Innovative approach helps child overcome a lifetime of trauma

January 23, 2013

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Innovative approach helps child overcome a lifetime of trauma

Lizzie’s deep brown eyes tell a story that no child should ever be able to tell. Before she was even seven years old, Lizzie* had been the victim of physical, sexual and emotional abuse by family members and individuals at the orphanage where she was periodically placed. She also witnessed the murder of her infant brother at the hands of her father.

It seemed light had appeared at the end of the tunnel when Lizzie was brought to Iowa through an international adoption. This was to be short-lived. As a result of the trauma she had experienced at such a young age, Lizzie immediately began acting out. For Lizzie, everything was about survival and her reaction to any conflict was “fight or flight.” Within weeks of her arrival in Iowa, she was placed in residential treatment. For five years her path continued in a downward spiral as Lizzie went from residential facilities to shelters and hospitals throughout the state. The family who originally brought her to Iowa eventually gave up their parental rights.

One year ago, Lizzie came to the Four Oaks PMIC (Psychiatric Medical Institute for Children) facility in Mason City. She was heavily medicated and extremely aggressive. Four Oaks staff put their skills in Trauma Informed Care (TIC) into action. TIC is a method of treatment that looks beyond the behavior of the child and digs down to what causes the behavior in the first place. Based upon years of research and experience, this treatment method looks at the different ways that the brain responds in those like Lizzie who have been exposed to chronic violence and abuse. The staff working with Lizzie approached her in a calm and non-threatening manner and gradually designed a treatment plan that addressed her specific needs.

Over the course of the past year Lizzie has been able to learn limits and coping skills for stressful situations. This girl, who nearly everyone had given up on, is now described as a “sweet and respectful” by her caregivers. She will even be enrolling in public school for the first time ever at the end of this month!

When asked why Four Oaks is different than all of the other facilities she had been in Lizzie stated, “Other places tried to make me be who they wanted me to be, but Four Oaks lets me be who I want to be.” We are so proud that Lizzie has been able to overcome the trauma she experienced and is on the road to success. We hope that someday soon a forever family finds Lizzie.

* Name changed to protect identity.