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Halle was removed from her parents’ care in 2016 at the age of three due to severe physical and emotional abuse and neglect, and a year later, her newborn sister Maya was placed in county custody as well. Brock and Rachel brought Maya home from the hospital as a foster child. In February 2018, they welcomed Halle into their family. “We always thought that if the girls could be together, that was the right thing to do,” says Rachel.

After two years in the foster care system, Halle had already endured the uncertainty and disruption of six caregiver transitions–in effect, retraumatized with each transition. By the time she was welcomed into her adoptive family, the crippling trauma in her young life had left her with delayed language, night terrors, and aggression reflecting her constant state of fear.

I call it the lost summer because it was half a dozen massive temper tantrums a day.
Brock, Halle's Dad

With so little language, Halle’s only recourse for expression was explosive tantrums of violence and rage, interspersed with moments of complete disassociation. Those early days at home with Halle were marked with exhaustion and a sense of hopelessness. “In those first weeks, I definitely cried every day,” says Rachel. “Probably more than once per day.” Adds Brock, “I call it the lost summer because it was half a dozen massive temper tantrums a day.”

In her young life, Halle’s only experience of relationships was one of violence and instability, which prevented her from trusting the adults in her life who were desperate to help her. Brock and Rachel found themselves helpless to change the tide of Halle’s escalating behavior. “You’ve run everything through your head, every scenario, you’ve tried everything to your best of your ability. And it [doesn’t] make a dent in the situation,” says Brock. “At that point, you’re like, ‘I just don’t know what to do. I’m helpless.’ And that’s never a good place to be.” However, they refused to give up on Halle.

Overwhelmed and struggling to penetrate Halle’s survival mode, Rachel and Brock enrolled her in the Harman Center’s Family Place Program.  Whereas she had previously received psychiatric diagnoses of “everything under the sun,” according to Brock, including oppositional defiant disorder and ADHD, the trained therapists at St. David’s Center operated under the assumption that Halle’s behaviors were a direct result of the trauma she had experienced, until proven otherwise. As Halle’s therapist Michal explains, “All of those behaviors come from severe trauma.”

Trained therapists created a safe, secure therapeutic classroom space for Halle, one that would allow her to find her words and build trust with others. “They just loved her and gave her so much of themselves,” says her mother, Rachel. “I have never met people so devoted and so just committed in every way to the children that they’re helping.”

For Halle, her entire existence was a montage of one terrifying moment after the next, each moment a crisis. However, at Family Place, says Rachel, “we had this program where three hours a day she was with professionals who were giving her a level of care and security we couldn’t even give her, and at the same time, working on the social emotional growth…necessary to not live in this crisis state all the time.”

Part of what we do at St. David's is to help parents, schools, and caregivers understand from where those behaviors are coming from in order to help them learn how to narrate for the kids, how to give them more tools…and to help them learn how to comfort them.
Michal Frank, Mental Health Practitioner, St. David's Center

Because of Halle’s deeply rooted fear of abandonment, creating stability in her world was of tantamount importance. The therapists at Family Place worked diligently to instill a framework of predictability and structure around Halle that engendered a sense of safety and trust over time. In addition to the daily therapeutic classroom time provided by Family Place, they also implemented in-home therapy for the entire family, arming Rachel and Brock with the skills and support vital to providing the level of care that Halle needed. Michal asserts, “Part of what we do at St. David’s is to help parents, schools, and caregivers understand from where those behaviors are coming from in order to help them learn how to narrate for the kids, how to give them more tools…and to help them learn how to comfort them.”

In creating a safe and secure environment for Halle in the classroom and at home, this allowed her brain to shut off survival mode and become available for learning. Halle experienced exponential growth over a relatively short period of time, developing her communication skills and honing her ability to articulate her wants and needs, and even connecting with her peers. “The speed at which that starts snowballing over the course of 12 to 18 months is extraordinary,” marvels Brock, “and I cannot thank St. David’s enough.”

Smart, observant, and a natural-born leader, her gifts were apparent to everyone who worked with her at Family Place. “Halle was the glue of the group,” describes Michal. Therapist Maurio agrees, affirming that “what makes Halle special is she always held the group together. She will always pull [the kids] together, so when she’s there, we…lean on her for her strengths to actually get the other kids to…come along and participate.”

Michal, Halle & Maurio

Rachel and Brock credit St. David’s Center and the trained therapists at Family Place for enabling their kind, adventurous little girl to shine through the darkness of her traumatic past, toward an even brighter future for Halle. “It is a magical place,” says Rachel. “I sing St. David’s praises at every opportunity that I can because it’s supported both Brock and I as parents and learning to…get through these stages and out of crisis and into a place where we could be in a place of love.”

For the terrified little girl who once had no words to express how she felt, Halle now has plenty of words to describe the future she sees for herself. “She said, ‘I want to be a nurse and a teacher and a mom,’” proclaims Rachel, proudly. She and Brock, and the “village” of people who love and support Halle, also have infinite, far-reaching words to describe their hopes, dreams and aspirations for her. “She’s a justice seeker,” says Michal. “I see her becoming a lawyer.” Rachel’s wishes for her daughter are far simpler: “I wish her the chance to grow and find joy in herself and succeed at something she wants,” shares Rachel, “and what she wants is to be someone who gives to other people. I really want her to grow strong enough that she can do that.”

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