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When adoptive parents came to us asking for help with their adopted children, we had little idea of the exciting journey we were embarking upon. Neither did we understand at that time, the magnitude and importance of the research and intervention that would be born in the partnership between researchers in our lab and adoptive families. From our earliest work with adoptive families, we began to see the heartache in parents who had adopted children with histories of abuse, only to find after years of struggle, that the parents were still unable to reach them. Isolated by failed trust, these children often remained closed and alone while their parents watched helplessly. We began, at that time, an amazing journey of healing.
During the first year, we co-hosted an international adoption conference with the Gladney Center Adoption Agency for adoptive parents and the professionals that serve them, featuring international adoption experts from across the United States. The following summer, we developed and implemented a summer day camp for adopted children, Camp Celebration, which was hosted at the Child Study Center. It was during that time, parents of our little campers officially named the camp, Hope Connection®, and began to refer to it affectionately as Camp Hope. We had begun an adventure of enormous magnitude.
During that first summer camp, we documented dramatic positive changes in our little campers. Parents came to us with remarkable reports of behavioral changes. One mother of a five year old, adopted at eighteen months, remarked with tears in her eyes, "He let me rock him to sleep last night for the first time since we brought him home from Russia!" Another mother reported, "When I went to wake him for camp this morning, he smiled and lifted his little arms up and around my neck to hug me!" Although these are common occurrences for parents of "home grown" children, they are significant treasures for the parent who adopts children who have been harmed and are afraid to trust.
As we observed renewed hope in the eyes and faces of both adoptive parents and their children, we were smitten with the possibility of learning ways to help injured children heal and become joyful members of their adoptive families. Our hearts and minds were set on this course of research. From that time until now, the Hope Connection® has been the centerpiece of our work. It has provided a unique real-life laboratory in which parents, children, university students and researchers become journey-mates in an adventure of healing.
From that first camp until now, our project has continued to grow and develop under the rubric of The Adoption Project (TAP) and now as the Institute of Child Development. This project has amassed a significant body of research, which has great import for helping hurt children. It is possible that we have the most comprehensive research and intervention project in the United States. International experts in the field of adoption have become powerful advocates for our work, visiting camp each year at their own expense to share their insights about the children, and to learn from our insights.
In Vulnerable Child I and II, university-credit courses, TCU students learn about the complex constellation of effects induced in children by abuse and neglect. As interdisciplinary courses, these courses cover various fields including language, social work, neurology, nursing and psychology. Students must not only learn academic information about the aftermath of abuse, but must also demonstrate mastery of pragmatic skills for interacting with these at-risk children. One of the greatest joys of our work is the knowledge that we have an opportunity to teach university students who will enter professions such as teaching, nursing, and psychology, and will have unique skills and insights into dealing with children.
Summer camp internships are available to about twenty students who have completed both of these courses. Each of these university students is able to serve as a mentor/buddy to one child during the summer camp. This unique opportunity has been described by many of the students as a life-changing experience.Working with children from hard places can be both difficult and rewarding work. Our hope is that while students are giving their time and emotional energy, they will also receive the satisfaction of knowing they have made a difference in the lives of the families they work with. Students can receive 3 credit hours for their participation in camp, but are required to pay for credit hours as Independent Studies.