By Abigail M. Judge PhD, Rebecca Bailey PhD, JoAnn Behrman-Lippert PhD, Elizabeth Bailey RN, Cynthia Psaila M.S., LMFT, and Jane Dickel LCSW – LCS
The existing literature on abduction reunification is limited and evolving. Although guidelines for model service approaches exist, few programs address the unique challenges of reunifying children and families following abduction. This article delineates a family-based reunification model that has assisted families affected by abduction since 2006. Model components include a team-centered approach, a stage-oriented reunification process, and pitfalls and strategies related to intersystem collaboration.
We present the value of a family-systems, solution-focused, trauma-informed, and case-specific approach to therapeutic reunification following child abduction. Evidence that is contrary to the popular notion of Stockholm’s syndrome is also marked. Research on the efficacy of therapeutic reunification is essential for the growth of systems equipped to address the dynamic needs of these families. Accordingly, suggestions for evaluation research are proposed.
Key Points for the Family Court Community:
- Families face a range of unique challenges during reunification following abduction. Historically, therapeutic reunification
has emphasized the needs of the central victim with only a perfunctory focus on the family.
- This article delineates a family-based reunification model that has assisted families affected by abduction since 2006.
- We present the value of a family-system, solution-focused, trauma-informed, and case-specific approach to therapeutic
reunification following child abduction.
The abduction and murder of Adam Walsh in 1981 brought the issue of nonfamilial abduction to the forefront (Standiford & Matthews, 2011). Public concern arose regarding the operations of law enforcement and the need for appropriate psychological intervention for the families of abducted children. At the time, treatment focused on the individual child victim, with only a perfunctory focus on the family. Reunification of a recovered child with his or her family involved little more than a meeting in a hospital, childcare facility or police station with no preplanning or consideration of the emotional and physical needs of the child, the parents, and the siblings. Thus, treating the family as a whole in conjunction with the primary victim has historically not been the norm. In 1992, the Department of Justice described considerations for the immediate first meeting between the recovered child and family in the Reunification of Missing Children Project (Hatcher, Barton, Lippert, & Brooks, 1992). This included short term and mid-term planning such as managing the immediate crisis and attending to basic safety needs. It became clear, however, that the needs of the recovered child and his/her family vastly exceeded what a one-time initial meeting could address. Thus, although early reports such as the Reunification of Missing Children Project described the needs of the entire family and not only the child victim, they did not articulate a systematic model for family-based intervention.
Inattention to the entire family system is striking because it is widely accepted that the other family members are directly and significantly impacted by the abduction. For example, families of abducted children report a severe negative impact of the event on the family beginning with the child’s disappearance, extending through reunification and continuing for at least 2 years postreunification (U.S. Department of Justice [DOJ], 1992). Moreover, an abundance of research has demonstrated that family support moderates recovery from trauma (Feiring, Taska, & Lewis, 1998; Hyman, Gold, & Cott, 2003; Tremblay, Herbert, & Piche, 1999). These lines of evidence highlight the importance of intervention for the entire family following abduction.
The Transitioning Families Therapeutic Reunification Model (TFTRM) was therefore developed to address these unmet needs. It is an extension of the DOJ’s Reunification of Missing Children model (1992) and subsequent practice guidelines (Lippert & Hatcher, 2000). In this paper, we will describe the TFTRM, including its basis in the foregoing treatment guidelines and a range of theoretical influences: attachment theory (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1954; Bowlby, 1980), trauma theory (Bloom, 1999; Bloom & Farragher, 2011), and solution-focused family therapy (Lebow, 2014). We will then define members of the reunification team and their functions, describe the phases of treatment, and the process of transition from intensive reunification work. Given the highly specialized nature of this work and the limited research on effective models of family-based reunification, we conclude with suggestions for future evaluation research.
BACKGROUND AND MODEL DEVELOPMENT
The TFTRM is based on the intervention guidelines for responding to child abduction developed by the Department of Justice (Behrman-Lippert & Hatcher, 2000; DOJ, 1992), the founding clinicians’ expertise with family systems therapy (Minuchin & Fishman, 1981), advanced training in equine-assisted therapy, and forensic specialization with families in high conflict and court involvement. Although limited empirical information exists about the psychological aftermath of child abduction, research in the area of attachment theory (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1954; Bowlby, 1980), attribution theory (Maier & Seligman, 1976), and trauma and loss (Ziegler, 2002) provide a template for beginning to understand these cases. The TFTRM derives its theoretical underpinnings from each of these lines of research.
Helplessness is a hallmark characteristic of traumatic experiences, especially abduction. Repetitive exposure to helplessness is so toxic to emotional and physiological stability that in order to ensure survival, survivors adapt to helplessness itself, a phenomenon termed learned helplessness (Bloom & Farragher, 2011; Seligman, 1992). Both attribution theory and the concept of learned helplessness (Maier & Seligman, 1976) help explain how individuals adjust to seemingly hopeless situations. Bloom and colleagues (1999; Bloom & Farragher, 2011) have integrated this theory in a broader conceptualization of posttraumatic adaptation. According to Bloom and Farragher (2011), after enough exposure to helplessness, “Individuals adapt to adversity and cease struggling to escape from the situation, thus conserving vital resources and buﬀering the vulnerable central nervous system against the negative impact of constant overstimulation” (p. 115). This seemingly paradoxical response to terror undermines the individual’s capacities for agentic and purposeful action. These adaptations, although protective in the context of captivity, are no longer eﬀective postrecovery. Treatment must therefore aim to restore choice and purposeful action to an organism that has survived by shutting down these very functions.
