Three-year-old Alexis is having a meltdown.
This isn’t a typical toddler tantrum; this is a rage-infused outburst that lasts for hours. Once the storm subsides, parents Tom and Alison climb the stairs to her room. Complete devastation surrounds them and the words that tear at their hearts each and every time fall from her lips: “Will you get rid of me now?”
Tom and Alison fight back the tears of distress. They walk beside Alexis’ bed, take her in their arms and whisper, “No, we will never get rid of you. You’re ours. You’re our family and always will be.”
Tom and Alison had been married for nine years when they decided they wanted to grow their family. They had a 6-year-old son and lost a daughter in childbirth a few years earlier. They knew adoption was the right path for them. That’s when they heard about Alexis, a bright, lively, energetic 3-year-old needing a forever home.
But things became challenging when they noticed Alexis’ extreme behavior. At school, she would hit students and kick teachers. At home, the violence was even worse.
“Every day we faced the same nightmare,” Alison recalled. “She would hurt herself, slam her head against the wall, beat and throw her baby dolls, and even broke her bed.”
Eventually it came to light that, despite her young age, Alexis had suffered severe abuse.
As a result, Alexis was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“We loved this child dearly,” Tom said, “but we needed help.”
The St. Louis couple turned to United Way supported Family Resource Center, an agency devoted to preventing child abuse and neglect. Through family-centered therapeutic, educational and support services, Family Resource Center gives kids a chance at a better life.
Alexis was enrolled in the Therapeutic Day Treatment Preschool of Family Resource Center. There, she met therapist April Duncan.
April began meeting with Tom and Alison weekly, both in her office and in the family’s home.
“They [Family Resource Center] took us seriously,” Alison says. “They understood how difficult things were, instead of thinking we were exaggerating.”
Due to what happened in Alexis’ biological home, she didn’t trust adults to keep her safe. Before April could begin working with Alexis on her trauma, she had to first form a relationship with her and allow Alexis to learn who she was. Through various play therapy techniques, the two bonded. Many times Alexis would play out her trauma through free play (child-directed play), and April would implement things, such as safety planning, to reassure her of the safe adults she had in her life.
For Tom and Alison, Family Resource Center provided Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. This attachment-based therapy taught them how much communication, consistency and love meant to Alexis, no matter what.
“Before we began therapy with April, the only tool I had in my toolbox was discipline,” Alison said. “But you can’t discipline a child who’s already lost everything, who has had all of these terrible things happen to them. You can’t do anything worse to them.”
Alexis’ Story: abuse, Family Resource Center, second chancesToday, Alexis is thriving and preparing for first grade this fall. While she still has the occasional outburst like any 6-year-old, they’ve improved significantly. What used to continue for hours can now be resolved in a matter of minutes.
“Alexis has a second chance, not only because of the services provided at Family Resource Center, but because of the two dedicated parents she has that will love her unconditionally,” April said.
From the beginning, Alison and Tom were dedicated to do whatever was necessary to give Alexis every chance at a new life with a loving family.
“Now I can see the precious little girl hiding inside, and I realize how much I like her – how much I love her,” Alison said.
About Family Resource Center
Family Resource Center is a leader in reducing child abuse and neglect. Programs and services are provided in St. Louis City and the counties of St. Louis, St. Charles, Franklin, Osage, Jefferson and Gasconade. Their mission is to give kids a chance for a better life by strengthening families through family-centered therapeutic, educational and support services. Family Resource Center has been a United Way funded agency since 1978.