I really appreciate that there’s a lot more support for volunteers, and a lot more things like continuing education programs and things like that that really make a difference to those of us who are doing the work.

Western MassachusettsPhD2013

Chrissy got to speak with one of our co-Chapter Directors of our Western Massachusetts chapter, Sally Popper, PhD. Here she tells us about her experience of co-founding the chapter as well as her experience in her consultation group. You can watch the recording here, or read the full transcript below.

How and when did you first get involved with A Home Within, and why were you drawn to it?

I had moved here after I retired and I had worked primarily with foster families and adoptive families for a number of years before I retired, and I wanted some way to remain active in my profession after I retired. When my friend Karen Zilberstein, who co-leads the chapter with me, discovered A Home Within, she said, “Why don’t we start up a chapter here?” And I thought it was a great idea, because it gave me a chance to continue to work in this field, and continue to make some contributions, and also to just sort of be alive in my field of work. But I had always felt like foster families and adoptive families don’t have enough resources, they don’t have enough support. And one of the things they don’t get is good therapy, because kids tend to get referred to public mental health clinics where they get inexperienced therapists who often leave after a year or so when they get their licenses. And then those poor kids are having another abandonment, and often abandonment is a big feature of their lives which has been part of the reason they were traumatized in the first place. So, the thought that I could offer something that I could offer something that would enable them not to have that abandonment again really made me excited. And that I could share some of what I had learned in my years of working with foster and adoptive families with other therapists—that also was pleasing to me.
The chapter was probably formed in 2013, 2014 or something like that.
I know that I was one of the first (consultation) groups and we have been in operation for at least ten years, yeah.

What would you say to someone considering volunteering with and/or donating to A Home Within?

I think I would say that every person in our group finds it such a compelling and alive part of their lives, that—even when they’ve finished with a case or when their case is going very slowly because maybe the kid is off in college, or you know, one thing or another can happen that can cause slow periods in therapy—they really love being part of the group. Sometimes we talk about all kinds of things other than our A Home Within cases. Many of them have cases that are similar to A Home Within cases, so those are very relevant to talk about. Or, we also just support each other in many ways. So I think it has turned out to be a wonderfully supportive group for all of us. We all enjoy it very much. And we have a real range of experience of therapists within our group. One of the things that people have said to me is, “There’s no place else where you follow a case so closely for years.” In other supervision groups, you tend to talk about “Oh, this week I had this crisis, and next week I had another crisis.” So you don’t stay with one case, you don’t feel like you know this person in the same way, and see them evolve and grow over years. That’s a wonderful opportunity.
But also just the support of peers is really a great piece of this for all the members of my group and the other groups that I know of. So I think as we begin, after we’ve gotten licensed, unless we seek out supervision groups which we often have to pay for, we don’t have that chance to spend time just reflecting on what’s going on in the work we’re doing and how we might do it better, what we might do more carefully, how we might think about a whole case in a different way.

As you know, we are celebrating both the inspiring history and promising future of A Home Within. Where do you hope to see A Home Within headed in the future? What would you like to see happen?

Well, I would love to see many things. I really think there’s a terrible dearth of training for people working with foster and adoptive families. In general, it’s not something that gets talked about in graduate school, and even if it gets talked about, you need a lot of practice to get good at it. It really takes a lot of work to get good at seeing these challenging families. And it’s very rewarding, because when you can make a difference to them, they are not getting that help from almost anywhere else. It can make such an earth-shattering difference to them, but it can also make you as a therapist feel very accomplished, you know, when you begin to learn to help a family who’s really struggling to get ahead. It is very rewarding, and it’s not something that you see happening in very many other places.
As I said, I think foster families get so little support. They get little support from within the system, they get little support from their community usually, often people are blaming them for the way their child is behaving when it’s not the parents’ fault, and there’s lots of conflicting information they’re getting. You know, like, “Just tell that kid to straighten up, give him the backside of a belt if he’s not doing a better job than that.” You know, these kinds of things are of no use and really are damaging to kids, and when parents hear these things and they can see that what they’re doing isn’t seeming very effective, they begin to wonder, “Should I do that?” They really need support to look for other ways of managing with tough kids.
I think foster and adoptive parents just need endless worlds of support that they’re not getting. In fact, they’re largely getting whatever the opposite of support is. They’re really getting the rug pulled out from under them all the time. So I just feel like, if I can be even giving this tiny little bit of help to foster families, I am so happy that I am able to do that.