In addition to trauma theory and the phenomenon of learned helplessness, attachment theory describes a biologically rooted system that, when activated, maintains close proximity between child and caretaker, whether the caretaker is pathological or not (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1954). Trauma therapists and researchers (Herman, 1992; Terr, 1981) subsequently laid out a path for understanding the experiences of the victims of trauma, including abduction. In particular, Terr’s work (1990, 1991) documents not only the cognitive and psychological impact of the abduction on the children, but also the impact on the family members, preabduction adjustment, and post abduction sources of distress. Key ﬁndings from Terr’s work include her observations about children’s constricted and repetitive play that failed to relieve anxiety, unlike normative childhood play. Terr (1990, 1991) also described the phenomenon of children and families expressing diﬃculty about fulﬁlling lifelong goals and a sense of “futurelessness” post abduction. Some victims may lose interest in world events, even losing perspective and context for their own future because of the experience of believing they did not have one. Families and abductees may invent inaccurate stories, even omens, and rearrange the sequence of time and events in order to make sense out of a senseless act. At Transitioning Families, we develop an environment of safety and containment in which families suﬀering from the impact of abduction can establish a shared narrative and also restore an adaptive capacity for play.
Examined together, theories of attachment, learned helplessness and adaptation to trauma underscore the importance of cognitive appraisals about life events and relationships on how an individual responds to adversity. These theories and research based upon them also highlight the devastating eﬀects of traumatic exposure on both domains (Beck, Jacobs-Lenz, McNiﬀ, Olsen, & Clapp, 2011; Herman, 1992). The overarching goal of the TFTRM is to assist families in transitioning from crisis, challenge, or conﬂict to connection and growth. Goals are achieved via an integration of solution focused family therapy (Lebow, 2014) and experiential techniques that restore a family’s capacities for choice, eﬀective action and adaptive problem solving, the very domains that the trauma of abduction have shattered. A recent critical review of 20 years of research on solution-focused family therapy provides empirical support for its application to novel family contexts (Bond, Woods, Humphrey, Symes, & Greene, 2013). There is also precedent in the literature for integrating solution-focused techniques with experiential therapies within family treatment (Bischof, 1993). Thus, although evaluation research is not yet available on the TFTRM, it originated in clinical experience, evidence based models of family treatment and sound theoretical frameworks.
IMPLEMENTATION OF TFTRM
The TFTRM is implemented with one family at a time in a brief format (i.e., 3–6 days) or a longer term treatment (6 months–1 year1), depending on individual case dynamics. A comprehensive assessment determines which family members will participate. In cases of nonfamilial abduction, treatment typically involves the entire family. Interventions take place on the Transitioning Families campus, which encompasses 1.5 acres of private property, including two oﬃces, a chef’s kitchen, a large dining area, a small barn with four horses, a vegetable garden, and space for a variety of outdoor activities, which are intended to meet the unconscious needs of the families (e.g., dependency, nurturance) and create the appropriate therapeutic environment (Fine et al., 2000; Sklar, 1988). The site is envisioned as a facilitating or holding environment for families in crisis (Winnicott, 1965), specialized to provide privacy, function, and a sense of safety and containment.
A common dynamic present in most forms of nonfamilial abduction is the feeling of being “ripped” from a familiar world to be forced into another’s reality by extreme measures, often violence. Sometimes the recovery of the victim happens within hours and in other situations it may be longer. In all cases the family system is forever altered and a new reality is forced upon the family and the victim. The TFTRM assumes that families can thrive and grow in crisis when oﬀered a multifaceted, strength based, family systems approach to the crisis, conﬂict or challenge.
The TFTRM employs a range of experiential and traditional psychotherapeutic strategies, including animal-assisted techniques and family meetings with various conﬁgurations of family members
that employ cognitive-behavioral, solution-focused, and psychodynamic techniques. The model aims to foster positive connections through a range of structured activities in a therapeutic, psychoeducational holding environment: talking together, playing together, cooking and eating together, working with animals, even exercising together. Experiential techniques serve multiple functions, including encouraging connection early in reuniﬁcation. For example, cooking as an experiential technique may help reestablish connections among family members as well as organically stimulate memories of a family’s past cohesion. The mechanisms by which olfaction and other senses trigger memory has been well described (Herz & Schooler, 2002) and suggests one mechanism by which cooking may be eﬀective.
Other experiential techniques are used to help enhance the abducted child’s self-regulation (e.g., aﬀect modulation, impulse control, information processing), domains that are commonly undermined among youth with complex trauma (Ford & Cloitre, 2009). Indeed, children aﬀected by trauma require skills for shifting physiological arousal as part of enhancing self-regulation (Warner, Spinazzola, Wescott, Gunn, & Hodgson, 2014). Thus, modalities focused on somatic experience such as equine ground work or recreational therapies may help reduce symptoms of posttraumatic stress (Cloitre et al., 2012) as well as counter the embodied experience of helplessness that may be residual from captivity. A range of experiential activities and techniques are described in the Transitioning Families manual (Bailey, Dickel, & Psaila, 2010) and the clinical team selects activities based on the individual family’s needs.
Importantly, TFTRM emphasizes a case speciﬁc approach. Every family’s circumstance and narrative is unique and should be dealt with accordingly. In fact, many cases seen at our program display characteristics that are not included as mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; American Psychiatric Association, 2013). There is also an extremely limited research base on reuniﬁcation treatment following abduction. Given the limited state of the evidence and the diversity of case dynamics, we believe that intervention requires an individually tailored and nonstandardized clinical approach. The program milieu and interactions between the family and clinical team is considered a laboratory where the team may realistically glimpse family dynamics, which forms the basis for the interventions our team will use. The therapeutic work is to “get up and get moving” and seeks to help families connect positively while increasing their ability to reﬂect upon themselves. Using tenets of solution-focused therapy, the work assists families to solve immediate problems and teaches families about how to ﬁnd solutions in the future. Most of the reuniﬁcation work is done on site in an intensive format.
A key component of the TFTRM is the on-site clinical team who work jointly and most closely with the family: a doctoral level psychologist/team leader, a master’s level marriage and family therapist, and a clinical social worker. The clinical team models the very problem-solving communication and teamwork that families involved in therapeutic reuniﬁcation must learn. The broader reuniﬁcation team is comprised of individuals coming from multiple disciplines and systems, and is not the same as the on site clinical team. However, they work together in collaboration to manage the care following an abduction and recovery.
