An Extraordinary Transformation

Posted on March 10, 2022

Sometimes becoming ordinary is the most extraordinary thing that can happen.

Mia’s early years were extraordinary—in the worst way. By age four she had been sexually abused by a relative. She was removed from her mother’s home and her father took custody of her.

But her dad’s job involved frequent travel, and he wasn’t able to care for a young child. He left Mia with various people for various lengths of time. “We don’t even know how many different people he left her with. Were they safe people? Did they care for her? Did they abuse her?” says Kelly Van Den Berg, CHS Family Therapist.

When Mia was seven, Child Protection Services intervened. Parental rights were terminated. Mia lived in a few foster homes, but her behavior was challenging and she was referred to SFCH.

For a year and a half, Mia’s behaviors, including swearing, threats, extreme physical aggression and sexual acting out, did not improve and were disruptive to other children.

“It was more than just the typical defiance we see from kids,” Kelly says.

“Mia’s example of how adults care for kids was not accurate, not safe and not healthy. As staff tried to care for her, even with daily tasks like helping her comb her hair, she would be resistant because she had learned not to trust anyone.”

Staff began to consider a higher level of care for Mia, such as the Human Services Center in Yankton.

Solution, support and success

The small Intensive Program at SFCH doesn’t often have openings. But staff thought outside the box and figured out how to get Mia into this program.

The higher staff-to-child ratio, structure and routine turned out to be transformative. “She learned that she didn’t have to act out negatively to get attention. We taught her about using her words, sorting out her feelings and learning what helped her feel better,” says Kelly.

Over the course of two years, staff worked with Mia to build healthy attachments and relationships. “For her to be able to trust a person that she didn’t know to take care of her and keep her safe—it was just remarkable.”

“Mia just blossomed and became such a delight and a joy. It was such a turnaround. She had accepted help and caregiving to the point where she flourished and became a role model on the unit. She was helpful with younger kids and would encourage kids who were struggling.”

When Mia was ready to transition to foster care, the SD Department of Social Services happened to learn of Alice, a new foster parent. Everyone agreed she would be a great match for Mia.

“Alice had finished her trainings, but then COVID happened,” says Kelly. Everything was uncertain. Staff didn’t want to get Mia’s hopes up if placement couldn’t happen; at the same time, they didn’t want Alice to lose interest.

“We introduced them over video calls and phone calls, which is different from what we typically do. But they had great conversations and got to know each other.”

“When they met for the first time, Mia just ran up and hugged her,” Kelly says. “It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it!”

About three months after they met, Mia left SFCH for her foster home. “It’s such an amazing story,” Kelly says. “Alice is fantastic and both of them are so caring, willing to accept help and learn about one another.” The new family uses counseling available through CHS’s Therapeutic Foster Care program.

Today, Mia enjoys the true blessing of an ordinary life.

She and Alice like to do ordinary family activities. They joke around in ordinary ways. Mia goes to school, has new friends, and looks forward to summer—like an ordinary child—which she has worked so hard to become.

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