When D. first came to live with Karen R. and her husband, he was almost five years old and he had been seriously abused. D.’s care team from the Office of Children’s Services helped connect his new family with services to begin the long road to recovering from that history. That included therapy through the Alaska Child Trauma Center at ACMHS.
For about two years, D. met with therapist Kristin Mortenson weekly: their primary concern was helping D. feel safe. Karen says those visits were stabilizing, as the family went through the ups and downs of the custody process. A month before his adoption was finalized, it became clear that D. and his family were strong and secure enough together to end the weekly therapy sessions.
Karen has kept in touch with many of people who worked to make D. a permanent member of her family and help him recover, sharing photos of family trips and basketball practice, updates about school and piano lessons. She recently sent a letter to the group, which includes Kristin.
D. has come such a long way in these past eight years! When he first came to live with John and me, he could not remain in a room without one of us there. He could not go near a window – too afraid that she would suddenly pop into view. After several months with us, he could venture out onto our front step, but I had to be standing right there watching, and he turned often to verify that I was still there. Later on, he ventured further out into our small front yard, but always looking back to make sure I was there by the window.
A few years down the road, he was venturing into our big field with friends and a walkie-talkie on his belt to communicate with me in the house. Then he discovered a love for the woods and began exploring our five acres with and without friends, never looking back to see if I was at the window and rarely remembering to take along the walkie-talkie. Now he is such a confident almost 13-year-old.
You would be so proud to see D. now. He is so smart and talented. He plays the piano and clarinet, has a love for science and nature and the Bible, has developed a passion and talent for nature and wildlife photography, and is still the sweetest, most courteous, most gentle boy there ever was.
So I just wanted to write and say “thank you” again for all you did to free our precious boy from the tortured life he had before June 30, 2010. He is so confident and loved and cared for, not just by his family, but by all others who come to know him. Each of you played a very big part in that.
Kristin recalls that working with the family had a significant impact on her path as a therapist, and at the time, a new mother. The foundation of D.’s recovery was through the relationships he developed, with his adoptive parents, providers, and his protectors. His scars came to be understood not just as a symbol of pain but as a symbol of his ability to heal.
In telling her family’s story, Karen emphasized often how much D.’s entire team came to feel like part of the family, with his best interests always in mind. She thinks people who consider foster-parenting may worry it will be difficult to work with the Office of Children’s Services. But all the staff she worked with were kind and helpful. Karen and her husband tried to cooperate with whatever they were asked to do, always taking the attitude that D.’s safety and happiness were the primary concern.