Special Edition: Caregiver Spotlight on Trauma and Self-Care

We are delighted to share our first caregiver spotlight episode! This episode will focus on looking at Trauma and Self-Care through a caregiver lens.

Join Janine Beaudry and Sharon O’Neill from the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership as they talk with Cathy Frost-Brooks, adoptive parent, trainer, and FSD Resource Coordinator about taking care of yourself and your children, who have been impacted by trauma, through the years.


Cassie Gillespie  (00:03):

Hi I’m Cassie Gillespie and you’re listening to Welcome To The Field. Welcome To The Field is a podcast of targeted trainings for Child Welfare professionals. And we often focus on the experience of Child Welfare workers out in the field. However, for the last two episodes of our season, we want to bring you a different lens and a different focus and shine a spotlight on the caregiver experience. So today’s episode is a special episode, specifically designed for kin, foster and adoptive caregivers here in Vermont. Enjoy!

Janine Beaudry (00:40):

Hello and thanks to our listeners for tuning in today. I’m Janine Beaudry.

Sharon O’Neill (00:44):

And I’m Sharon O’Neill.

Janine Beaudry (00:46):

We’re Kin, Foster and Adoptive Family Training Specialists with the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership we’ll be your hosts today as we talk about taking care of your children and youth, who’ve been impacted by trauma and taking care of yourself through the years. Joining us today is Cathy Frost-Brooks, who is the parent of three daughters all now young adults.

One daughter was born to her and two daughters were born into different families and Cathy brought them into her family by fostering then adopting them through Family Services. In addition to that, Cathy has been a family services Resource Coordinator for over six years, supporting other kin foster and adoptive caregivers along the same journey. Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your rich experience with us today Cathy.

Cathy Frost-Brooks (01:29):

Thank you for having me.

Janine Beaudry (01:32):

Our listeners are a mixture of child protection professionals and kin, foster and adoptive caregivers. Could you give a description for us of the, kind of the major landmarks on your journey to becoming an adoptive parent and a Resource Coordinator?

Cathy Frost-Brooks (01:48):

Sure. So for me, my birth daughter was born in December of 1997. I was a single parent for 22 years. So kind of did this journey by myself.

Cathy Frost-Brooks (02:06):

So decided that I wanted to add to my family and so looked into doing foster care started taking the classes that were required for all mandatory foster parents, in the spring of 2007. And in that class met another couple who had a daughter that was, we figured out their child and my daughter were like two and a half months apart. And they asked me if I would do respite. And I said, sure, why not? So my now oldest daughter came and started doing respite in the Spring of 2007. After her being with us two times for respite, she very loudly proclaimed that she wanted to live there forever. So we talked to her social worker about making that happen. So she came to live with us full time in the fall of 2007, right before school started. Her adoption was finalized in August of 2008. So it took a little less than a year for adoption for her. My youngest daughter was placed with us four days before Christmas in 2012. So she was with the two oldest and myself for seven months. And she went to another foster home in July of 2013 throughout that time that she was gone for about 16 months. Throughout that time we did respite for her, you know, we hung out on holidays and vacations. And in contacting, you know, being with her really talked about that, it wasn’t going well in that foster home. And so her social worker called me, it was about October of 2014 and asked if I would consider being a forever placement for her again.

Cathy Frost-Brooks (04:19):

So talk to my two oldest and we all decided, you know, absolutely she needed to come back to our house. So she came back in November of 2014 and her adoption was finalized in may of 2015. So that was getting the three kiddos. And so professionally I became a Resource Coordinator in March of 2014, which was kind of during the time that my youngest was, you know, coming back to our home. So it required talking to, my supervisor and, and district director, as well as the commissioner and getting permission kind of all up the line to have her come live with us.

Janine Beaudry (05:11):

And was that part of your decision to become a resource coordinator? How did that decision come about?

Cathy Frost-Brooks (05:17):

So I think some of it was, I enjoyed being a foster parent and an adoptive parent and wanted to keep my foot in that world and I wanted to connect with other foster parents. So it was, it’s a great way to do that.

Sharon O’Neill (05:37):

Cathy, I’m wondering how your foster and adoptive journey has influenced you in your role as a Resource Coordinator.

Cathy Frost-Brooks (05:43):

Yeah. It does every single day, all day. So I often wear kind of two hats during the day. I wear my resource coordinator hat but lots of times I wear my foster-mom adoptive-mom, bio-mom hat. And I think that having the ability to kind of have both of those roles really helps in that, I get it, I understand what foster parents go through, what that journey is like, the joys and the challenges and the ups and the downs. So, you know, I think it, it helps people you know, know that I’ve been there in that process with them.

