There are 513,000 foster care children in the United States. These children move from home to home, and bonding and attachment can be hard for them. Heart 2 Heart Counseling works with adults and children to help with the attachment issues brought on by the foster care system.
Suzette Carnahan, owner of Heart 2 Heart Counseling, has worked with New Directions in Randolph for the past 22 years. She said she saw a need in the area for counseling.
"I do all types of mental health counseling - adults and children," Carnahan said. "But my specialty is working with children that have attachment issues. I am the only provider in this area throughout Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties that provides the attachment work."
Suzette Carnahan, owner of Heart 2 Heart Counseling, with her 7-month-old emotional support dog, Petra.
P-J photo by Mallory Diefenbach
The type of therapy Carnahan uses is Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy. This is specialty work for mostly foster and adopted children where she works with the parent and child together to create a healthy attachment. She educates the parents on brain development, the effects of abuse and neglect, and how that has changed the child's brain physically and chemically.
"The next thing I do is offer a lot of support to the parents, as far as attachment-type parenting they can do in the home," she said. "The third part is a lot of intensive trauma-type work with the child."
According to Carnahan, foster children have insecure attachments, so they view themselves as damaged, hurt or different from other people.
"They view their parents or caretakers as untrusting," she said. "They struggle then in school with self-esteem issues, fitting in with peers and responding to authority. All those things are affected because they really want to have control over their world."
A common mistake new foster and adoptive parents make is they believe providing a nice home, clothes, food and love will make everything better.
"There is a lot that comes inside the child that makes it hard for them to receive all that," she said. "It's not that they don't appreciate it, it's they don't know how to react to it because they never had it."
Carnahan says she treats the attachment issue first because attachment issues can look like many other things from ADHD to bipolar disorder to depression. A parent can help with those attachment issues by being consistent with what they do and meaning what they say.
Heart 2 Heart opened full-time on Jan. 1 after being open on a part-time basis for the last five years.
"My favorite part of my previous job was doing the therapy in the foster care setting," Carnahan said.
She went to Jamestown Community College and SUNY Fredonia for her Bachelor of Arts and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, for her master's in social work.
Carnahan says foster and adoptive parents have the hardest job in the world because sometimes they are trying to give a lot of love and care to a child who hasn't had all that before and doesn't know how to accept that. And that is what National Foster Care Month is all about. National Foster Care Month in May provides an opportunity to let people get involved with the foster care system.
"There is always a need for new foster parents and families," she said. "My goal is to let people know that I am here to support them and what they are doing. Hopefully (I'll) make a lot of successful adoptions, because that is what the kids need - a permanent family."
To become a foster parent, a person just needs to contact their local Department of Social Service. New Directions also holds a foster care program. After going through a training program, the fingerprint and child abuse clearances, a person can become a foster parent. Becoming a certified foster parent also certifies a person to adopt.
Carnahan is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and every other Saturday. Everything is by appointment. To set one up, call 640-5316. Heart 2 Heart Counseling takes most of the major insurances.