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Since I can remember, I’ve felt drawn to international adoption. In 1998, Dave and I added a daughter from China to our blended family. Adopting a child with Developmental Trauma Disorder has definitely rocked my world, and, because the experience has yet to kill me, it’s made me a passionate advocate for traumatized children and their dedicated parents. In 1999, I met Nancy Spoolstra, founder of ATN, and I have been involved with the attachment & trauma movement ever since. In 2009, I took over the Executive Director position, and it is work that I truly love! I also serve as my daughter’s learning coach in virtual high school, a job I’m not quite as enamored with, but it is helping my daughter immensely. In 2006, our family undertook a horrendous due process court case with our local school system and got a crash course in the perils of special education and society’s total lack of understanding of trauma. This, coupled with graduating from Partners in Policymaking, has given me experience in special education, school issues, and disabilities advocacy. A published author, my writing includes a chapter in the EMK Press Adoption Parenting book and two years as the special needs blogger at Adoptionblogs.com. I’ve been known to present workshops on attachment and trauma to adoptive and foster groups – and am always appreciative when I get the chance to tell the world about the importance of strong attachments and children’s emotional health! In my former life, I was the president of a marketing and communications consultancy and for over two decades provided marketing, and strategic planning for engineers, architects and other professionals. I have an MBA from Avila College and an undergraduate degree is from Northwest Missouri State. (Go Bearcats!) I grew up on a farm in Northwest Missouri and moved to Atlanta in 1993. I don’t miss the snow but deeply appreciate my Midwestern roots.
I am a stay-at-home mom of 4 special needs kids, all adopted at different ages, all with different diagnosis, abilities, and prognosis, including RAD, ODD, FASD, and one with Down Syndrome. When getting my degree in Journalism/Communications, I never dreamed I’d be using that degree not to change the world with edgy, ground-breaking news journalism, but instead to write a simple blog of my own to encourage parents “in the trenches” of parenting traumatized children and to act as a guest blogger on various sites. My time is spent on therapeutic parenting, researching, educating, advocacy, and reaching out to other parents, providing support as much as possible. My husband and I are both adopted out of the foster care system, and were challenging children to raise ourselves. Because we felt like our own parents didn’t do a great job with us, we thought we could do better with kids like us if we just “loved them enough” rather than the strict discipline our parents meted out, because we understand some of their losses and trauma. It has been a steep learning curve for both of us, and we continually learn how to parent differently and better in order to meet the needs of our individual children.
I am the father of two children with developmental trauma. Both are adopted and they are birth brother and sister. They are eleven months apart and are teenagers now. Raising them has been the hardest thing we’ve ever faced and I’ve beaten back cancer, started several businesses on my own and worked in the U.S. Senate. Those challenges pale miserably in comparison to what we face with our kids. I’m now Executive Director of the Golden State Land Conservancy and I am creating a multimedia live presentation called The Wise Guide Experience. I’m 54, married for 31 years, and live in northern CA.
Allison Cooke Douglas became involved with the Child Welfare System as a foster parent in 2007. She served for several years as the Knox County Foster Care Association President and Regional Representative to the TN State Foster Care Association. After serving as a foster parent co-trainer, Mrs. Douglas discovered that she had a specific passion for teaching and encouraging foster and adoptive families. She became the lead PATH (foster parent certification) trainer in Knox County and currently works as a DCS Foster Parent Education Specialist for Centerstone. She is proud to have been a team member on a recent Breakthrough Series Collaborative project focusing on trauma assessment and treatment for children birth to age 4. Allison and her husband Jonathan are grateful for the parenting journey they share with their four adopted children.
Linda Forsyth, LCSW
As the mother of two young adults who were adopted from the U.S. foster care system, I have worked to create family with my children since they came to live with me when they were 8 and 9. Our journey has been a time of joy and sorrow as we have dealt with the aftermath of early developmental trauma. My daughter is 19 and still lives with me. My son no longer calls me mother. We are a transracial family. By profession, I am a clinical social worker who focused on working with children and families involved in adoption and foster care. Having retired in 2013, my current focus is volunteer work with my church and getting my daughter through high school graduation. I am also a deeply committed Christian and have been blessed to be on a Journey into Joy… and to have many wonderful companions on the Journey.
After working for several years as a pediatric occupational therapist, I naively believed I was ready to handle whatever life situations would come with our internationally adopted child. My husband and I brought our son home from Eastern Europe at 13 months of age. Despite assurances from the agency that he was entirely healthy, he was severely neglected and his developmental trauma was significant. In many ways, this is where my real education began. I was thankful to have found ATN when my son was very young. It was a valuable source of information and support for me as I searched for therapeutic parenting solutions. My husband and I have come far on our journey in parenting but have far to go. Our son is now a teenager and we have a younger adoptive daughter as well. Our son is placed out of our home but we remain as active and involved parents as possible. Like many ATN parents, we are not living any part of the dream we once had for this young man. Our son continually teaches us that love sometimes exceeds expectations but rarely goes as planned. For the past 12 years, I have combined my professional continuing education endeavors with a search for therapeutic solutions for my son. Amongst my favorite topics of study are attachment, trauma, brain plasticity, child development, FAS, vision, and primitive reflex integration. Today I work daily with kids with developmental trauma in day treatment programs for children and adolescents. I hope that in some way my blog contributions might be helpful to other therapeutic parents.
