When a child is severely abused or neglected early on in life, it can lead to a reactive attachment disorder. Children with this disorder are so disrupted they have extreme difficulty establishing normal relationships and attaining normal developmental milestones.
Unloved and alone
Her disruptive childhood convinced Emma that she was the problem and that no one loved her. Emma was removed from her mother’s care when she was 4 years old and went to live with extended family members. She had never met her father and her relatives did not get along with Emma’s mother. The tension within the family caused Emma to feel confused and ashamed for caring about her mother – very big feelings for a little person.
Family relationships broke down
Tension within the family escalated and Emma went to live with a foster family. Sadly, the family were unable to look after Emma long term and she was moved again to a new foster family, a lovely couple called Michelle* and David*. Even though her change of placement was not her fault, Emma believed that no one liked her and she didn’t deserve a family.
With her unsettled history, when Emma first moved in with Michelle and David she was very cautious of opening up to them as she believed they would leave her eventually. Despite this, she craved a close relationship with them because she’d never experienced one before. Sometimes she would cuddle up to Michelle or play a game with David but the next moment she would yell or swear and break things in the house. She was so scared of feeling rejected again that she was trying push them away before they could ‘push her away’. This pattern was also occurring in Emma’s relationships with her teachers and peers at school which lead to multiple suspensions.
How we helped
When Emma first started therapy at Act for Kids it took her a long time to open up to her therapist; sometimes she would show real vulnerability and other times attempt to push them away with words and actions. It took 3 months for Emma to start to develop trust with the therapist and once this relationship began to build, she was able to talk about her thoughts and feelings around why her family and past carers don’t look after her anymore.
Emma’s therapist helped Emma identify her strengths and abilities as she had begun to believe that she was a ‘naughty girl’ because she was getting into trouble at school so often. Emma learnt about making friendships and managing her big feelings. This helped her to feel calmer when she spent time with her friends and with Michelle and David. Finally, Emma started to get in trouble less at school and started settle into her new relationship with Michelle and David.
The Bigger Problem
reports were made to child protection authorities
accessed child protective services
1 in every 32
Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Child protection Australia 2019-20.
Abuse and neglect
The majority (54%) experience emotional abuse, followed by neglect (22%). One in five (14%) experience physical abuse and 9% experience sexual abuse.
Abuse and neglect can impact a child’s brain development, how they feel and think about themselves, how successful they are at school, even their physical development and skills. In the long term this can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, difficulty developing and maintaining good relationships, unemployment and all sorts of social disadvantage.
Early intervention makes the world of difference
After 6 months of therapy and living with Michelle and David, Emma began to push them away again. Now that she had formed a stable and trusting relationship with them, deep down she felt like she had more to lose. A block of music therapy was begun with the family. This included Emma, Michelle and David writing songs together about their experiences as a family, helping Emma to express her affection for and fears with Michelle and David and develop strategies using music to help Emma feel calm when she gets worried.
After 2 months of music therapy Michelle and David reported a big decrease in Emma’s challenging behaviours at home and an improved connection with her. Emma is now achieving well at school and believes that she is loveable little girl that deserves to be happy. Emma will go on to have a stable, safe and happy childhood thanks to your kind ongoing support and we can’t thank you enough!
How you can help
We rely heavily on donations to support our Integrated Therapy Services, and provide help to children and families who have experienced or are at risk of harm. With your support, we can continue to help keep kids safe, heal from trauma and lead happy lives.
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