Janine Beaudry (06:29):

You must have a very large closet for all of the hats that you’re wearing.

Janine Beaudry (06:37):

So we know that the majority of children and youth who come into state’s custody have experienced trauma, both in their families of origin, and unfortunately through the system’s intervention. What are the main things you’ve learned about parenting a child or youth impacted by trauma? And how has that understanding changed through the years?

Cathy Frost-Brooks (06:58):

That’s a great question. So both of my adopted daughters have very similar diagnoses, they’re diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as complex developmental trauma. Those were words that I had no idea what they meant when, especially my oldest came into my home and so had to really quickly figure that out. And for me, that kind of started with, I was used to parenting my birth daughter. But none of the stuff that I typically did for her worked for my oldest. And so I was constantly at a loss as how to, she had some pretty negative behaviors. And so, wanting to change those behaviors and none of that stuff that I think parents typically do, the timeouts, the reward chart, the grounding, the taking away of privileges, none of that worked. And so, I really was struggling and started reaching out and started doing research and really wanted to understand why wasn’t this working? You know, it wasn’t working for her and it wasn’t working for me. And so I started reaching out to her therapist, to to the foster care system, like to anybody that would listen to learn about, help me help her. And so I started learning about trauma, what it was, why it mattered, for her and for me. What she needed from me as a parent to help her address her trauma. And so I think one of the things that I probably naively thought is, that love, fixes everything. And I could just love the trauma out of her. And it doesn’t work that way. And it took me a really long time to figure that out. But I needed to learn what she needed from me. And so those things really were to be an advocate for her. That for both of my girls, I was their fifth placement when they came to me. So they all needed to know that, I wasn’t going anywhere that no matter what they did or what they said, that I was always going to be there. Sometimes probably they didn’t want me there, but I wasn’t going to walk away. I wasn’t going to leave them. They needed me to advocate for them to tell the world what they needed, because they couldn’t at that point in their lives, tell people what they needed. They needed for me to provide stability and consistency, you know, for them to really understand that I said what I meant, and I meant what I said, you know, if I said, hey, we’re going to go get ice cream. At the end of the day, then we had to go get ice cream at the end of the day. That they always knew that I was going to be honest with my words.

Cathy Frost-Brooks (10:26):

They, they needed to know that they were safe in my home and not just physically safe, but emotionally safe. And I think that probably out of everything took the longest for them to understand. And they needed me to understand what trauma was, even though they didn’t, you know, like, mom, I need you to learn what trauma is. They’re not going to tell you that, but they need you to understand, or they needed me to understand what their trauma was and how it presented for them. And then it looks different, right? Trauma looks different for an eight year old versus a 10 year old versus a 16 year old. And now a 22 year old, almost 23 year old. Like it just looks and presents itself really differently. And so I’ve had to adjust my parenting throughout the years. And I parent all three of my children very differently because they have different needs. Which sometimes has looked like it wasn’t fair or that it wasn’t equal between the three of them, but it wasn’t about being equal. It was about giving each of my girls what they needed. So I think that you know, for me, I needed to learn, do a whole lot of learning about what trauma was and then how trauma impacted them and their lives and our family.

Sharon O’Neill (11:59):

Cathy I’m so glad that you said that you thought you could love it, you know, like if you just loved them, that you could love the trauma out of it. Another thing that I hear foster parents say a lot is I don’t understand why these behaviors are happening because the trauma is not happening anymore. So I’m just wondering, you know, for the, maybe the newer foster parents that might be listening today to the behavior behavioral or emotional issues that arise related to trauma, do you always know that it’s related to trauma or is that sometimes confusing?

Cathy Frost-Brooks (12:33):

No, you don’t always know. I think just like every parent that’s out there that you second guess everything you do you know, you want to know if you did it right, or if you screwed up. And I think, those are the times that you reach out? You talk to your Resource Coordinator, you talk to the pediatrician, you talk to the child’s therapist, you talk to your therapist, you do your own research to really be able to tease out is that developmentally appropriate for all eight year old’s, or is that trauma that this eight year old is specifically doing? And the longer you’re with that child, the more you’re going to understand them and their development and their personality. And so I think it becomes a little bit easier over time to figure out like, yep, that’s not normal development and that’s trauma. And let’s address that in a way that meets their needs.

Janine Beaudry (13:35):

That sounds like really becoming an expert on what trauma impacts look like in terms of your child’s emotions and behavior and understanding how that changes over time is pretty crucial. It sounds like you have to be quite a detective and really gain a lot of information and understanding how has that influenced the way you made sure your kids’ needs were met by the other people and the systems in their lives. You mentioned advocacy earlier. I wonder how that plays in?