David Kerrigan, PhD, LCSW
I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has worked with attachment-stressed children and their parents since 1995. Recently I moved from Virginia to Ventura, California. I present on attachment, adoption and trauma locally as well as at national and international conferences. I served as executive director for the Center for Spirituality and Social Work at the National Catholic School of Social Service in Washington, DC, and integrate spirituality with psychotherapy for addressing the needs of the whole person.
Gari Lister, JD, ATN Blog Manager
After 20 years as an antitrust lawyer, and 7 trying to juggle being a part-time partner with full-time needy kids, I left my corporate clients far behind for a world of kids with issues and general craziness. In 2002, my husband Matt and I adopted two little girls from two different countries – an 11 year old from Russia and a 17 month old from Ukraine. Because of the 11 year old, we educated ourselves about the importance of attachment issues pretty early on. But still it wasn’t until years later when we adopted a third little girl – a 2 year old from Russia – that we truly came to understand the devastating impact of trauma on children. Our girls are now 11, 13 and 22. In the twelve years since we’ve been a family, our girls have faced lots of physical and emotional issues. In search of help, we’ve tried a wide range of therapies, most of which have helped to varying extents. Our youngest didn’t talk until she was 4, and still faces many developmental and emotional challenges. Because of those challenges, I quit working even part-time to homeschool her. After tumultuous teenage years, our oldest daughter ran away from home at 17. Four years later, she briefly returned to the family, and then disappeared again after stealing everything she could get her hands on. We now have a close relationship, but she still faces daily struggles with her past and with both family and friend relationships. And the third “middle” daughter – who fools almost everyone into believing that she is “normal” – fights her own quiet battles with the demons of her past. Today, we’re all based in a big old Dallas house – with cats, border collies and a chihuahua (all of whom have issues, too!) – but we still call Washington D.C. home and spend summers in a tiny Virginia town by the Chesapeake Bay.
My greatest joys are my awesome family, including 6 children (and one foster daughter), 12 beautiful grandchildren and an amazing husband. But I LOVE my work and consider every day a privilege and a blessing to get to be a part of peoples’ healing journeys. I received my Masters degree in Social Work from BYU in 1991 at the age of 40. I specialize in the treatment of complex PTSD, and treat trauma victims and children with severe behavioral disorders, attachment and adoption issues and developmental delays. I have worked in a variety of settings, including both inpatient and outpatient facilities. I have served as a social worker in community mental health facilities; as a crisis worker at a hospital psychiatric ward; and as a trainer for a domestic violence center. Mind-body-spirit integration is a focus of my healing approach, and I draw upon extensive experience with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, EMDR, Brian Gym, yoga and neurofeedback, as well as energy psychology techniques such as BodyTalk, Psychosomatic Energetics, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and Emotion Code. I am also a licensed massage therapist with an emphasis on infant and prenatal massage and am very committed to nutritional wellness in my work with my clients. Having completed the coursework for a PhD(c) in Pre and Perinatal psychology, I am now working toward becoming a certified PPN educator and am also doing a certification program in Bio Individual nutrition for both children and adults. In my spare time…. I love to read, exercise, travel, dance, sew; attend theater, art shows, concerts; ski and swim; and watch sunsets. Sleep is “optional.”
My husband and I were completely unprepared for the two little boys who came through the front door 15 years ago. I thought my love and skill set would help their little hearts heal. I couldn’t have anticipated the unfathomable level of rage and fear that exist in children with Reactive Attachment Disorder or even what RAD would really mean to our family. Over the ensuing years our experiences dramatically changed our lives. What I would have to learn about trauma, the human heart and the developing brain would be transformational for our entire family. Our darkest hours would be moments to descend into despair or become teachable moments for us all. We have experienced the gamut. As Professor Dumbledore said to Harry Potter, “help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” Herein lies the challenge: RAD children and adolescents resist feeling vulnerable enough to ask adults for help. Being a parent to a child with RAD is synonymous with advocacy. I have had the opportunity to develop a strong voice on behalf of my children in a variety of forums: I have had extensive interactions with school systems, social service agencies, residential treatment centers, psychiatric agencies, hospitals and so on. I even volunteered as a Special Education Surrogate Parent for children who needed an advocate. However, I believe a strong parent gives a child the best chance to practice being strong. As parents of special people, we need to support each other in a multitude of ways so we can not only survive, but thrive as compassionate and empowered adults. When I find an opportunity to help on that journey I am, as my son often says, “all in.”
