Trusting God after the orphanage

Healing children from difficult backgrounds

By Debra Delulio Jones

Twenty-three years ago, Alan and Debra Delulio Jones joyfully adopted a baby son from the rubble of post-Ceausescu Romania. Wee Dane completed the family they had begun with daughter Megan. Twenty-one years later, Debra published her brief book God, Are You Nice or Mean?, recounting the struggle to find healing for Dane and the whole family out of the wreckage of the deep wounds inflicted on their son by early abuse, neglect and trauma.

The supportive interventions and teaching of Dr. Karyn Purvis and her team from the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development became the anchor in Dane’s development of essential human emotions of trust and attachment with his parents, sister and others. Here, excerpted from Debra’s book, is a portion of their story of God’s presence and sustenance through it all:

“Perhaps you are a parent on a difficult journey, and you grabbed this book because you have adopted a child with a background of abandonment, neglect, abuse or trauma. Maybe your painful adoption journey has caused you to question whether you misunderstood what you once believed was a call of God on your life to complete your family through the gift of adoption. Your hard times have possibly caused you to question the goodness of a God who would allow small children to become victims of horrendous sexual and physical abuse.

“. . . My faith in God was my only hope. I was in the habit of reading a Proverb a day, correlating with the days of the month. It was November 3rd, so I turned to Proverbs 3. I clung to the words of verses 5 and 6:

Trust in the Lord with all you heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.

“. . . Dane’s neurological testing revealed that he had significant delays in language development, so we simplified our language and used as few words as possible, especially when behaviours were deteriorating. We learned that at this point, the child is not able to process much information, and is functioning in the lower, more primitive regions of the brain. During a meltdown, he was literally in a survival state of fight, flight or freeze. So as parents, we had to use few words, and control our tone of voice so as not to escalate his fear-based survival responses. The goal was to stay connected and help him feel safe.

“ ‘Felt safety’ was an important concept for us to learn as parents. While we knew Dane was safe in our home, he didn’t always know it or feel safe. We had to realize that due to his early neglect and harm, his brain was hard-wired to sense any hint of threat. Hypervigilance is common in children ‘from hard places.’ The slightest facial expression showing disapproval or anger would cause Dane to overreact. Any misunderstanding of humour due to his limited cognitive functioning would cause him to feel rejected and not safe. We had to become like detectives, not only watching out for things in his environment that might set him off, but watching our own actions, words and non-verbal messages that could arouse fear and feelings of insecurity.

“Throughout each day, we would work on developing his vocabulary and required him to speak in complete sentences to strengthen his language skills as well as reinforce the behavioural concepts he needed to learn . . . Many times he couldn’t complete his own sentences so we’d have to model it for him and have him repeat it back to us. Looking back, it felt like we said this mantra and many other behavioural scripts about a million times. It took so much repetition for Dane to learn.

“. . . Dane loved the constant one-on-one attention, and after a few weeks it began to feel like we were recovering some of the lost years when he had been so out of control . . . Not so long ago, we had all been so wiped out from dealing with constant behavioural issues, threats and aggression that it was hard to find any joy in the relationship. He was often so dysregulated from overstimulation in his environment that family outings were awful, but in the safety of our home with no demands on my schedule, we had all the time in the world for learning, playing and connecting.

“. . . I cried so much during those days. It was so hard. I felt so alone. It was up and down. It was progress, then regress. It was three steps forward, two steps back. Tears of sadness, tears of joy. Times of doubt, moments of faith. But as a hint of spring was beginning to awake, it started to feel like there was hope for days ahead.

“. . . Educate yourself on the effects of early harm and learn all you can about brain development, neurochemistry, sensory processing and attachment. Clear your calendar and structure your days around meeting the needs of an infant, even if that child is in a much older body. Do not be so quick in wanting to catch them up that you bypass important developmental milestones.

“. . . Children from backgrounds of abandonment, neglect, abuse or other trauma have fear-based and pain-based issues that need to be handled much differently than traditional parenting, even traditional Christian parenting. Parents must be educated and trained so that they approach their new sons and daughters with compassionate understanding about their unique, challenging and often confusing behaviours.”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5