Cathy Frost-Brooks (14:01):

Yeah, so, like I said for both of my daughters, I was their fifth placement. You know, they moved a lot, especially my oldest. She was eight and she was taken into custody at three. So, you know, five years of placement changes, respite people, you know, back and forth to bio mom’s, that’s really hard. And so I think the only consistent person and all of that time was the social worker in her life. But pretty quickly I became the person who understood her and not only knew her behaviors, but knew, what her, her joys were, what made her really happy. What really she struggled with. So you know, I felt like once I understood those, that it was my job to advocate for both of them in the bigger world, because they couldn’t do that for themselves, especially, you know, not at eight years old. So say for my oldest, she really presented with lots of anxiety out in the world. And so, I always felt like it was my job to help her out, to help her be able to be successful out in the bigger world. So things like she, for years and years and years needed to know if we were leaving the house where we were going, what time we would be back who we were going to go with, what we were going to do when we were there. That that was her hyper-vigilance. That was her way of keeping her body safe. You know, if she knew everything that was going to happen. So being able to sit down with her ahead of time and say, you know, we’re going to go to Grammy and Grandpa’s, and we’re going to be there for a couple of hours and we’re going to have dinner and we’re going to be the only people there. And then we’re going to come home. You know, she, she needed that much information because nobody had ever given it to her. She was always just told, like, get in the car, we’re leaving kind of thing, which made her anxiety worse. You know, things like with school, instead of just sending her on the first day we spent weeks and weeks before school started, going into the building. We got her schedule ahead of time so that we could walk through every single day. This is where your locker is. This is where you can put your stuff. This is where the bathrooms are. This is how the lunch lines going to work. You know, all of those routines and schedules, so that, again, it could ease her anxiety and help heal that trauma. My job also was to interface with the adults in her life. And especially with school that meant doing lots and lots of meetings ahead of school. So pulling together meetings with all of her teachers, the special educator, the principal, kind of anybody who would come in contact with her and really helping them understand that she has trauma. And this is why. And for her, it meant not touching her, she had learned at a very young age, that touch was bad and it hurts. And so she was completely unable to have anybody touch her, you know, a teacher standing behind her and putting their hand on her shoulder for her would send her into a panic attack where another child, might be okay with that. But for them to really understand,, don’t touch her if she asks you it’s one thing but don’t put your hand on her shoulder or put your hand on her back to help her or something like that. Like, don’t do that. Because then I would get the phone call and have to leave work to go into school, to help calm her down because she could not refocus, it used to bring her back to when she was being hurt. So again, it was my job to interface with the adults in her life so that they understood. That meant coaches, her friends, parents it meant talking to my family really in helping them understand, like, why does she do that? Or why doesn’t she do that? It kind of meant advocating for things like no homework because working on family and attachment was way more important than working on math. You know, that she needed to be able to sit and play a game with me and help me cook dinner and, you know, go out in the garden or whatever it was, she needed to be able to do that so that she and I could attach to each other and not be figuring out homework, you know, and as she got older, that advocacy looks different for both of my girls. It’s a little bit different, again, talking to an eight-year old’s teacher versus, a senior in high school and what do they need. Both of my girls were not comfortable with lots of men and so making sure she had, they both had a female dentist and a female pediatrician making sure that when they were learning to derive that that person was a woman that was sitting next to them in the car. Little things like that, but they add up to children being able to be successful. And that was always my goal, can they be successful doing this? So I think for foster parents and adoptive parents to be okay with leaving situations where their children cannot be successful that I had to learn that it was okay to do that, to pick up the toys at grandma and grandpa’s and say we’re leaving because that’s what they needed.

Cathy Frost-Brooks (20:25):

And so that’s what I always felt like my job was, to be an advocate for them. And if they were having a really hard time at a friend’s house or at family’s house to pick up and leave and go, so they could be successful. So you know, I think as an RC or a Resource Coordinator that I feel like it’s my job to advocate for foster families and I think that looks different depending on each family. Some families need me to help talk to the social worker and talk to them about, finding respite or you know, doing this training or, celebrating with foster families, all the really great things that kids do. Reminding foster families that children make lots and lots of gains. And sometimes it’s hard to see that when you’re right in the middle of parenting but they do, children always make gains. And so I feel like it’s a great role for me to be able to advocate for other foster and adoptive families again, because I get it. And I understand how wonderful it is and how challenging it is. And that we all need somebody in our corner.

Janine Beaudry (21:54):

So it sounds like having caring people who understand what you’re going through and, and this is probably even more crucial can step in and lend a hand and a heart is a necessary ingredient for taking care of yourself in all of this. Can you talk a little bit about how community, family and other supportive relationships make a difference for you? And the kin, foster and adoptive parents you support?

