Take a Bow11/01/2014 by Alison Byrne
Listen to the story by clicking on the arrow. Transcript with photos below.
TRANSCRIPT OF STORY:
Avian Goldwire: We don’t know why you’re always smiling, they’d be like, you don’t have any issues going on in your life? I’d be like, I always have issues, but, like, they said if you smile, good things come and bad things go away.
Reporter Alison Byrne: That’s Avian Goldwire, an intelligent, sweet, responsible 12-year old girl who loves to sing. But two years ago, that’s not how most people would describe her.
Montage of voices describing problems Avian had faced:
- She started running away
- She had trust issues
- Feeling emotionally overwhelmed
- She was an A/B student and then her grades started to slip
- Sexual abuse. Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Multiple placements. Different foster homes.
- A lot of self-esteem issues
- She had struggled with, ya know, maintaining honesty
- She started cutting herself. Like really gettin’ out of control
- Often break down and cry at times, and I know that was related to her trauma and her not understanding how to communicate it
Alison Byrne: Avian was born when her mother, D’ann, was only 17 years old. At age 30, D’ann’s now a single mother of three. The family lives in a two-bedroom apartment in New Jersey. I sat and talked with both of them on an old loveseat, one of maybe two pieces of furniture in an otherwise sparse living room.
(Sounds of Avian and D’ann laughing, hanging out at home.)
Alison Byrne: “To hear these two lightheartedly bantering, it’s surprising to think about what they’ve gone through. Not long after Avian was born, D’ann had another baby girl. At three months old, that baby died at home, in bed with D’ann. The state’s Child Protection program stepped in. They became hyper-vigilant of D’ann. A few years later, they took Avian out of D’ann’s care for a charge of abuse strongly disputed to be untrue by both mother and daughter. Nevertheless, the state put Avian in a foster home when she was four years old, while D’ann fought to get her back.
Avian: I would be in a place for like 2 weeks, and they would take me, and I’d be in a place for a month and they would take me away. It was just like an on and off thing.
Alison Byrne: Avian spent 3 ½ years with multiple foster parents in homes she tells us were full of abuse and neglect.
Avian: From 5 to 7 years old, I got sexually abused. It would just be rough because I didn’t know what was going on. I would get beat up by their younger kids, and they would hit me. And there was like times when they would put me in the basement for a while and just act like everything was ok.
D’ann Goldwire (Mom): I always had in the back of my mind that something went on. I didn’t want to push her, I wasn’t trying to force her to tell me anything. Like they say a mother knows – I felt it.
Alison Byrne: Avian was eventually reunited with her mom. But a few years later, she started acting out. The two were clashing. Endlessly. And could not find common ground.
Avian: Me and my mom, she asked me about my problems and I’d say, ‘Nothing’s wrong,’ or we’d have arguments and we’d stay mad at each other. I can’t really be around negativity because there’s something that clicks in my head and it just, it brings me in the wrong place. And I cry.
Alison Byrne: Desperate for help, D’ann sought out counseling. But Avian even managed to run away from home while the counselor was there visiting. At this point, D’ann felt unequipped to handle the problems on her own. So, in June of 2013, she moved Avian into the Children’s Home. It’s a New Jersey organization that specializes in residential therapeutic treatment. This is a place for kids who have exhausted all other community support systems. D’ann had heard negative stories about group homes, but she felt she had no choice but to put her trust into what she called her ‘last resort.’
D’ann: When she left that day I was heartbroken. I cried. I hugged her. I told her I loved her. I don’t know how long you’re gonna be here. I’m like, this is supposed to help you grow.
Alison Byrne: While talking with Avian and her mother, I thought to myself, the system failed this child. What good is the next system going to do? What was different about the Children’s Home that would repair this damaged family?
( Door opens, sounds of outside)
Alison Byrne in scene: It looks just like a really nice place, ya know?
Alison Byrne: In August of 2014, I visited the Children’s Home.
AB in scene: It just looks inviting with the flowers and the pretty buildings.
Clayton Rice: Those houses right across the street? Down to the white house, all of those are the Children’s Home’s.
Alison Byrne: That’s Clayton Rice, he was the residential manager of the house where Avian lived while at the Children’s Home. He took me on a tour of their campus. There’s a school, a gymnasium, a computer lab, a library, recreation center and over a dozen single-family homes. Avian lived with 4 other girls, just like her, in a house with trauma-specialized care. This family-like setting was not always part of the package, though. Before, there were cafeteria meals, locker-room showers, eleven kids under one roof. Clinical Director Maria Talone says it used to be much more institutionalized.
Maria Talone: I was a social worker back in the day when it was the 11 beds, and so we have so many kids it’s like divide and conquer. You know, put that down, don’t do that, stop doing that. And we had a turnover of our CEO and the state also had a turnover of their philosophy, and everything came down to home-like settings.
Alison Byrne: In 2004, The Children’s Home started purchasing houses up and down the street across from their offices. Each has a front and back yard and a porch. And there are only 5 kids to a home, with a consistent, set staff assigned to them.
Maria: You walk into these environments, and there’s one on the computer, there are maybe two playing video games, maybe one’s reading a book, maybe one’s shooting hoops out back. And it’s calmer, very much calmer.
Alison Byrne: The girls in Avian’s house would sit down and eat meals as a group. Each home has an assigned vehicle, so they’d go out together on the weekends. They also learned to do their own laundry, and they cooked dinner together.
Maria: So they’re building independence. Now, they need assistance at times, but they are learning the skillset, which before was never an option.
Alison Byrne: Avian’s house was called Alles Cottage. There she received individual therapy, group therapy – even art, movement and music therapy.
