Empowering Gillian’s Artistic Expressions

Last Spring, Epworth received a call from Dreher High School that one of our residents, Gillian, had not yet arrived to Art Class. Her cottage staff were concerned, but not surprised. Gillian had done this before. In fact, this was Gillian’s 19th tardy to a class since her arrival at Epworth in November.

Gillian, at the age of only 15, has been in and out of foster care since the age of two. She has been enrolled in seven different schools since starting middle school and has never completed an entire year of school in one place.  In November, at the age of 14, she was dropped off at the SC Department of Social Services’ office by a family member who stated, “Gillian’s behavior is out of control.” Her behaviors are actually in line with children who experience the trauma of abuse, neglect and/or abandonment. She has multiple siblings spread out across the state in and out of DSS custody. Gillian’s story has many facets that Epworth and DSS are still working to unravel.

The opportunity to build trust or have any amount of consistency has not been bestowed upon this young girl. Missing class is an indication that she has not developed an appreciation for her education, and that she is “anticipating” the next move. She is choosing not to engage in something she may learn to care about, like art, which Gillian actually enjoys very much.

Through it all, her staff sees a spark in her that is working its way to the surface. She is learning to shine as her trust and consistent life and schedule grow. In December, one of her sisters was placed at Epworth. Gillian was ecstatic. The staff members work to ensure the two get to spend adequate amounts of time together one-on-one.

Just a few weeks ago she enjoyed a birthday party hosted by her Cottage Partners, a local group of volunteers. Without prompting by staff, Gillian personally thanked each volunteer and expressed how much it meant to her to have a “first” birthday party.

Epworth and Gillian’s high school worked to develop a behavior modification plan that Gillian is beginning to accept and embrace. Her grades improved on her last report card, and her school attendance and participation improved dramatically.  She is engaging with others in the cottage and learning to express herself through her art, the very class that she once skipped so often.

Gillian, with all she has been through, has a long road ahead of her, but she is a bright young lady with a great deal of potential to create a wonderful future.  As a trauma informed agency, Epworth staff receive substantial training on pain-based behaviors and the reality that children will often take baby steps forward and at times giant steps back. They are not deterred. They continue to encourage residents and work one-on-one with them to meet their goals and provide care that is always focused on the best of interest of each child in Epworth’s care.