Child Protective Services brought these three young siblings to Austin Children’s Shelter. They had an extensive history of neglect and some physical abuse, and because of it, the two older children were exhibiting some rather extreme behaviors.
Rosa and Andre both were very needy and demanded a great deal of attention. They also were prone to very bad tantrums – throwing themselves on the floor, screaming and kicking with an intensity not typical in other children. And while both were exceptionally affectionate to complete strangers, Rosa would climb up on people, hugging and covering them with kisses. Her behavior, among other things, indicated that she had been sexually abused.
These children needed to feel safe and they needed a lot of loving care and patience from adults to help them change their behaviors. The staff in their cottage worked together to provide a structure and consistency in routines — as well as their own behavior toward the children – that these young ones responded to quickly. Rosa and Andre were rewarded with stickers or toys for good behavior at meals or bed time and for playing well with other children. Poor behavior had consequences such as time outs or not being allowed to play outside with other children. And while the children were adjusting to Shelter life, they participated in play therapy where they used toys to express feelings or tell what happened to them. Feeling safe enough to do so was a big step.
Rosa learned that it was okay to give and get a hug but not okay to climb up on people’s laps and cover their face with kisses – especially strangers. As Rosa realized that the staff cared about her and would give her the attention she sought, she stopped having tantrums. She also learned to be content with a simple hug and when she couldn’t have what she wanted, instead of throwing a tantrum, began to take it in stride.
Andre’s tantrums were a bit more extreme and inevitably he would take all of his clothes off and throw them at the staff. We kept an eye on his moods so that if he got irritated we could intervene and give him his favorite comfort toy or distract him with something else to do. If he was already in a full blown tantrum, a team member would take him to the comfort room where they could let him have his breakdown away from other children while keeping a close watch. When Andre began to calm down, they would get his clothes back on, give him a hug, and then engage him an activity that he enjoyed. Over time, Andre’s tantrums grew less in intensity and there were fewer of them.
After two months at the Shelter, Michael was a thriving, chubbier baby who had learned to walk while Rosa and Andre had developed healthier behaviors with far fewer outbursts. The emotional scars they arrived with were lessening. If they had not come to the Shelter first, their behaviors may have prevented them from being placed together elsewhere. But because they came here first, all three children left us and went to live in a foster home together.