What is the most special part about A Home Within to you?

Well, from my perspective, it’s the community that we’ve formed. It’s the community of therapists who, you know, when we get together for potluck dinners or for continuing education events, we all can’t wait to catch up with each other. And during the pandemic, it was very hard because we couldn’t do that as much! But my group continued to meet by Zoom and that really was great. We could continue to be there for each other by Zoom.
But, I would say for the families, what’s amazing is that they have somebody who gets what’s going on with their lives. And so rarely do they find somebody who gets it, and that makes such a difference to them.
Part of what’s good in our community, somebody like Karen ZIlberstein, who’s my co-chair of the chapter, she has been working in this field for many years in this area, so she really knows, “Okay, here’s somebody you should refer them to, here’s another person at the department of family and children services who might be somebody you could talk to about this issue.” I mean, she always has ideas, “Here’s somebody who might do educational testing for this kid,” you know, there’s so many resources that are often needed. So I think for families, that kind of richness is really a wonderful feature of A Home Within.
So it depends on who you’re talking about, what the best part is!

What are some other projects and/or accomplishments outside of your volunteer work with A Home Within you are most proud of?

Well, I guess I would say the thing I’m most proud of is my children. I’m so happy I’ve been able to maintain good relationships with them as they’ve become adults, and now I have grandchildren, and I have a granddaughter who’s getting ready to go to college—I can’t believe it! Seeing the cycle of life go on this way is just wonderful.
I’m very involved in my community in other ways. I belong to an organization of older people who are supporting each other as we get older, to age in place, and support each other that way.
I enjoy playing music very much. I play the cello and I really love that.
I have a knitting group that I love, great people! I have lots of things that keep me busy.
And there is a wonderful thing in our area, there’s a community that was founded by a woman who adopted from foster care and decided that foster parents didn’t get enough support, so she has established a whole intentional community of foster families adopting from foster care who live together with seniors and provide mutual support to each other. It’s a wonderful thing. That’s in our neck of the woods, and I provide some clinical supervision there, because there’s always complicated clinical issues that come up with a whole community of foster families and foster kids and new people coming in all the time and so forth. So, I’m involved with that, too.
It’s called Treehouse Foundation. They’re now setting up a new one in eastern Massachusetts and that’s going to open in the next couple of years. It’s a very expensive thing to get started, you know, they build housing, and they build housing that has a community center so that everybody can get together, they have social workers that provide support to the families, I mean it’s a major investment. But what could be more important than investing in the future of foster kids and their families, and providing for them?

Anything else?

Well, I want to say that since especially since Reed has come in, the organization has really, it seems to me, come alive in a lot of ways—a little more than it was before. I mean it’s a hard kind of organization to run. And it’s a hard kind of organization to fund, and I think he’s been doing very well at that. So I really appreciate that there’s a lot more support for volunteers, and a lot more things like continuing education programs and things like that that really make a difference to those of us who are doing the work. So I’m very thankful to all of you. And part of what “Reed” means is that he’s hired you and all the other wonderful staff that have come in, and the staff that were there before, who can give support to the entire community. I really appreciate it.

At a Glance

A Home Within’s community includes nearly 500 therapists in 20 chapters across 10 states.
Dozens of free consultation groups and continuing education events are offered each year.
This year, over 150 therapists nationwide became volunteers, leading to a 25% increase in our network!