Earlier writing emphasized the importance of constructing a viable reuniﬁcation team, which includes but is not limited to mental health professionals (Behrman-Lippert, 2000; Hatcher et al., 1992). The goal of the reuniﬁcation team is to provide the victim and family with a coordinated organized program of law enforcement, mental health, social service, and victim advocacy services to support recovery and connectivity and to restore function to the individual and the family. The TFTRM employs these standards and the next section will describe recommended best practices in assembling a multidisciplinary reuniﬁcation team and the roles and functions of reuniﬁcation team members with whom the on-site clinical team interacts. We will note the challenges of eﬀective interface between the clinical team and other team sectors (which can include the judicial system and other well-meaning competing agencies) and strategies we have developed for overcoming these challenges.
THE CLINICAL TEAM
Member functions are to: (1) evaluate the recovered child and family to assess and respond to the emotional stress generated by the disappearance and the recovery and (2) assist in the reuniﬁcation of the family and child. The most eﬀective scenario is when a clinical reuniﬁcation treatment team is identiﬁed and contacted during the earliest hours of recovery, if not immediately. At the very least this team should be comprised of individuals familiar with abduction issues. This team then proceeds with and implements the initial and intensive reuniﬁcation. One of the responsibilities of the clinical reuniﬁcation team leader is to prioritize and communicate the mental health needs of the victim(s) and their family. The clinical reuniﬁcation team leader often becomes the interpreter and spokesperson for the family to the broader reuniﬁcation team regarding their needs. The clinical team therefore implements the clinical aspects of reuniﬁcation but also must interface with the broader reuniﬁcation team as part of the overall reuniﬁcation process. The needs of a child and his/her family following recovery from abduction include, but are not limited to, mental health concerns, therefore skillful collaboration with other systems and disciplines is required.
The clinical component should include a psychologist or a psychiatrist, a clinical social worker/ mental health therapist and/or a psychiatric registered nurse. It is optimally comprised of the same individuals who participated in the early stages of reuniﬁcation. Each mental health professional that is a member of this clinical team should have experience working with a variety of challenging families and should have a strong background in developmental psychopathology and family therapy that can be utilized in a direct psychoeducational, even didactic approach. All team members should be well versed in clinical issues related to abduction and possess a basic knowledge about the diﬀerences between forensic and clinical roles, and how to manage court involvement in the context of treatment (American Psychological Association [APA], 2013; Fidnick, Koch, Greenburg, & Sullivan, 2011). Participation by mental health professionals on the clinical team may have to be done remotely by telephone with law enforcement and other agencies on site. In such cases, clinicians should consult licensing laws in their jurisdiction regarding interstate consultation.
Importantly, the clinical team needs an identiﬁable team leader who serves as a contact person for the involved agencies and as a type of spokesperson for the family with other team members. The team leader is not a spokesman to the media; we discuss the role of a media consultant as a distinct role later in this paper. The clinical team leader is responsible for developing a collaborative relationship with the primary victim in providing not only a buﬀer but also a vehicle for expression. The team leader will also be responsible for a collaborative relationship with the broader reuniﬁcation team.
THE REUNIFICATION TEAM
The most eﬀective approach to reuniﬁcation involves multidisciplinary and interagency personnel who work cooperatively as a reuniﬁcation team to enhance the investigative (forensic), child protective (safety), and emotional needs of the child and family (Hatcher et al., 1992). The goal of this reuniﬁcation team is to provide the recovered child and family with a coordinated, organized program of law enforcement, mental health, social service, and victim advocacy services.
Generally, but not always, law enforcement, ﬁrst responders, or national and local organizations involved with cases of abduction will identify a lead mental health professional. In the experience of our program, referrals may come from law enforcement, a prosecutor or other member of the court system, or an organization such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. In some cases, the family may request contact with a speciﬁc mental health professional. It will then be necessary for the identiﬁed mental health professional to identify and activate a reuniﬁcation team utilizing national or local law enforcement, the court system and/or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Established response teams, such as Transitioning Families, do exist and can be
mobilized immediately to work with ﬁrst line responders. In our experience, the most important qualiﬁcation for clinical team (vs. reuniﬁcation team) leader is someone with the requisite expertise about dynamics of abduction as well as crisis management/disaster response. These skills are distinct from trauma therapy per se and clinicians without this experience are advised to consult with qualiﬁed mental health professionals as needed. The following section describes other members and roles of the reuniﬁcation team based on model standards in this ﬁeld (Hatcher, 1992; Behrman-Lippert, 2000).
Law enforcement team member functions:
- Ensure that the recovered child receives immediate medical assessment and psychological evaluation and clearance.
- Interview the child as the primary and frequently only source of information about: the disappearance; the circumstances following the abduction; and other involved individuals and criminal violations.
- Establish the limits of case information to be prepared and provided to the public and media.
Law enforcement routinely works closely with medical professionals knowledgeable in cases involving physical trauma to assess immediate critical needs and to collect forensic evidence. This would follow the established protocols and interventions for forensic medical examinations, which vary from state to state. This assessment not only assists law enforcement but also ensures stabilization and intervention when necessary. Law enforcement should facilitate an immediate connection between the assessing medical professionals and the clinical mental health professionals who are part of the reuniﬁcation team as soon as feasible.
Child protective/social service team member functions:
- Assist when child recovery involves one or both of the following situations:
- The family is not immediately available for reuniﬁcation with the child and a return home.
- Allegations have been made with regard to the childcare adequacy of the recovering family.
- Assist in the reuniﬁcation of the family and child.
- Access resources and services appropriate for reuniﬁcation.
Family and dependency court team member functions:
- Assist when issues of childcare adequacy and childcare custody are present.
Victim witness/agency team member functions:
- Assist the recovered child and family in obtaining compensation for medical and psychological treatment that is associated with the disappearance.
- Provide education/support in any subsequent criminal court proceedings.