Cathy Frost-Brooks (22:18):

Yeah, sure. I think having community members, so whether that’s like your Resource Coordinator that you can call and say, “Hey, I really need respite”. Or other foster parents that you can reach out to, or other adoptive parents that you can reach out to. You know, maybe if it’s not respite, just to have a conversation with somebody who understands, like, you know, my child is really struggling. They’ve had three visits this week with bio-mom and dad, and they’re having a hard time with that. Your family might not understand what that means, but another foster family does or another adoptive family does. And so having that population of people to be able to reach out to, I think is really, really important. Again, having lots and lots and lots of training to understand, why kids are doing what they’re doing and then how you can respond to it. And to know that, they’re not behaving that way, it’s not personal. It’s their trauma speaking. I think it’s just super important for foster families to have their own things that fill up their bucket or fill up their cup. But also how do you do that? And it, it takes some practice.

Sharon O’Neill (23:46):

Kathy, I’ve heard other foster and adoptive parents say that their families, or maybe even their friends don’t always understand or have compassion for people who are on this journey that you have been on. Do you have any words of wisdom for those foster and adoptive parents to help them bring their family and friends on board?

Cathy Frost-Brooks (24:08):

Yeah. I think lots of people who say that they don’t understand, it’s because they don’t know, right. They have never seen a foster child, or they’ve never spent time with them. They don’t understand a biological family situation and what brought them to kind of to be where they are. And so I think educating people, becomes a foster parents and adoptive parent’s job, it’s not a foster child’s fault that they are in foster care. And they are lovable and wonderful, amazing human beings who need people to help them. And so I think education about, what the foster care world is and what it means for children. And what trauma means for those kids. And again, it’s not a personal thing, little guy isn’t behaving that way to tick off grandma, they’re doing it because of their trauma. So I think it’s really important to be able to educate people about what foster care is and what it’s also not. That it’s not a child’s fault, and that lots of children do go home and are reunified with bio-family and those that can’t be, need forever homes. And so, yeah, I think just education, education, education, right?

Janine Beaudry (25:50):

One of the many hats in your closet, right? You’re a trauma expert and educator, and it sounds like your ability to have empathy and compassion for yourself, empathy and compassion for your kids, and then extend that to the folks in their lives so that you can respond when those folks aren’t being particularly helpful, right? Like, Hey, here’s, what’s going on for my child. And here’s why it looks like what it looks like, and I can understand how that’s frustrating and here’s what my child needs. And it’s not a personal thing. So even kind of raising that compassion for the person who you’re trying to help understand what’s going on and how to interact in a more healthy way. Right?

Cathy Frost-Brooks (26:40):

Yeah. Most definitely.

Janine Beaudry (26:42):

That’s a cowboy hat. I think that one’s a cowboy hat. Oh my gosh. So we need to wrap up today’s episode in a minute, but before we say goodbye, I wanted to give you a chance to share some parting words of wisdom with our listeners. And it doesn’t have to be, you’ve given us so much, profound, good information. So no worries at all. But if you had to distill it down to one nugget, what is that nugget you’d like anyone listening, who either is, or wants to be, or works with kin, foster and adoptive caregivers. What’s that one thing that, you know, now that you wish you knew back when you started this journey that you can leave with them today?

Cathy Frost-Brooks (27:27):

That’s a great question. I think the importance of understanding trauma, and again, love goes a long way and everybody needs love, but you can’t love the trauma out of them. And so to inform yourself, have lots of trainings, have lots of conversations about what trauma is and what trauma is over the lifetime of a child. And so that you can parent successfully a child long term.

Janine Beaudry (28:07):

And so even though your daughters are adults now, you’re still parenting, right?

Cathy Frost-Brooks (28:11):

Oh yeah.

Janine Beaudry (28:15):

It does not end at 18. Parenting is a lifelong relationship. So Cathy, thank you so much for those words of wisdom and all of the hard one insights you’ve shared with us today, we appreciate you being with us here today and all the support you give to your own family and to the kin, foster and adoptive parents in Vermont. Thank you so much.

Cathy Frost-Brooks (28:40):

Thank you for having me. It was great.

Sharon O’Neill (28:42):

Thanks so much, Cathy.

Cassie Gillespie  (28:44):

Thanks for listening. If you have any ideas about topics that you want us to cover or episodes that you’re interested in hearing, shoot us a message. You can reach me by email at cassie.gillespie@uvm.edu, or you can leave us a comment on the web page where you downloaded this podcast. Welcome To The Field is produced by the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont and a special thank you to Brickdrop for composing and recording our music. See you next time!

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