SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD SAMANTHA spent eight years hiding a secret. When she was eight, she was sexually abused by her aunt’s boyfriend. She went to live with her grandmother, followed by several foster homes. As she moved from place to place, she buried her secret deeper into her subconscious.
Her secret kept her from building relationships at school with her peers and with adults. It got in the way of her ability to focus on her school work and have fun like the other kids in school. The secret had Samantha trapped, unable to break free of it.
Last October she attended our grief and healing retreat for children in our treatment foster care program. UMFS staff designed the retreat specifically for foster kids who had unresolved grief due to removal from their birth family, another foster placement or from abuse and neglect. Fifteen volunteers and eight UMFS staff members served 11 foster teens ranging from 15 to 18 years old at last year’s weekend-long retreat, including Samantha.
“In foster care there are so many things that happen that make these teens feel like the world isn’t a safe place,” said Emily Clark, LCSW, UMFS assistant regional director. “This retreat gives them one weekend where they can feel safe and just relax—a safe space where they can gain more than they would in their normal environment,” she said.
Samantha opened up on the first night of the retreat. Sitting in a small cabin in the woods on the campus of Westview on the James, she let down her guard in her support group and revealed her secret and how it has made her feel over the last eight years. “We were there to support her,” Clark said. “This was a safe space for her to start her process of healing.”
“I think the retreat has changed my life,” Samantha said while meeting with a counselor to follow-up on the breakthrough she experienced at the retreat. “My foster parents have noticed a difference and my friends have even said something is different about me.”