Generally, abduction cases are complicated by competing interests, needs of the agencies involved and the desire to take ownership of the case, what may be colloquially referred to as “turf issues.” A number of well-meaning organizations and individuals may attempt to become involved with high proﬁle cases. The large cast of characters participating may overwhelm families with well intentioned yet opposing interventions and treatment options. When these issues arise it is imperative that the variety of team members immediately address and clarify their respective roles and responsibilities.
It is useful for the Reuniﬁcation Team to identify an external support person or clinical consultant early on. Often these cases are quite challenging and require a consultant who is objective and can provide support and perspective for the team. These consultants can be found within organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children or professionals known to be expert in this area. This consultant can be integral to identifying and accessing additional support for the family members involved in the reuniﬁcation.
Especially in the instance of a high proﬁle case, the team should identify a media consultant. A media consultant is important in managing the press and can help avoid victim’s exploitation by the media or other parties. It is our clinical experience that such exploitation can grossly undermine the recovery process and requires careful and expert management. This assertion is supported by a Department of Justice report—a report that adult survivors of child abduction helped to write—in which survivors named intrusive media as a marked stress following recovery (DOJ, 2008).
The reuniﬁcation team must also bear in mind the potential for signiﬁcant political and monetary gain in high proﬁle cases. It is therefore critical to select a media consultant who is seasoned and has some specialization in high proﬁle cases but also one who has no vested interest in any major network or talk show host. The media consultant must understand the importance of choice for the family and the central victim. Particular caution should be exercised when the central victim presents with intellectual and/or psychiatric disability, which may increase an individual’s vulnerability to exploitation for political or ﬁnancial ends. When there is more than one victim involved in a case and chooses to go public, the media consultant may help protect for the victim(s) who choose not to.
Other team members may be speciﬁc to the program’s particular treatment model. In the case of our program, an integral part of reuniﬁcation work includes animal assisted therapy (Fine et al., 2000). Experts in the ﬁeld facilitate equine assisted groundwork and the animals are considered part of the team. Play is another experiential technique, which has an important place in recovery from complex trauma more generally (Green & Myrick, 2014). A certiﬁed play therapist that is knowledgeable about reuniﬁcation may be integral to the team. In addition, because the TFTRM utilizes cooking as another experiential technique to foster collaboration and connection among the family, we employ a professional staﬀ. The families themselves are, of course, the most important members of the reuniﬁcation team and the TFTRM aims to foster healing of the family from within the family. In all cases, a therapeutic environment is to be maintained throughout the reuniﬁcation process and the highest levels of professionalism and discretion are expected from all members. Hand-oﬀ between activities and team members should be smooth, with clear goals and focus as set by the family and the lead team members.
PHASES OF REUNIFICATION TREATMENT
Hatcher, Behrman-Lippert, Barton, and Brooks (1992) described ﬁve stages of reuniﬁcation treatment in a seminal DOJ report: prereuniﬁcation preparation, initial reuniﬁcation meeting, postinitial meeting, continuing reuniﬁcation care, and transition to long-term reuniﬁcation. The TFTRM proceeds are based on these stages. Of note, a stage-based approach to reuniﬁcation comports with more recent practice recommendations about phase-based treatment for children and adolescents who have experienced complex trauma (Cook et al., 2005). Graduated treatments recognize the ways in which traumatic exposure, especially when prolonged and during childhood, may profoundly aﬀect multiple domains of development (e.g., aﬀect regulation, dissociation, behavioral control, cognition, selfconcept; Ford & Cloitre, 2009). When such fundamental developmental capacities are aﬀected, it is imperative for individual treatment to help rebuild the self-regulation skills that trauma has derailed in a gradual manner. Accordingly, therapeutic reuniﬁcation for an entire family also requires a staged approach with preliminary emphasis on safety and stabilization, including enhanced self-regulation among all family members. Phases of the reuniﬁcation process are as follows (Hatcher et al., 1992):
- Prereuniﬁcation preparation
- Identiﬁcation and activation of team members
- Plan of care
- Initial reuniﬁcation meeting
- Crisis management and immediate problem solving
- Evaluation and assessment
- Short term goals
- Postinitial meeting
- Evaluation and assessment
- Aftercare plan including long term goals
- Continuing reuniﬁcation care
- Stabilization and immediate problem solving
- Goals and objectives for reuniﬁcation process
- Identiﬁcation of future goals
- Transition to long-term reuniﬁcation
- Treatment plan
We will describe these stages in greater detail.
In cases where law enforcement and/or mental health professionals have had the opportunity to work with the family before the reuniﬁcation meeting, they may have information which would be useful to the team. Some of the important areas of information include as noted in Behrman-Lippert (2000):
- Immediate physical needs such as medical, food, clothing and hygiene.
- Parental expectations of the child at the reuniﬁcation.
- Prerecovery beliefs about recovery.
- Perceptions and beliefs about the abduction.
- Perceptions and beliefs about the abductor.
- Fears and anxieties during the abduction experience.
Parents’ expectations can vary dramatically. Some may have the expectation that the child will be relieved and happy about the recovery. Others may fear the child will be angry or upset with them. Prerecovery contact with the aforementioned professionals allows an opportunity to help families be aware of, and prepare for possible preconceived notions. In cases where there was no prior contact, the opportunity to address these themes happens during the initial reuniﬁcation meeting.
INITIAL REUNIFICATION MEETING
The investigating oﬃcer should provide factual information about the recovery and information about the child’s condition from a nonmedical viewpoint to the parents. Critical medical information should also be communicated at this time but focus should remain on welcoming the child home with a reminder that the investigation is just beginning and some questions cannot be answered in the early stages of reuniﬁcation.
- Parent(s)/Guardian(s) should be reminded that the child may have mixed reactions to the reuniﬁcation and should be encouraged to stay focused on communicating their happiness regarding the child’s return, to the child (Hatcher et al., 1992).
