The two sisters had suffered profound abuse, neglect and abandonment when they arrived at the foster home of Mama Rose five years ago. Precious was four then. Zoey was two.
“Mama Rose welcomed us and it felt like home,” Precious said. “She is the best parent anyone could ever have.”
Neither Precious nor Zoey have any memories today of the trauma they endured before. Their child-welfare case, however, drew the attention of the media and federal investigators at the time because of the failures of State caseworkers to protect the girls from further harm when the abuse was first discovered. Once the girls were finally removed from family living in western Michigan, they were placed with Rose in Detroit. State authorities asked Southwest Solutions to provide counseling and wraparound services to help the sisters recover.
“Because of what they’d been through, the girls didn’t trust adults and would feel scared in any public setting, especially if men were around,” said Dewand Guyton, Wraparound Facilitator at Southwest Solutions, who has been assisting Precious and Zoey since they came to Detroit.
Dewand worked closely with Emily Robson, a clinician in Southwest Solutions’ Early Childhood Mental Health program, to coordinate a comprehensive treatment plan and help the girls bond with Mama Rose.
“The girls needed routine, consistency and compassion to develop trusting relationships, self-confidence and hope,” Dewand said. “Mama Rose quickly became the most important influence in the girls’ lives. She took parenting and trauma workshops at Southwest Solutions. She did everything she could to understand and assist the girls, and she always made them feel that they were her own.”
Mama Rose adopted Precious and Zoey two years ago. A year later, she was diagnosed with cancer. Her daughter Lakenya, who is a nurse and lived in Westland with her two kids, helped to care for Rose as the cancer spread and her body weakened. Rose passed away in July. Lakenya now has guardianship of Precious and Zoey, and the continuity has been very important for the girls’ well-being.
“There was never any question that I would look after the girls after my mother died,” Lakenya said. “We are family.”
Lakenya moved into Rose’s home so that the girls would not be uprooted as they struggled to understand Mama Rose’s death.
“When Rose got sick, Precious got angry and her behavior regressed as she started to act out more,” Lakenya said.
“Mama Rose said she’d be there forever and she broke her promise,” Precious explained. “That’s why I was mad at her.”
At the end of last school year, as Mama Rose was dying, Precious had behavioral problems in her second-grade class. She was disruptive, got into fights, had sudden crying spells, and often wanted to go home. Dewand went to the school repeatedly to work with the teachers and help Precious cope with her anger and anxiety and also stay on track academically.
During this time and then after Rose’s death, Precious saw her outpatient clinician at Southwest Solutions, LaTanya Gater, more often, too. LaTanya uses a therapeutic approach that is particularly sensitive and suited to the trauma that Precious experienced.
“When Precious is under a lot stress, she dissociates and becomes a different person, and we have been working on that in therapy,” LaTanya said. “I wanted her to understand that she can be mad at the cancer that took Rose’s life, but she shouldn’t be mad at Rose herself.”
“Precious expresses her feelings in therapy and she listens as well,” LaTanya added. “I am so proud of her.”
Precious has been much calmer in school this year, though an occasional issue still flairs up. She is very bright, and is an avid reader and excellent student. She was selected to be vice president of the student council at her elementary school.
“I want to be a teacher when I grow up and teach reading and art,” Precious said. “Mama Rose was a teacher before she was our mom, and we learned so much from her.”
After Precious spoke about what she wanted to become, Zoey, who is much shyer than her older sister, chimed in.
“I want to be a police officer when I grow up so I can stop people from doing bad things.” Zoey said.
The counselors who are helping Zoey and Precious are heartened by the progress the girls have made, but they also understand that overcoming from this magnitude of trauma and tragedy will be a long struggle.
“Precious and Zoey have done a lot of healing, but there is still a lot of healing to go,” said Dewand. “These kids are a part of me. We have been through hell and high water together. I promised Mama Rose that I would do everything I could to help the girls manage and move forward. And I am a person of my word.”