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August 2013

So much has been happening these last few months that some days it's a challenge to keep track of it all! We've been working hard to continue to support all of you as you work to bring the 3-5-7 Model to your children and families.  We have been working to keep our newsletter and Facebook communications active.  We want to put into practice what we know is so important to relationships-and what we always stress when working with children and families-and that is providing continuity.


The Importance of Continuity

As you know, the attachment cycle provides the foundation to understanding relationship building, through the continuity and stability of responding to needs, and establishing security and trust.  In my book The 3-5-7 Model: A Practice Approach to Permanency, Stories of Hope and Healing for Children, Youth and Families, I posed this question: "How might our limited time to provide services be redistributed to ensure that continuity is provided to children and families engaged in grief work and relationship rebuilding?"    

 Engaging individuals to do the work of grieving and relationship building, using the 3-5-7 Model, requires continuity and stability of caseworker and caregiver support services.  Children and youth should be seen every other week at a minimum, with phone contact in the interim. This establishes continuity for the work being done and provides the context for a relationship of safety for ongoing expressions of grief.  What distinguishes the 3-5-7 Model from other grief work models is the focus on continuity-continuity of responses for those grieving, and continuity of time given to support this grief process. 


Every time a child is moved, immediate attention is given to their feelings of loss. Daily support is given to the pain, fears, and confusions of this occurrence, from a feelings perspective, from those who are care givers for the child, and frequency of case worker contacts.  In order for our children and families to build trust with us and allow us to meet their needs as they grieve, our contact must not be interrupted and disjointed. 


The Role of Technology in Continuity
Many of us use technology to assist in maintaining our relationships in our personal lives.  Think about all of the relationships that are important to you.  Are those who are most important to you physically close to you?  If not, how do you stay connected to those loved ones who you are not able to see often?  Do you use text messages,Skype, or email to stay connected? How do you react when you receive an unexpected card or note from someone? 
Can we utilize technology to develop continuity in relationships with the children and youth we work with?  Are you already doing this?  What does this look like for you?  Do you have concerns about using technology?  We'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  Connect with us on Facebook and lets us know what you think.
Featured Activity

Name of Activity:  Candle Lighting Ceremony


Key Concept:  Working with Family Relationships and Loyalty


Primary Questions:  Where Am I Going?          How Will I Get There?


Purpose:  To recognize, remember, and honor those who have impacted the child or youth; to give symbolic meaning to memories of significant relationships and expressions of lost persons; to provide significance to experiences that hold special value. 


Materials Needed:  Candles/candle holders to represent each of the people listed below, lighter/matches.


Getting Started:  This activity is best suggested prior to the time that you wish to hold the ceremony, so that the child or youth will have time to prepare for their participation. The worker can start by simply stating that candles will be lit as a remembrance of those people who have impacted her life.   


1. The first candle is for our birth parents. We light it in honor of the gift they gave us ~ the gift of life.


2. The second candle is to remember our foster parents ~ the people who cared for us on our journey.


3. The third candle is for the memories that were especially hard for us. This candle is for thinking about those adults who should have cared for us but didn't. Maybe they hurt us. The light reminds us that we are going to be able to look at sad memories, too. They are part of the past.


4. The fourth candle is for the people we had to leave behind ~ perhaps a grandparent or a birth sibling. These are sometimes sad memories, too.  The light reminds us that we are getting strong enough to look at those things, too.


5. The fifth candle is for our adoptive parents ~ the parents we have now - the parents helping us to grow and who are learning to help us light our past so that we can understand.


6. The sixth candle is for the people who have helped us along the way, helping us to learn to like ourselves and to trust adults who can keep us safe.


7. The seventh candle is the best of all ~ it is for ourselves and our future. It is light for all of the wonderful things we are going to do in the future.


Allow adequate time for the child or youth to be still with their thoughts throughout the ceremony. 


When using the ceremony with parents, adapt the meanings for each of the candles to match the unique circumstance of that parent. 


Tips and techniques to making the activity meaningful: When we experience a loss, whether it is the end of a relationship, the death of a loved one, or relocating to a new town leaving behind friends, family, and all that is familiar, we grieve.  We all acknowledge that grieving is normal and healthy and expected. There are many rituals surrounding loss through death; participation in rituals can provide relief from the isolating feelings that accompany grief.  For children and youth in foster care, there is often no ritual to recognize and validate the feelings of loss for people who have impacted their lives.   Rituals can provide the permission that the child or youth needs to express his deepest thoughts and feelings about loved ones from whom he is separated.  The act of lighting a candle in honor of those who have died is a centuries old tradition, and it can be adapted for use by children and youth in foster care.  Workers can use the concept illustrated here, or modify elements of the ceremony to meet the individual needs of the child or youth.  This is also an activity that could be considered in which groups of youth can participate.   


Another way to help children and youth remember loved ones, particularly around the holidays, is to help the youth create a memory tree.  A small artificial tree two to three feet high can be provided to the youth.  Pictures of loved ones can then be placed in ornament frames (many craft stores carry these) and hung on the tree.   


Visit me at our Facebook page and continue the dialogue!


Darla L. Henry

2012 Darla L. Henry & Associates
P.O. Box 4847 Harrisburg, Pa 17111-0847
dhenry@darlahenry.org   |   717-919-6286