- Law enforcement or mental health team member asks the family member to bring items to the reuniﬁcation such as a child’s favorite toy, photos of family members or family pets. In some cases it may be useful to bring missing posters or articles verifying the family’s attempts to locate the child.
- Considerations need to be made to assist other children in the home. This may be as simple as asking parents about possible options for childcare such as neighbors, friends, and relatives. The caregivers should be kept informed by the parent of the reuniﬁcation process and the time the family will return.
- Most reuniﬁcation meetings occur in hospitals, childcare facilities, or police stations. The investigating oﬃcer should meet brieﬂy with the parent(s) or guardian(s) to explain the reasoning behind the reuniﬁcation setting.
Media attention may be intense. Cases of abduction, particularly nonfamilial abduction, are easily sensationalized and manipulated (Pollak & Kubrin, 2007). For victims of crime, the truth is best handled in a setting other than in the media. It is imperative to the recovery of victims and families that they be protected and that all media appearances, statements, and photos be controlled in a thoughtful and coordinated manner. This cannot be overstated. Sometimes media attention can appear attractive or beneﬁcial to victims, families, even to people who are only peripherally involved in cases of abduction. This is especially so where exchange of money may be involved but short-term gain may be detrimental to long term recovery. This is also true as regards protection of privacy and may eﬀect further participation of the victim and family in the criminal justice system.
Synchronization between the overall reuniﬁcation team is important. Law enforcement and medical personnel may need to take concrete steps to ensure the family’s needs are taken care of and ensure that the media does not overwhelm the family. A dedicated press representative or the media consultant role described earlier may be useful to manage all aspects of media coverage and interaction. Private entrances in and out of facilities should be secured to prevent uncomfortable, overwhelming encounters between the media and families. Caregivers should be given instructions as to how to handle the media. Siblings who remain at home should be protected from overzealous media representatives. In cases where prior media involvement was perceived to be helpful to the family, parents should be reminded that media involvement is not mandatory and in fact is detrimental to the reuniﬁcation process.
- The ﬁrst night home may be a challenge as the child attempts to get reacquainted with their home and other siblings. Parents should be reminded it might be a slow process to reunite. Things will not be the same as prior to the abduction.
- Immediate physical needs cannot be overlooked. In some cases there may be a need for basic items such as toothbrushes, clothing and a healthy meal.
POSTINITIAL REUNIFICATION MEETING
All cases begin with an assessment to ascertain the appropriateness of the referral. The team must determine the level of involvement necessary for the case and whether the team has the resources available. Resources include mental health team members who have not only the time and energy but also the experience to interface with the various involved entities. These cases evoke an intensity of emotions and numerous unanticipated complexities emerge (Gibbons, 2009).
NEXT STEP: CONTINUING REUNIFICATION
When a family makes the decision to participate in continuing reuniﬁcation, an intensive 2- or 3- day intervention may suﬃce. For other families, the work is best done over a period of weeks or even months. Intensive reuniﬁcation requires the participation of all immediate family members including young children.
One of the ﬁrst decisions the family will need to make in collaboration with the reuniﬁcation team is the decision about where the family will be located for the reuniﬁcation process. In extremely high proﬁle cases the families may need to be moved to a location away from their home. In some cases a family home may be nonexistent. The family should be consulted as to where they might feel the most comfortable. When a family home does exist its location should be evaluated. Moving a victim from a situation of isolation and seclusion, as occurs in a stranger abduction, to a city or even a suburb can be very disruptive. In addition, the media and/or extended family dynamics pose a challenge as to where the family can be best served because media intrusion during reuniﬁcation can serve to further traumatize the family (see previous recommendations about a media consultant).
Hotel rooms are best avoided if it is decided the reuniﬁcation will last for more than a day or two. This minimizes the intrusion of media and other distracting and nontherapeutic inﬂuences. A period of seclusion should be considered allowing all family members a chance to get their bearings, process the changes, and celebrate the event with their recovered family members. The neutral place could be a vacation rental or private home close to the treatment team, close to the family home or near the recovery location. The overall team decision must be made quickly. Once a location and the treatment team have been identiﬁed, the family must be informed of, and understand, all the options for treatment. At this time they must be willing to sign a consent to treatment form for reuniﬁcation to proceed. Sample consent forms are available from the second author.
Each case is unique. Taking into account the family and individual diﬀerences of the speciﬁc case, such as cultural and spiritual beliefs of the family, the family may elect to continue with ongoing reuniﬁcation services or choose direct services in their own community. Once the decision is made immediate plans for follow-up services need to be implemented.
STABILIZATION AND PROBLEM SOLVING
Medical concerns and issues that require intervention or follow-up should be addressed at the time of the continuing reuniﬁcation process. Necessary medical appointments should be scheduled with a discussion of the follow-up plan of care. Medical, dental, and vision needs should not be underestimated. In some cases these areas have been neglected entirely. A sensitive and comprehensive approach is crucial when dealing with these issues. Victims and their families should be invited and encouraged to participate in all aspects of their medical care. When minors are involved careful consideration must be given to provide for guidance rather than directives to the child and parents. The goal is to help empower a parent to make informed decisions. Interfacing with victim advocates at this point may be useful to encourage follow through with necessary appointments. Creative problem solving may include organizations such as Doctors Without Borders or community-based health care providers.
It is critical to acknowledge diverse thoughts and feelings among family members, both of which need to be communicated directly and normalized. Some family members may not feel comfortable discussing their thoughts and reactions in front of other family members. This phase of therapeutic reuniﬁcation combines individual, dyad and family processing interventions, which cannot be accomplished by one single professional. Individual work with family members is important in processing the secrets that are diﬃcult to communicate directly. A team is always necessary (Behrman- Lippert & Hatcher, 2000). It is critical that the team convey an environment of cooperative problem solving between team members and an optimistic and responsive approach toward the family.
