Eagle Village program assists youth with behavior, emotions, following adoption

HERSEY — Often, youth who have been through trauma need help adjusting to new lives and new family situations following adoption. The Connections program at Eagle Village is one option forassistance while building relationships between parents and children.

Connections is a six-month program designed for adopted youth ages 10 to 18 who are struggling with emotional and behavioral problems at home. Up to 12 children and teens in the program from Michigan, other states and even other countries, live at Eagle Village for the length of the program and receive counseling. In addition, the program provides family therapy, the chance for youth to return home at least once a month, and the opportunity for family members to visit and stay at the compound for weekend relationship-building sessions and activities called Family Challenge. Parents also are given the opportunity to learn how to properly parent traumatized kids.

"For Connections to be successful, it has to be both the parent and the kid working toward building the relationship. It can't be one or the other," said Connections family counselor Corey Thompson. "The ultimate goal is reunification and to help them understand where each other comes from."

Connections is funded by Michigan's adoption subsidy, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. However, Thompson said funding is the most challenging detail of the program.

"Our program is only funded for six months, but a minimum of nine months is really needed," Thompson said. "I'm very confident that if we could have the kids for at least nine months we would see more changes in growth."

Following Connections, Eagle Village performs followup phone calls and home visits to further assist families finding resources. If the youth continue to have significant problems with their adoptive family after their time in Connections is over, the court system will take over and provide a larger intervention scenario, Thompson added.

Trevor, 16, came to Eagle Village and into the Connections program two months ago. Trevor struggles with anger and is learning how to control and prevent those emotions.

"During the last Family Challenge we learned trust," he said. "I'm learning  I get angry quicker than I thought. A lot of the kids here have the same issues I have so we're in a big group with a lot of kids who get angry really fast. You really have to keep your cool. You just have to think to be the bigger person sometimes."

Participating in Connections has taught Trevor how to open up a bit more and how to keep his anger in check.

"I'm trying to talk to my family more and give them feedback. I don't really like talking about my emotions," he added. "I try to think about my actions more and try not to be so impulsive."

Megan, 17, has been adopted twice and is on her fourth month of the Connections program. She decided Eagle Village was a good choice because the organization had a trauma program in which she wanted to participate. She deals with similar issues to Trevor.

"I'm learning how to communicate better with other people because when I'm interacting with the other residents, especially when we're all frustrated, I have to really keep my cool and keep my tone of voice down or things will get worse," Megan said. "I'm learning how to speak in a respectful tone even when I'm frustrated."

She also is struggling with comparing herself to her sister, who is the biological daughter of her adoptive parents. Once compared, she would direct her anger toward her sister. In addition, Megan struggles to deal with many emotional and behavioral triggers.

Because of Connections and the therapy sessions, Megan believes it's getting easier for her to handle her negative emotions and reactions stemming from her past.

"I'm learning how to do things in a better way instead of going right to what my previous mom's habits were," she said. "This program has helped me. I like knowing the people here know what they're doing, and I like staying here. I like going to counseling once a week because it's consistent and you can constantly work at it. It's easier to work on things because there are less distractions."

In the future, Trevor and Megan have big dreams.

"I want to be a combat engineer for the military, probably for the Marines," Trevor said. "Through Career Cruising here it appealed to me because I want to be on the front lines, but I still want to build stuff. I'm a hands-on learner.

"With my family, since we argue a lot, I want to stop arguing over tiny things."

Megan hopes to go into the field of psychology.

"I'm kind of leaning toward being a counselor like Miss Corey," she said. "I want to be in an environment like this and help others. With my family, I know I want to not push them away and have a healthy relationship with them. I want to be able to express my emotions in a healthy way."

Positive results are coming from Connections, and though it's not always easy for parent or child, seeing the outcomes and changes which occur between family members is rewarding, Thompson said.

"It's really nice to see kids open up with their past to their parents," she added. "And we're seeing a ton of growth with parents, too. We aim to see they want to make a change with their child."

The names of the youth have been changed to protect their identity