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Forging Connections Through Creativity

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Adopted children and their families encounter specific challenges, and the Center for Family Connections (CFFC) addresses them by providing special services for all members of the adoption triad--adoptive parents, children, and biological parents. Although the unique organization is primarily a clinic, it also offers specialized therapeutic groups that are either creative in nature or expressly discussion-based to encourage individuals whose lives have been touched by adoption to share and process their experiences. Group members travel from all over New England in order to attend meetings at CFFC, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A group member adds her hands to an inclusive poster.

For 25 years, CFFC, a CWLA member agency, has offered a variety of groups to children and their parents. "Whenever we do a kids' group, we have a concurrent parent group," CFFC's founder, CEO, and president, Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao, explains. While the children participate in creativity-based groups, their parents have their own meetings in which they discuss their experiences with adoption, foster care, and parenting. Typically, a group consists of four to eight children. The small meeting size allows for group members to receive focused attention from trained staff members, such as licensed therapists, group mentors (persons with relevant life experience who have undergone training), junior mentors, interns, and externs.

"The model I started 25 years ago was to do short-term groups," says Pavao. "We have five or six meetings over a five-week period, and then we have a reunion meeting a month later where the kids get to come back and see their friends." The once-a-week schedule, paired with a deposit, ensures that a family will commit to attending most of the group's meetings, thus establishing familiar faces and routine in the lives of children who may be adjusting to new families or the instability of the foster care system. "For kids who lack permanency in their lives, the last thing they need is another situation in which people are simply coming and going," says Pavao. Before budget cutbacks, CFFC could track the groups' lasting effects with follow-up surveys and calls. "Without a paid research coordinator and evaluation team, we can't do as much assessment," Pavao says. Now the organization's trained clinicians must rely on the reunion meeting to gauge the group members' progress.

Some of the groups offered include "Pen and Think," an adult writing group, and "Acting Out," a drama group that encourages children to express emotions through theatre games. "Sex, Drugs, & Rock 'N' Roll" teaches adolescents how to communicate with their parents about awkward teenage issues. Other groups target specific demographics, such as children with trauma issues, girls adopted from China, fathers, and gay and lesbian parents. CFFC also observes the national zeitgeist in order to create relevant groups. Following the media's coverage of the bullying epidemic in schools, for example, the organization created a group focused on bullying awareness and prevention.

Sometimes, groups are created when staff members at CFFC observe clients who have particular things in common. "One time, we had seven families who each had 7-year-old girls from Guatemala, so we formed a special group for them," says Pavao. The girls, who are now 13, continue to meet once a year before visiting Guatemala in the summer.

Although the groups may target specific issues, they also share key commonalities. "The ultimate goal is for children to be able to cooperate with one another and get together. Many of the children we see have terrible trauma backgrounds, and some seem emotionally younger than they really are. The goal of these groups is to help them negotiate social circumstances, which we do through role-play, acting, scripts, and videotaping," says Pavao.

A page from one group member's zine; Pavao recommends a zine-making activity for similar groups.

For other organizations hoping to offer similar meeting groups, Pavao suggests creating a group based on making zines. Based on magazines, zines--photocopied underground publications identified by their collaged, low-budget aesthetic--are cost-effective and fun to make. In this program, kids design zines based on their own experiences and learn about their new friends' backgrounds in the process. CFFC has designed a basic zine template that other organizations may replicate, available by e-mail request.

These programs allow adopted children to develop personal expression and creativity in a positive way, and are community-building by nature, establishing communities of individuals who may have similar experiences. "One of the most important qualities of the groups is that they allow people to come together and understand that 'shareable is bearable,'" explains Pavao. "Everyone thinks that they're alone because of their circumstances, but suddenly, when you're in a group with someone who has a similar story and background, you aren't so alone anymore. We're people. We're interrelational beings." Laural Hobbes is an editorial intern at CWLA.

Laural Hobbes is an editorial intern at CWLA.

Starting Early

They'd barely changed their calendars, but Children's Services Council of Broward County, a Florida CWLA member, kicked off a child protection campaign with events in January. The program includes local educational workshops to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect through April, child abuse prevention month. The workshops, focusing on specific issues like accidental child drowning and unsafe sleeping conditions, were planned to focus on prevention techniques. The campaign also wanted to pub-licize area resources for abuse survivors.

Men Wanted

Child Advocates of Placer County, which organizes court-appointed state advocates in California, is working to encourage more men to volunteer. About half the local foster youth are boys, but less than 20% of their CASA volunteers are men. While the number of foster youth in Placer County has declined in recent years, there is still a waiting list of youth who need CASA volunteers or mentors. At-risk youth can benefit from having a caring adult in their lives.

Star Power

Actress Tamara Tunie of Law and Order: SVU was recently announced as the official spokesperson for the National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths. The coalition includes the National District Attorneys Association, Every Child Matters Education Fund, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Center for Child Death Review, and the National Children's Alliance. Tunie has appeared in a YouTube video promoting a petition to Congress to raise awareness of child abuse deaths; visit www.endchildabusedeaths.org.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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