During the early phase of reuniﬁcation a short-term, solution focused treatment approach should be utilized (Lebow, 2014). Once a full family psychosocial history is gathered and understood, special consideration must be given to siblings of the abducted child. Often these individuals have suffered greatly by their sibling’s disappearance and in the case of very long term abductions, may have mixed feelings regarding the return of their sibling. These feelings can range from appreciation for
the recovery to jealousy and frustration regarding another episode in which the abducted sibling once again becomes the focus. When gifts are sent from agencies and individuals it is important that the sibling(s) are included and represented in some capacity. Siblings are fully aware that they were not directly abducted, but they have suﬀered when parents and other family members have been “pulled away” by their missing sibling. These issues can be openly addressed in an early intervention and should be normalized as part of the reunifying experience. It must be remembered that each and every family member’s unique world has been turned upside down.
The primary victim is beginning a process that can be as individualized as their speciﬁc case, which may include sexual abuse, exploitation, physical violence, and/or gross manipulation. In some cases the interruption of the abduction is so extreme that the recovered child has been deprived of normal developmental experiences, consistent with research on the eﬀects of complex trauma (Briere, & Lanktree, 2011; Cook et al., 2005). Research on adults abducted as children conﬁrm this point, with adult survivors of child abduction citing diﬃculty with academic adjustment due to ineffective education during abduction (Greif, 2009). Other deferred skills may include shopping, cooking, driving, recreational activities, vocational, and educational opportunities and even basic hygiene skills. Once the early shock of the abduction/recovery has worn oﬀ, the victim begins to slowly learn to regain critical thinking skills. A child abducted at a very young age may have been kept in such a restricted environment that their critical skills are limited and may need direct assistance in developing these skills. The victim may become aware of the manipulations of their perpetrator. They also may have a parent who is sitting before them who they were told and believed was deceased. Psychological mechanisms used to manipulate during their abduction become evident (Hatcher, 1981). This signals the beginning of a process of orientation to their new reality.
This process is much like what occurs when an individual comes out of a cult environment, with some fundamental diﬀerences. For example, clinical experience suggests that in most cases of nonfamilial abduction, a shared spiritual or ideological belief set unifying the victim to the perpetrator did not exist. In most cases family members lack the ability to appreciate or understand the divergent experiences and emotions experienced by other family members. There may be varying degrees of resiliency among victims and family members. These diﬀerences may be due to recent life history or other salient issues. These diﬀerences can lead to misinterpretations. For example, a rejoicing parent may not understand or tolerate a pouting sibling’s behavior toward the recovered child. Or, one parent may not understand the other parent’s anger as they recognize the life changing impact of the abduction. Parents and children may ﬁnd that they had extremely high expectations about how it would be upon the return of their child only to ﬁnd that those expectations were unrealistic or could not be met. It is not as easy as they had anticipated during the investigation and search for the child.
Direct discussion is needed to process each individual’s expectations and beliefs about recovery, reuniﬁcation, perceptions, and beliefs about what occurred during the abduction, perceptions and beliefs about the abductor(s), and fears and anxieties during the disappearance. Experiential modalities, such as equine therapy, art therapy, scrapbooking, and so on can be useful tools in this process. Such techniques can allow for themes and perceptions to safely surface that may otherwise be buried, resisted or too shameful to symbolize with language (Goodman, Chapman, & Gantt, 2009; Harris, 2007). During the early phase of reuniﬁcation intervention these themes should not be over processed but identiﬁed and deferred for exploration during a later phase of treatment.
External inﬂuences such as media stories, comments from well-meaning relatives and friends, and unsolicited advice from extended family and friends create stress, anxiety, and second guessing by the family. Another source of stress is media interviews of experts with little or no knowledge of the particular case expounding their opinions and views about the family and recovered child’s experiences. Monday morning quarterbacking, in which individuals external to the family judge the family and recovered child’s reactions to the abduction event, is especially harmful (Behrman-Lippert, 2000). These external assaults must be addressed in the intensive reuniﬁcation process. Families are aware of the comments and judgments being passed upon them.
Of special note is the media’s discussion and assignment of the Stockholm syndrome to the recovered child. Clinical experience and some anecdotal accounts suggest that few individuals actually develop Stockholm syndrome as it is deﬁned in popular media reports (Fuselier, 1999; Herman, 1992; Julich, 2005; Namnyak et al., 2008). Rather, survivors develop strategies to adapt and survive the abduction experience, and such adaptations are not the same as a psychological identiﬁcation with or romantic love for one’s abductor (Judge, Dugard, & Bailey, 2015). In fact, the suggestion of a recovered child being an accomplice to the perpetrator can cause secondary injury. Clinical experience suggests that in the majority of cases the child understands that there is something wrong with the actions of the perpetrator. This is especially relevant in cases where the recovered child is of latency age or older. This area needs further research to understand the adaptation process of a child victim (Reid, Haskell, Dillahunt-Aspillaga, & Thor, 2013).
A key intervention during the intensive reuniﬁcation is identifying and labeling survival techniques by each individual family member during the abduction. This allows each family member to express his/her own experiences and interpretations and to understand the perspectives of other family members. This alleviates any possible conjecture and speculation about the actions and eﬀorts during the abduction. Some examples of survival behavior are: a parent writing letters to the missing child during their absence; a sibling making the decision to go into the law enforcement profession to assist in ﬁnding other missing children; prayer; and a private search conducted by family members. An example from the victim’s perspective is making mental notes about the abduction and abductor. When an abductor has life or death control over a victim, the only response available to the victim may be to work to remain mentally alert. This vigilance allows the victim to remain optimistic about their survival. In cases where the child’s coping style during the abduction was to distance emotionally from the experience, there may have been an eﬀort to avoid, block, or not attend to details of the abduction. Details may come out in a more sporadic manner over time. The victim and family members may not be able to recognize their own behavior as survival or coping mechanisms if not processed in a therapeutic environment. This is especially true if the child’s survival and coping behavior was characterized by passivity. Coping mechanisms need to be identiﬁed and honored as an adaptation to captivity that ensured survival (Bloom, 1999; Judge et al., 2015).
