of the feelings that emerge while healing.
Being believed and having my emotions validated through my disclosure, have empowered me to live a safer, more fulfilling life. I have learned to set boundaries that protect me and to stand up for myself when I am being disrespected. I have
been taught and encouraged to keep using my voice to speak my truth, and not to allow anyone to take what is mine ever again. I know I am not done walking this journey through healing, but I am most grateful for the loving guidance I have been shown by the staff at St. Mary’s – who continue to walk by my side.
Making parents part of the treatment team
Steve and Jim knew their adopted daughter was special. She did well in school, was an accomplished musician, a gifted athlete, a Girl Scout, a teen eligible for her Confirmation, a valued employee, a beloved sister to their son, and precious
daughter to them. But then she began to change. She broke their house rules, tried alcohol and marijuana, participated in minor thefts, and most scary, began setting up online accounts in fake names on dating sites to meet older men.
They tried everything they could think of – working with her school, local counselors, different programs for teens, her pediatrician, local hospitals, and police. But their daughter knew how to say the right things to officials so that no
one took the situation as seriously as Steve and Jim knew it to be.
Then their daughter disappeared with a man she met on the Internet. Steve will never forget the terror and desperation he felt talking to the police that night, begging them to help find the teen before something terrible happened.
Their daughter was found and at this point, the two fathers came into contact with St. Mary’s Home for Children when their daughter began participating in the agency’s Outpatient programs such as Equine Therapy. But it was soon apparent that their daughter needed more help and the fathers made the agonizing decision to entrust their teen to St. Mary’s Residential Services.
Steve and Jim quickly felt that they became part of a team with many different St. Mary’s staff to care for their daughter no matter how challenging her behavior became. They were impressed that St. Mary’s designed a treatment plan around what she needed, not just what a particular therapy model might offer. And most of all, they felt included and informed about what was happening with their daughter at all times.
Today Steve and Jim’s daughter still struggles as a work in progress but the couple knows that her time at St. Mary’s made a difference and is a big part of the reason their daughter is still around to work on herself as a young adult.
Families often need multiple types of programs to find healing
What do you do when your child comes to you and reports that someone you know is abusing them? This is the exact situation Brenda* found herself in. She felt all the normal emotions a parent goes through: Is this real? How am I going to protect my child? Will my children be taken away from me if I report this?
Despite her fears, she reached out and was put in contact with the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), which ultimately referred her to St. Mary’s Home for Children for services. It was an extremely difficult time for Brenda and her family, filled with fear and confusion. But she had St. Mary’s in her corner now.
Many families like Brenda’s need access to multiple programs to find full hope and healing. Brenda’s family was connected to St. Mary’s residential program as well as individual and group therapy. During the process Brenda realized that she needed to deal with the trauma she experienced in her growing up years. She needed to do the mental health work alongside her family.
Many clients we see have untreated trauma from their past and when a new traumatic event happens in their family, their old trauma is triggered. Luckily, St. Mary’s programs are allencompassing, offering help to every member of the family.
“Being able to offer multiple programs is an important part of St. Mary’s ability to help all members of a family who have gone through trauma,” said Carlene Casciano-McCann, St. Mary’s Executive Director. “Sometimes, children need more immediate help so they turn to residential programs to stabilize them before they return home. And groups allow people to feel less isolated and give them the opportunity to relate to others who have been through similar trauma.”
Today Brenda’s children are doing well. They will likely need help for many more years but Brenda feels prepared for that now.
Specialized aftercare program helps clients succeed
For Shanice, aftercare services made all the difference for her family.
St. Mary’s Home for Children serves hundreds of children every year but families need more to succeed when their child graduates from our residential services. To ensure success, we offer a wrap-around aftercare program for the entire family which often makes the difference in how well a child does when they leave St. Mary’s.
Children living in our psychiatric treatment residential program receive a 6-month course of aftercare when they leave. This team approach includes a family therapist, a parent partner who works with the parent(s), and family liaisons who work with the child.
“They taught me so much,” Shanice said. “There are a lot of things I didn’t know. How to analyze myself. Knowing that if I feel a certain way, my kids can feel a certain way. It brought me to realize that dealing with my own trauma is something I need to do.”
Rachel Desrosiers, family therapist, explained why it can be so difficult for parents when their child experiences a trauma: “Mom didn’t have the tools to respond in a trauma-informed way. Her [child] didn’t have the tools to respond,” Rachel said. “But Mom was able to implement the advice we gave, both for herself and her child, which led to a great outcome.”
St. Mary’s aftercare services follow the principles of a national program called the Building Bridges Initiative. This initiative is a whole-family approach designed to help families and youth who receive residential intervention to realize positive outcomes after discharge, which include: outcomes such as decreased readmission to congregate care, improved family relationships, home stability, and successfully living in the community.
Describing St. Mary’s as a “safety net” – a place her child felt safest after experiencing trauma, Shanice appreciated St. Mary’s extensive aftercare program.
