Mary initially came into the foster system in Los Angeles County at 2 ½ years old. A child abuse report had been made by a neighbor saying that she had heard a child crying for hours at a time and that there was a lot of activity in the home at odd hours of the day and night. Upon arrival, social workers discovered Mary sitting on a mattress on the floor with diapers that had not been changed, a bottle that was empty and moldy, and an adult female passed out on the couch. There were silverfish and cockroaches crawling all over the mattress and rat droppings in the kitchen. There was no food in the fridge and the house was filthy. They had difficulty arousing the woman on the couch.
As Mary’s story began to unfold, it was discovered that she had bruises, bites from “human teeth,” and had possibly been sexually abused. Mary was instantly removed from the environment and placed in emergency foster care. Over the next six years, Mary was in and out of foster care. Her mother, hooked on meth, tried several times to stay clean. She remained sober for several years and Mary was returned to her care; however within a few months of Mary’s return, the mother returned to her drug of choice. Mary was again removed from her care and the mother’s parental rights were terminated. Mary was placed with a potential adoptive family at 5½. At this point, Mary had been in three separate foster homes. She displayed aggressive behavior, bed wetting, nightmares, delayed learning, and an inability to attach to significant others. The potential adoptive family felt that they could support and love Mary in spite of these issues; but, after six months, they had become disillusioned and uncertain as to their ability to provide adequate care. The adoption was terminated and Mary was returned to foster care.
Mary continued in foster care until she was almost seven. At this point, Helen came into Mary’s life. Helen was single, in her late 30’s, and a teacher’s aide at Mary’s school. She took an active interest in Mary. A bond developed and Helen took all necessary steps to become not only a foster parent but an eventual adoptive parent. Mary was placed in Helen’s care and the adoption procedure also began. Helen brought Mary into counseling at Santa Anita Family Service. Mary had individual play therapy and conjoint family sessions with Helen. Over time, Mary’s aggressive behavior decreased, she was developing friendships, and making great strides academically. Then, Mary was dealt another blow. One evening, Helen had asked Mary to take a bath. Helen was reading a book on the sofa. Mary returned to ask Helen to comb out her hair and was unable to arouse Helen. Helen died of a heart attack shortly thereafter.
Once again, Mary was returned to foster care. Therapy stopped for a season and then began again, as Mary was placed in another pre adoptive home at the age of 9. In this family, with two older boys, Mary was the youngest and only girl. The adoptive mom stayed at home and the father was a medical oncologist. Though the adjustment was difficult, the family continued conjoint and individual treatment for Mary for approximately two years. Perhaps because of the remarkable connection that Mary was able to make with Helen, and also the love, constancy, and predictability of Mary’s final adoptive family, Mary began to flourish. She is now 17 and ready to graduate from high school with plans for college.