Family members need to be reminded that a child’s ability to describe their experiences or disclose experiences from abduction during the reuniﬁcation process may not be limited and not within the child’s conscious control. Disclosure and creating a narrative is a process and attempts should not be made to coerce the child to talk. It is especially important for family members to not push conversations about sexual abuse or other criminal matters, which might aﬀect the investigation and prosecution of the case. In addition, it is not the job of the reuniﬁcation team to collect evidence or investigate the case. Distinctions between forensic and clinical roles must be understood and maintained among the clinical and larger reuniﬁcation team (APA, 2013). It is imperative that good communication exists between the team and law enforcement. This communication is essential in order to avoid damaging the legal case and jeopardizing the mental health of the primary victim.
A useful focus in the intensive reuniﬁcation model is to assist the family as a unit and encourage the individuals in the family to develop a sense of mastery. This can directly counter the predominance of learned helplessness and “survival” responses that characterize posttraumatic adaptation and impede new learning (Bloom, 1999; Ford & Cloitre, 2009). The TFTRM therefore facilitates active problem solving among families whenever possible. This can be done by having the family select one task/goal and working toward mastering that goal. This can be as simple as preparing a meal together or as complex as dealing with the media demands for interviews and information. For a young recovered child the goal may be to feed and care for the family pet. For a teenager the goal may be to return to preabduction extracurricular activities. Another viable goal is to participate in a group experiential activity such as, a family hike, a cooking class, a ropes course or other activities that involve all family members. Whatever the experiential or recreational activity may be, it may occur with or without the clinical team. After returning from the activity, it should be discussed and processed in a therapeutic environment. Some activities will require the presence of a clinical professional and may be processed during the course of the activity, as in equine therapy. A sample set of goals and objectives for the ongoing reuniﬁcation are: (1) strengthen existing familial relationships to promote and support the development of compassion and communication skills; (2) strengthen
empowerment of the family in the face of external interference from external forces; (3) encourage and foster a working relationship for the entire family by promoting a balanced perspective and becoming an inclusive unit focused on ﬁnding solutions; and (4) assist families in identifying and beginning to untangle challenges encountered before, during, and after the abduction. Depending on time constraints the clinical team stays focused on goals identiﬁed by the family early on. During the stabilization phase the clinical team continually identiﬁes individual and family needs. These areas need to be the focus during any follow-up phase and will be conveyed to treatment providers in the family’s local community.
IDENTIFICATION OF FUTURE GOALS
Utilizing knowledge about trauma, resiliency, recovery, and issues speciﬁc to child/family abduction, the clinical team assists the family and individual family members to identify and organize their own and collective behaviors and concerns. In an eﬀort to better identify and decrease the possibility of future traumatic reaction, parents should be advised about how to respond to the child, how to respond to sibling concerns, how to address child questions, what to look for in the way of symptoms and distress signals, and how to respond to child emotional responses. Alternative response patterns observed in abducted children (e.g. numbness, hyper arousal, denial, anxiety reactions, etc.) should be reviewed with parents along with appropriate interpretations of the identiﬁed patterns. The same issues should be addressed for nonabducted siblings, as well as intrafamilial and extrafamilial behavior, interaction styles and coping behaviors.
Additional resources and roles from the broader reuniﬁcation team will remain valuable to the family during later phases of treatment. The family may need to access medical, educational, legal, and media consultants from the larger team. Many issues that are identiﬁed early in reuniﬁcation will continue during the postreuniﬁcation phase. Any ongoing medical issues must be delineated and a plan for follow-up care must be implemented. The family may be wise to identify an ongoing case manager to oversee, look out for and orchestrate connections with the myriad of players they are likely to encounter postreuniﬁcation. A member of the clinical team may maintain contact with the family as case manager or associated consultant. This should be clearly discussed with the family and determined before the ongoing reuniﬁcation phase closes.
The educational assessment of a long-term abducted child(ren) is extremely important but should be limited to what is necessary to the pending placement of the child(ren). A baseline educational level for placement may need to occur. As discussed by Ziegler (2009), more intensive educational and psychological testing should be deferred until later as victims’ complex psychological presentation may change greatly during the ﬁrst year following recovery.
While some families and primary caregivers understand the issues, identify the need for therapeutic intervention and desire ongoing treatment, other families may be overwhelmed or minimize the need for ongoing services. This can be the case even though when the need for continued treatment is apparent to the clinical team. In those cases, ongoing periodic contacts by telephone or check-up sessions can be helpful to the family in maintaining a therapeutic liaison and to identify when they are ready for or require continued intervention. Periodic contacts assist the family by not colluding with traumatic defenses such as denial and minimization, and may facilitate an easier reentry into treatment due to an ongoing alliance with the case manager and/or clinician.
TRANSITION FROM REUNIFICATION
In unusual cases the clinical team may stay fully therapeutically connected with the family for an extended period. In most instances, however, the family returns to their prior community and residence. In cases where the intensive reuniﬁcation took place near the family home, the clinical team may transition the case to the local professionals.
During the transition from reuniﬁcation to postreuniﬁcation therapy, the following topics are the central focus. It is important that the team summarizes the topics in writing to allow for a smooth transition for the family and new clinicians:
- Review the behavioral tools and coping mechanisms learned and demonstrated as individuals and as a family.
- Review psychoeducational material speciﬁc to abduction and to general trauma, loss and resiliency.
- Name and introduce the new clinicians in an eﬀort to familiarize them and to build a bridge to facilitate ongoing treatment.
- Clarify and review family and individual strengths, survival behavior and resilience.
- Restate the family goals and the ongoing work they want to pursue.
- Identify resources locally, regionally and nationally.
- Redeﬁne the role of the reuniﬁcation team including and identifying the contact person from the team for any future consultation.
- Make sure all appropriate releases have been completed and signed.