“Each of us had our own [staff] person and a [staff] person together for the whole family,” Shanice said. “I worked with them to come up with strategies to use with my kids. Communication was a plus. We always communicated.”
Helping children in foster care and adopted children to succeed
Amy was born with exposure to cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana in utero. Her biological parent’s rights were terminated due to neglect and Amy was placed in foster care and was adopted at age 3. Due to the early neglect, by age 5, Amy was struggling with behavioral issues and had difficulty modulating her emotions.
She was hospitalized numerous times and received support when at home. But her challenging behaviors continued to worsen including one instance of fire setting and threatening to run away from home. Amy was hospitalized again and referred to St. Mary’s which placed her in one of its Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTF). There she worked hard on accepting limits, building a positive relationship with her mother and peers, and learning ways to regulate her emotions.
Amy was discharged from the program to go back home where she then received aftercare support from our Building Bridges team to help with her transition. Her mother identifies several ongoing needs including support with behavior management and parenting strategies as well as help managing anxiety and utilizing coping skills. Our BBI team continues to help improve the parent-child relationship and develop the skills necessary to improve overall family functioning. The mother and daughter have worked hard on their goals, strengthening their relationship.
Helping youth who have suffered sexual abuse
A teenager named Jasmine* with special needs and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), who was in a special program for educational and behavioral issues, sent a sexually explicit video to a classmate. This caused Jasmine’s mother and school psychologist to contact the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) hotline to seek services to help with the child’s sexualized behaviors. This youth also struggled with self-care skills and needed many reminders and prompts to complete them. While Jasmine had not disclosed any sexual abuse, she still needed assistance so DCYF referred her to St. Mary’s.
This teen was accepted into St. Mary’s Supporting Adoptive and Foster Families Everywhere (SAFFE) program. As part of the 6-month program, Jasmine and her family were supported around Jasmine’s sexualized behaviors. A Clinician and Care Coordinator met with the family weekly to provide individual and family therapy. In addition, St. Mary’s also helped Jasmine’s mother to complete its Families Impacted by Sexual Abuse (FISA) curriculum, a 12-to-14-week program designed to provide support and education to caregivers of children affected by sexual abuse.
Do you want to help children like the ones in these stories?
St. Mary’s Home for Children offers multiple ways you can get involved and make a difference for the children, adults, and families we serve.
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Providing relief to parents who have worked hard to help their children
St. Mary’s is available to help children and families in need. But usually, those families have been working to help themselves for many years and just need that last bit of support to improve their lives.
Take Shannon, for example. She spent years working with school districts to help her son, Allen, seen above on the right, who has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. It was a long road as he acted out and was often treated like a troublemaker rather than someone with a developmental delay that affected his way of thinking and seeing the world.
When Shannon was referred to St. Mary’s, she found the school her son needed in the George N. Hunt Campus School.
“Allen was having a hard time in the public school systems. He was shut down in the classroom. There was a lot of bad things that happened. And I said, No, that’s not going to be my son,” Shannon said.
“St. Mary’s knew what he needed just from the very beginning. I was so impressed. The principal, I remember I sat there and he was like ‘Don’t worry, he’s one of our kids, we’ll take care of him.”
Another example is Kim and Lia. Kim traveled to two states before she discovered St. Mary’s services for her daughter Lia, who is now a resident. Kim adopted Lia as a toddler from China. She knew by the third day that her daughter had major issues caused by the trauma of being abandoned as a baby in a country that at the time had a one-child policy.
“I completely believed that I could love her out of it. She’s just a baby. Love can fix anything right?” Kim said. “St. Mary’s was
really a godsend when it was the end of the line of what we could do for her. It’s really amazing to see how far she’s come.”
So while parents like Shannon and Kim turn to St. Mary’s due to life situations, they and those we serve are also strong and
resilient in their own ways.
Some children need our specialized school
A 7th grader named Janice joined the George N. Hunt Campus school when her behaviors and learning issues made it difficult for her to succeed in her District’s school. She was exhibiting sexualized behavior, being inappropriate with peers, and lived with daily anxiety and PTSD. She was easily influenced by peers and needed help with impulsivity and setting boundaries for herself. Our School was able to assist Janice because it offers a smaller class size, more one-onone time with teachers and teaching assistants, and staff that understand her challenges and provided the services that would help her continue to learn.
Since being at the school, Janice, who is now entering her senior year of high school, has developed increased self-esteem and believes more in herself as someone able to learn. She has shown strong leadership abilities when working in groups and worked well with peers. Because the school offers artistic elective classes, she has developed her artistic abilities and knows that she wants to focus in that area for her future job.
Now, as she approaches her last year in School, Janice is receiving transition assistance including interest testing to help her decide on her future. She is focusing on a career in Cosmetology and the school continues to help her plan for her days after high school including deciding where to study Cosmetology, helping her apply to study, and also obtaining future services for her that will allow her to be successful as an adult.