Coral Tree Family Services is a service that works with families who are having ongoing problems with behaviour, emotions and relationships. They focus on the family as a whole and not just on one family member and provide support in bringing about positive change. Parents are equipped with coping strategies and taught ways of understanding and responding to our kid’s individual needs.
They run a clinical school program for kids up to age 12 who have mental health concerns. The program is run in conjunction with Arndell School which is on the premises. Eligible kids generally attend for a term while receiving counselling and support.
In April of 2014 Jessie and I had a 4 day admission to Coral Tree Family Services in North Ryde.
Our referral was made by Chris Hardwicke, Jessie’s counsellor at Westmead Children’s Hospital. At this point Jessie was still under the psychiatric care of Professor Ken Nunn, Head of the Dept of Psychological Medicine. It took us 8 months and three assessment sessions to secure our admission. Jessie’s violence was a risk factor for staff and clients.
By the time we were offered a placement, Jessie’s level of aggression and volatility had reduced. Still we were the only family ‘living’ there over our 4 days. I had the benefit of another family there for a day admission on our second last day which we made the most of. It was a relief hearing about their issues and how they were and weren’t coping with similar behaviours I was dealing with. I’m definitely not the only parent facing these challenges which is always reassuring to know. Because it’s so isolating it’s very easy to believe you’re the only family going through this. And I guess, like many others, Jessie’s issues are lifelong, so management is the aim.
We had our initial interview at Coral Tree in August 2013 with the fabulous psychologist, Tamar Karkour, and social worker, Wendy Gordon. At our initial session on January 21, 2014, Jessie was presenting with the following problems, as per the report:-
• Aggression, defiance, and provocative demanding behaviour towards Kat;
• School reports anxious behaviour when mother attempts to get her to school;
• Suicidal behaviour when distressed, e.g. half climbing over 5th floor balcony;
• Problematic affect regulation (Severe Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder – precursor to Bipolar Disorder);
• Features of both anxiety and trauma;
• Significant attachment issues;
• Peer relationships often conflicted.
Encopresis was also a physical problem that Jessie ‘suffered’ from. In Jessie’s case it was a disorder brought on by trauma and anxiety. It brings with it it’s own anxiety and can have serious health implications if left untreated.
So we came with our bags full. I’d done the Circle of Security course with Stella from The Benevolent Society, so had done a lot of work already on understanding parenting. Coral Tree provided me an even greater understanding and insight into positive parenting.
With Jessie’s permission, her counselling session reports were discussed with me. I was lucky enough to learn how Jessie saw herself, how she saw me, and how she felt about what was going on with her. The notes were included in the final report provided to me and it’s a bit surreal reading back over it.
Times were really challenging. You kind of forget because it’s a daily battle in one form or another and the days and the years pass by. The past struggles feel for me like a bit of a dream. It’s not until I read reports like this that I remember how really tough things were for so long. We have different challenges now, but things are so much better overall.
For parents whose kids are constantly hateful, nasty and/or violent towards them, as Jessie was to me, it is easy to believe that they do hate you and think you are the worst person in the world. It’s not true. Our kids love us and need us more than anything on this planet. They know when they are hurting us and they don’t like it. Their pain is just too overwhelming for them, and we wear the brunt of that. They also appreciate that we stick by them through thick and thin. 2 years on Jessie often tells me how grateful she is that I love her. She appreciates that I have stuck by her and supported her through everything. It’s lovely to hear.
St Luke’s Innovative Bear Cards‘ are used at Coral Tree. They are awesome cards. that help kids name and explain their feelings, especially when they’re finding it difficult to use their words. Jessie loved them and would pick a card from the deck set out in the dining room each time we went in there. ‘St Luke’s Innovation Resources Strength Cards for Kids’ were used alongside the bear cards in Jessie’s counselling sessions. The strength cards are used to help kids recognise their positive qualities, such as being caring, honest, responsible etc. They teach kids language around their emotions. Once an emotion has a name, it takes away some of the fear and confusion behind the feeling.
During our stay Jessie was given a range of sensory items to try out and use as coping tools instead of needing to self harm. Her favourite was the soft putty she could stretch or squish between her fingers. Mine was a really thick, heavy ‘blanket’ (sort of like an X-ray protection mat). As the word ‘blanket’ implies, you lay under it or wrap yourself up in it, and it’s a very comforting, safe feeling.
At Coral Tree I was reminded of the value making time for play with Jessie. Each night Tamar would come to the unit and we’d play charades, using an app on the Ipad. Jessie loved it so we continued after we came home. If we wanted a change we’d play a quick card or board game. Just 15-20 minutes before bed daily is all you need to form a positive bond.
When things during the day may have been difficult, connecting on a fun level puts the troubles of the day in the past. My rule at home already was that each day was a new day. Whatever happened yesterday stayed with yesterday. But this time together really helped Jessie know in her heart that she could leave her guilt and shame behind. Our kids need to know they’re not bad people and as parents we are here for them always.
We came to the end of our stay and Jessie refused to leave! She had gotten so much from her counselling sessions, and she was in an environment where everybody not only accepted her, they really liked her. She had prepared and given a talk to all the staff at Coral Tree about the use and misuse of technology by young people and the related security issues. This was great for her self confidence, as she was able to answer questions put forward by the staff, including the CEO who was there on the day for another meeting. A full week there would have been ideal. Unfortunately though these four days were the only time no other families were booked in.
I can fully recommend Coral Tree and the services they provide. It’s a safe environment for both children and parents to learn and practice new skills, and have some time to heal.