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In Like a Lion

When a child suffers from chronic neglect at an early age, it greatly impacts his ability to form healthy attachments with others. One of our tasks here at Mount Saint Vincent is to encourage the development of safe and strong relationships. Through modeling and encouragement, we help children learn a new way of thinking, communicating and being.

For reasons known only to them, Billy’s parents never picked up their infant son. For hours on end, they left him in a baby carrier, his cries unanswered. No cuddling, no hugs, no gentle caresses from his mother’s hand.

After Billy was adopted by a caring family, the attachment issues caused by the neglect he endured became readily apparent. Because he was never exposed to them, he lacked the skills or even the knowledge of how to build and maintain relationships. That was when his new parents turned to Mount Saint Vincent for help. Billy was six years old.

“Many people don’t realize that severe neglect can inflict as much harm to a child as physical or sexual abuse,” said Mount Saint Vincent Executive Director Kirk Ward. “The long-term deprivation of a child’s basic physical, developmental, or emotional needs can lead to mental or even physical health issues well into adulthood.”

Early in his treatment, his therapist realized that the first step in helping Billy was to build trust. She scheduled positive relational time with adults throughout the day. At first, just one therapist would get Billy out of class and spend time doing something fun like shooting hoops or swinging on the playground for 10 minutes. Then he would go back to class. Not only were the breaks trust- and relationship-building, they helped ease any stress or frustration he felt in school.

Billy enjoyed spending time with therapy animals and clearly cared for them. As he played with Harper, his favorite dog, his therapist explained how he could parallel his caring toward animals and carry that over to the staff and his peers.

Over time, more staff members volunteered to hang out with Billy, and he began looking forward to his one-on-one interactions. “He started out with a very small group of people he trusted, which slowly expanded to include more staff in his circle of friends,” said Residential Clinical Supervisor Teresa Coen. “It just took time and consistency.”

By the end of his stay, Billy was a star student. He was focused, could complete his school work, and was a positive peer.

The staff at Mount Saint Vincent was excited to read an update that Billy’s adoptive mom sent last week. “He’s doing so well! He has made friends and really enjoys his new school,” she wrote. “He misses you all a lot. You made such an impact on him. #MsvSuccessStory! It should be a thing!”

The staff are delighted to have played a part in Billy’s ongoing recovery, and wish him and his family much success in the future.

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