Last Wednesday was our first off-grounds visit with Ozzie since his placement at Harborcreek Residential Treatment Facility back in May. This is his second stay there and it has been an immense blessing. The facility is astounding and Ozzie thrives under the structure, care, and therapies offered there. In an ideal world we would be able to meet Ozzie’s extreme therapeutic needs at home through outpatient services, but his history of extreme abuse and neglect prior to adoption, coupled with his multiple diagnoses, make the level of therapeutic care needed for healing unrealistic in an outpatient form. Our hope is that an extended stay at this RTF, with its many forms of therapy and its superb staff, will facilitate a level of healing that his therapist at home can’t achieve in two hours a week.
At Harborcreek Ozzie is eagerly involved and engaged in multiple therapeutic groups daily in addition to art therapy, music therapy, trauma release yoga, EMDR therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma therapy and family therapy weekly. He also attends school on campus for a half day and participates in work release program at the carpentry workshop a few days a week where he has the opportunity to learn carpentry skills. With other boys that qualify for this privilege, he is learning to build picnic benches which are then sold to local businesses and organizations. He loves his time with the work release team.
Every Wednesday I drive 2 1/2 hours up to Erie to have a family session with Ozzie. This is not required. In fact most parents participate in these weekly therapy sessions over the phone, as families are scattered across the state of Pennsylvania, but I have found Ozzie makes more progress in his healing with one-on-one, face-to-face support and accountability. We have turned these family therapy days into weekly social visits. Rather than taking advantage of open visiting hours for family every Sunday from 1-4 pm (which is what we did each week during his last stay there,) I piggyback a social visit following these weekly family therapy sessions. It has worked out well, as it was always a challenge to fit in church and get up to Erie before visiting hours were over. It made Sundays stressful and took us away from our other kids on the one day of the week we have everyone home together for family time. With this new routine I am able to focus on Ozzie that day and enjoy an extended visit with him following therapy where our time is spent playing the board games I bring with me.
Now that he has been at Harborcreek for three months, and is doing so well there, the next step is transitioning those skills to the home environment. This is especially important for Ozzie, as his ability to self manage is far more challenging when he is around family and is being shown love than it is for him in an institutionalized setting that is more structured, disconnected and impersonal. The first step in this transition process (which will probably occur over the course of six months) is to begin introducing short off campus visits with siblings. These short visits give everyone a chance at reconnection while also allowing us to increase Ozzie’s emotional discomfort and observe his reaction to emotional triggers so that when he returns back to Harborcreek at the conclusion of the off-grounds visit he can process through the experience (and the resulting behaviors) with his trauma therapist and come up with strategies to implement next visit.
It was decided that for his first off-grounds visit with siblings we would just bring Molly and Grace. Both girls are well versed in how to manage Ozzie in an emotionally healthy way without being triggered themselves, so we thought it best to set everyone up for success and just bring the girls. It was especially important for Molly to attend as she will be leaving for school in Idaho in two weeks and I felt it important that she and Ozzie have a visit before an extended separation. There were hurts that needed healing in their relationship with Molly being one of Ozzie’s primary targets before he was admitted to the RTF. We were granted a two-hour off-grounds visit and we chose to head to the Erie Zoo.
The zoo was the perfect choice for the girls’ first visit with Ozzie since seeing him in his dysregulated state last spring. I could tell both were apprehensive and a bit nervous, but hopeful that healing was possible. I felt a visit to the zoo would be a good environment for their first visit together. My thought was that at the zoo wee would have the benefit of being able to move around as we talked and have plenty of conversation starters as we experience the zoo. Also, I have found that animals have an emotionally calming/therapeutic effect on all my kids, so I figured it would increase the likelihood of everyone staying regulated, thus ensuring a positive visit among siblings.
We arrived at the zoo following a family therapy session that included all of us and Ozzie’s trauma therapist. We started our visit with a picnic lunch that we packed and brought along with us.
Once everyone’s bellies were full we started our exploration of the zoo.
The charm of the Erie zoo is found in its historic roots. Opened in 1929 it has a charm that isn’t seen in modern zoos. It is on the smaller size which made it perfect for the amount of time allotted for our visit with Ozzie, and there were just enough exhibits to entertain us during those two hours.
We all enjoyed strolling through the zoo looking at the animals and watching them interact with each other.
The Orangutans were especially charming as they had a little one in the group who was a delight to watch. I could have spent all day at that exhibit!
Ozzie’s favorite animal was of course the donkey. He has a thing for donkeys!
He also loved the train display set up in the center courtyard.
As we walked around the zoo he was able to point out some of the picnic tables they make in the Harborcreek carpentry shop and sell to the Erie Zoo. He was quite proud to claim some ownership in finished project.
It was a beautiful day and everyone had a good time. The interactions were positive and the kids enjoyed getting time together.
We are one step further down the road to healing past hurts.