Since my early 20’s my life has been dedicated to my career in interior design. I’ve run my own business for over 30 years and I taught design at the college level until I became a mom. I arrived to motherhood late in life… in 2002 at age 45, I adopted my son from a Ukrainian orphanage… and nothing has been the same since. When I met my son, he was 4 ½ years old and severely injured in body, mind, and spirit due to his experiences in early childhood. It became clear early on that he needed all my time and attention in order to feel safe in his new environment. So, the focus of my life became to learn all I could about my son’s issues and how to best help him. Through the process of learning to parent therapeutically, I became educated, trained and experienced in a range of therapies and techniques related to issues of trauma and attachment. Like so many parents of children with these disorders, I’ve had to grapple with the difficulties of trying to find support and help through the school district, government run institutions, healthcare professionals and society in general. At this point, I’ve successfully navigated through a seemingly endless number of IEP’s, two fair hearings with the school district, plus gaining and maintaining in-home support services for my son. Over the last few years, my professional background as an educator has been repurposed and used to provide workshops, training, and strategic planning for various organizations, caregivers and parents working with issues of attachment and trauma. I hold an M.S. from CSUN and a lifetime credential from UCLA in vocational education for the college level. I live in California with my son and 2 very interactive cats.
I am a single father of six children with mental health issues. In 1998, I left the corporate world and adopted my first three sons, a sibling group of three brothers with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Their sister joined the family two years later after being severely molested in foster care. Realizing more sibling groups were waiting for permanency, I adopted two additional sons who introduced me to the challenges of attachment and RAD – which no one had never mentioned to me. With a new life mission revolving around my family, I devoted my energy to staying one step ahead of the latest crisis while helping my children not only heal but thrive. I have also served as an adjunct college faculty member, parent advocate, educational consultant, writer and I volunteer in many organizations, including Special Olympics. I write a blog on Facebook every Tuesday about my parenting experiences. Visit me at https://www.facebook.com/pages/EACH-Child-is-Special-Working-Smarter-Not-Harder-to-Raise-Every-ONE/132153890292369. I am also finishing a memoir of his 17-year journey – Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love. Residing in Indianapolis with my three youngest sons, I remain actively involved in the lives of my three older children – which includes the new role of grandpa.
I am the parent of two sons; my older son was adopted from Bulgaria when he was three years old. Professionally I have served as a special education teacher in all grades except kindergarten, and I have been an elementary school building administrator for 10 years. I am currently serving as a special education consultant helping parents secure appropriate programs for their children of trauma while working on her PhD in special education. I hope to write my dissertation as an advocacy piece calling for legislation that supports developmental trauma disorder as a separate classification under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). I am passionate about spreading the word about the unique needs of children of trauma in public schools. When I am not advocating for children with special needs, I can be found camping, kayaking, or bowling with my husband and children.
I am the mother of three daughters: college, high school and elementary. Originally trained as a litigator, I left the life of law and research behind when our youngest daughter joined our family at twelve months of age. Waiting through two years of prayer and paperwork to meet her had given us ample time to read up on attachment in adoption so I thought we were prepared for what lay ahead. Little did we know that what was “sold” in the mainstream media as the psychology of adoptive children was outdated, scientifically unfounded and bound up by old stereotypes. Thankfully, after a rough start parenting our traumatized and attachment-challenged child I found ATN via some very supportive mothers. With ATN’s help I pulled my research skills out of retirement and began to read and read about attachment and trauma – the stuff no one had shared with us in our adoption preparation. In this journey I learned of therapies that worked for our daughter and ones that did not. And along this path I found many of my own passions, including writing about adoption and special needs parenting. So if you are on this journey, or preparing for this journey, please join me in exploring the ups and downs, the challenges and joys, the day to day of parenting a child who started in a hard place. Oh and if you like what you read, hop on over to my blog at www.bluegrassmoms.com (my local newspaper) or join us “forever 39” mothers at www.motheringinthemiddle.com, a national blog on mid-life motherhood.
When I was 5 years old, I told my parents I wanted to be a veterinarian. When I was about 13, I told them I wanted to at least partially build my family through adoption. I thought those two goals would coexist … but they didn’t. My husband and I were naïve and ignorant when we started down the path of international adoption. We were completely unprepared for the task of raising attachment and trauma affected children, and as it turns out, we were completely unsupported as well. The adoption agencies and the vast majority of mental health professionals were at best uninformed and unsupportive, and often became part of the problem. As a result of this lack of support, the Attachment & Trauma Network was born. Starting and running a nonprofit completely derailed my plans to return to veterinary medicine when the kids were in school. After a dozen years of being at the helm of ATN, I was thrilled to pass the torch to Julie Beem. These days I am basking in the glow of the joy of watching our youngest daughter blossom into a healthy, lovely young woman in spite of her difficult beginnings. However, there is still significant pain mostly confined to a walled off area of my mind, should I choose to reflect on the disappointments and frustrations of parenting our older two adoptees. Currently our son has minimal contact with us, and our daughter has sporadic contact with her siblings but none with her parents. I have learned that the challenge of parenting and incorporating these children doesn’t end when they leave your home. I have learned that outcomes have a great deal to do with an individual child’s participation in his or her healing. I have learned that all of your adult children have the power to wound you, no matter how they join your family. I look forward to sharing some of my “next step” knowledge with you!