Avian: I was really scared, I was nervous. Since I didn’t know anybody who was there it was like, oh no, nobody’s gonna like me. But, they were welcoming.
Diandra: I remember meeting her. She shared with me about her trauma, in good time.
Alison Byrne: That’s Diandra Kaufman. She’s a social worker and the primary clinician assigned to work with Avian.
Diandra: Well you definitely can’t rush building a rapport with them because these are children that have all been through trauma so they have significant attachment and trust issues.
Alison Byrne: Diandra loves running group sessions with the girls, where then they have the opportunity to share their stories with each other.
Diandra: The girls that are at the end of their stay are usually the ones to say to the new girls, ‘It’s gonna be ok. I didn’t want the help either, but now I’m so happy I took it.’ Almost like peer leaders, to say ‘No that’s not your fault.’ But it all starts with them accepting their own trauma.
Clayton: When she got here it was like a question mark on her forehead.
Alison Byrne: That’s Clayton again, Avian’s Alles Cottage manager.
Clayton: She really didn’t feel that she was worthy of anything and feel that she could get a lot done. And as time went on she seen that she could do a lot of things that she didn’t think she could do.
Alison Byrne: Recovering from her trauma was only half the battle for Avian. Building a healthier relationship with her mother was just as important. D’ann spent hours taking multiple buses in order to participate in family sessions at the Children’s Home. Every person I talked to there credited her commitment as a big part of Avian’s success. The more the family is involved, they say, the better the outcome.
Clayton: You know, they cried, and they did all, everything they needed to do, but they did it together.
Diandra: And you saw that affected Avian, because she had hope. She was motivated. Well we see a lot of families that, it breaks my heart, because they don’t participate in family therapy. They think that once the kid’s in the program, that’s it, ya know? My hands are clean, I don’t have to worry about it. And when you have youth in the system, and they look at the end of that road and they don’t see anything there, they’re not gonna work for it. Because there’s nothing to work for.
Alison Byrne: As much as D’ann did dedicate herself to improving their relationship, she still throws credit back to her daughter, who made a lot of changes to open up and accept her treatment.
D’ann: It was mostly Avian, because if Avian didn’t want to do it it wasn’t gonna happen. But like she went through it the right way. She wouldn’t have learned anything if she’d have just skated. I’m like, let these people in. And she did.
Alison Byrne: Avian spent nine months at the Children’s Home, working through her past trauma and dealing with her present issues. Diandra told me it’s always a long process. It starts with psycho-education, where kids learn how their trauma is affecting their lives.
Diandra: Then you delve into relaxation, which is teaching them stress management techniques to keep themselves safe, because a lot of these children do have self-harm behaviors because of the intrusions and the flashbacks about their trauma. And then you really go into helping them understand how to change their thought pattern.
Alison Byrne: Diandra says the grand finale of this treatment is the ‘trauma narrative.’ Once these youth have the tools to cope with their trauma, they write down their story. Avian then chose to read it aloud to D’Ann. It was a cathartic moment for both of them.
Diandra: When we had that final family session where she shared it with her mom, it really impressed me with the way she handled that. When she first started with family sessions, it wasn’t that simple. Even though there was tears, they appeared to be tears of happiness that they were finally able to talk about it.
(Audio fade up of Avian’s little sister playing patty-cake with her – fades under)
Alison Byrne: During Avian’s time at the Children’s Home, she did frequently come home for weekend visits to spend time with her mom and her younger siblings. But when she first moved back home for good, in March of 2014, D’ann was nervous. One time Avian missed the school bus but then quickly promised to take a later one. Still, D’Ann worried that her daughter wasn’t coming home.
D’ann: I’m like, test time. All right Avian, let’s see how this works. We’re always, like, these moment of truths going on. My daughter, the baby, she said, ‘Mommy she’s gonna run away.’ 6 o’clock rolls around. I’m looking. Here comes Avian. I felt so good.
Avian: I try to bring the new ideas that we had there here. Sometimes I cook. Like, I’d be like, Mommy let’s make Greek burgers. She’d be like are you sure it’s good? I’d be like of course it is.
Alison Byrne: Avian’s putting more than just her new cooking skills to work back at home. Her social worker, Diandra, helped devise coping plans to use when she gets stressed out.
Diandra: Avian’s thing was she likes to sing. In the classroom when she would get overwhelmed, she would have permission to go to the back of the classroom and sing. And that helped her.
(Sound of Avian and family: All right, you wanna sing? I would love it.
Avian singing Rihanna song: You look so dumb right now / Standing outside my house / Trying to apologize / You’re so ugly when you cry )
Clayton: Some of the trauma that the kids here endure prior to coming here, it’ll go with them for the rest of their life. Knowing Avian, who she is, ok. She’s a strong young lady. But uh again we don’t know what the future holds. It’s a long walk. It’s a long walk. Depending on the surroundings and the family and everything they go right back to what they do. It happens, it happens a lot. Ya know. Which is sad to say.
D’ann: There’s a few kids that have been back and forth. I can honestly say, Avian’s not gonna be one of those girls.
Diandra: It really makes you feel motivated that our young people are so strong and can go through something and they can really stand back up and say, “I’m not done fighting.”
D’ann: She’s not a completely different person but she’s a different person from where she was a year ago. She was just ‘angry Avian.’ And she’s no longer angry. So. She’s a huge success.
Avian singing audio fades up: Very entertaining / But it’s over now. / Go on and take a bow.
Alison Byrne: From Red Bank and Mount Holly, NJ, this is Alison Byrne.