I get to the residence to pick him up. He’s just had 6 hours of Respite at our local adolescent treatment centre. The residence he “hangs” at has about 6 teenage boys, some who are living there permanently. I’m hopeful that today went better than previous Saturdays. He attends the same program during the week but our attempts at weekend overnight Respite hit some bumps so we dialed back and are working on his building relationships with the weekend staff. It’s all about relationships. When he feels safe and understood he is a different child. People need to experience him repeatedly to really understand him. People have to prove to him that they can be trusted.
When I pull open the door he greets me right away. Not with “hi mom” but rather with “I got a sliver, I need tweezers!” at the top of his lungs. He is moving back and forth, room to room while trying to explain to me what is wrong. I begin to piece it together – he has moved quickly down the stairs, sliding his hand on the banister and getting a sliver in his thumb. I take a quick look – while his whole body bounces and jiggles. I can’t see a sliver but I can see a slight abrasion. I assure him we can take care of it at home. He begins telling me the story again, his voice rising. At that moment he sees the staff come around the corner – the man he has built a good relationship with over the past several months. One of the key people who supported him during his transition to this particular program.
“Hey, I need tweezers!” C demands of the staff. I can see he is beginning to spin out of control. I am hoping we can head this off and get him to the van quickly. Before I can respond the staff says, in a matter of fact voice “I told you three times already when you asked – we don’t have any. Besides I can’t see anything to pull out of your thumb!”
“You’re first aid kit will have some. You have to have a first aid kit. Everyone needs to have one” barks C.
The staff shrugs, “sorry bud – don’t have any” and walks away to help one of the other boys with something.
This is the part of the story that I SHOULD have done things differently. If I could this is what I would have done: I would have said to C, in front of the staff “Wow, C, that must have hurt when you did that. I bet what you need from Joe (not staffs real name) is for him to know that your hurt and you need his help” and then I would have turned to Joe and said “I know I got here just now, I’m assuming you were just about to help C with his thumb because he was letting you know by asking for tweezers that he needs your sympathy and help”.
But what I said was “ok C, lets go and we will take care of it at home”. And we did, or at least we tried. It was clear once we got home that he had tried to get it out on his own and while I couldn’t actually see a sliver he did have a faint line running down his thumb. 2 days later his thumb, despite my first aid attempts, was severely infected. And my son was refusing to return to the centre.
The amazing part was that he was actually able to say “I’m not going there because they didn’t help me with my thumb so I can’t trust them”.
Amazing again was the Managers response when I called to share with her “Oh, we are sooo sorry that happened to him and that we didn’t respond better. He needed our help and we let him down. I will talk to the staff”. In her follow up call she said to me “I’m assuming this incident really set off some attachment issues for him. I’m hoping we can meet soon to talk more about how we can support him.”
It’s all a work in progress, for all of us. We all are trying to get better at letting others know our needs and building trust, not just C. But we are all making progress and I couldn’t ask for much more than that.