ADAPTATION OF TFTRM TO FAMILIAL ABDUCTION
According to the most recent comprehensive national study for the number of missing children in the United States, approximately 200,000 children are abducted by family members in a given year (Finkelhor, Hammer, & Sedlak, 2002). Indeed, family abductions are more common than nonfamilial abduction and these crimes may diﬀer in important ways. Over the last decade more attention has been given to parental abduction or wrongful removal in violation of a parent’s custody right (Reynolds, 2006; Shear & Shear Kushner, 2013). The TFTRM may be applied to familial abduction, with some modiﬁcations based on key diﬀerences in case dynamics. In cases of familial abduction, for example, it may not be appropriate for the entire family to be involved. Certain forms of parental abduction cases typically involve long histories of “tribal warfare” (Johnston & Roseby, 1997) and require expert management of third party inﬂuences. Additional complications may include an incarcerated abductor/parent and feelings of mourning, complicity or responsibility in the recovered child, and changes in custody status. Thus, although aspects of the TFTRM may apply to familial abduction, modiﬁcations must occur based on the unique case dynamics, the legal context and the conﬁguration of family members involved. An article describing our team’s application of the TFTRM to cases involving parental alienation is forthcoming by the authors.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
The complexity and unique characteristics of families that are in the process of reunifying with an abducted child cannot be underestimated. For many families it is a time of joy and celebration. However, within the celebration lies an intricate web of conﬂicting needs, emotions, and expectations. Nonfamilial abductions can be particularly diﬃcult in that the primary victim may have adapted and adhered to the values of the perpetrator for his or her very survival. The families have been duly aﬀected by the abduction as well, and have adapted their responses to adjust to their extreme circumstances.
These cases are extremely challenging, rewarding, and complex. Reuniﬁcation has a common goal: to provide the victim and family with a coordinated organized program of law enforcement, mental health, social service and victim advocacy services to support recovery, connectivity, and restore function to the individual and the family. Stated more simply, the goal is reintegration and stabilization of the family unit. Research clearly documents that the entire family is impacted by abduction (DOJ, 1992) and moreover, family support moderates posttraumatic recovery (Feiring et al., 1998; Hyman et al., 2003; Tremblay et al., 1999). Involving the entire family is vital to stabilizing and reintegrating the family. This process involves a combination of individual, dyad and entire family system processing, goal setting, communication and problem solving.
The ﬁeld of abduction treatment is growing as more individuals are reunited with their families of origin. Enhanced police investigations and use of the Internet appear to have increased the chance of recoveries (DOJ, 2010; Grocki & Nguyen, 2006; Latonero et al., 2012). It seems logical that recoveries will increase in the years to come. Additional research is needed to help fully understand the specialized needs of the abducted and recovered populations. Alternate explanations for popular theories such as the Stockholm syndrome must be presented to facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of these cases. The TFTRM presented in this paper is a step towards addressing the needs of individuals recovered from nonfamilial abductions. It is oﬀered as a method of providing a common starting point for clinicians entering into the treatment of these sometimes challenging families. The model may have implications for treatment of individuals disconnected from their families for a variety of reasons including sexual exploitation or highly conﬂicted divorce.
It should be noted that program evaluation in the area of reuniﬁcation treatment for nonfamilial or familial abduction is virtually nonexistent. Accordingly, systematic research is essential for the growth of systems equipped to address the dynamic needs of these families. Given the case speciﬁc approach of TFTRM, a single subject design with measurement at multiple baselines may be a promising paradigm for initiating research on the eﬃcacy of the TFTRM (Kazdin, 1998). Single-subject research is experimental rather than correlational or descriptive; its purpose is to document causal, or functional, relationships between independent and dependent variables. This design may involve one research participant but it typically involves several (i.e., a family), and each participant in a single-subject study serves as her own control. Because single-subject research documents experimental control, it is an approach that can be used to establish forms of evidence based practice and perhaps lay groundwork for larger and more controlled trials.
A ﬁnal consideration involves funding. The team-based reuniﬁcation process described here requires a variety of creative resources for funding all phases of the reuniﬁcation process. In some situations, families will have adequate resources to cover the reuniﬁcation costs and for others, a large portion of reuniﬁcation work is eligible for Victim Witness Compensation funds. Service provided by the team encompasses individual and family therapy, as well as concrete interventions such as activities of daily living and other experiential therapeutic techniques. Private foundations and non-proﬁt organizations may oﬀer funding through grants or individual donations. Temporary housing may be provided through individual or organizational donations. Corporate entities are often available for resources when the reuniﬁcation services are connected to nonproﬁt organizations. National organizations, religious entities and secular organizations that support family unity may provide opportunities for further funding. Readers are referred to organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Victim Compensation, and the JAYC foundation for additional information on the funding of reuniﬁcation interventions.
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Abigail M. Judge, Ph.D., is a clinical and child forensic psychologist in private practice in Cambridge, MA, and she is also on staﬀ at the Law & Psychiatry Service at the Massachusetts General Hospital. In addition, she is a member of the part-time clinical faculty at the Harvard Medical School. She has worked as clinical staﬀ at Overcoming Barriers, a court-ordered family camp for children who resist postseparation contact with a parent, and she is an associate clinician at Transitioning Families in California, which oﬀers family- based therapeutic reuniﬁcation following abduction, parental alienation, and other trauma. Her scholarship examines topics at the interface of adolescent development and the legal system. This includes publications on the clinical and legal implications of youth-produced sexual images (i.e., “sexting”) and the role of technology in domestic child sex traﬃcking. She co-edited the book, Adolescent Sexual Behavior in the Digital Age: Considerations for Clinicians, Legal Professionals and Educators (Oxford University Press, 2014) and has a second book (co-edited with Robin Deutsch), Family-based Interventions for Children with Resistance, Rejection, Alienation: Overcoming Barriers and Other Clinical Approaches (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2016) coming out soon.
Rebecca Bailey, Ph.D., is a clinical and forensic psychologist and a nationally recognized expert in nonfamilial and familial abductions. She is the founder and director of Transitioning Families, an innovative, family- based program for therapeutic reuniﬁcation and reintegration in California. She is a regular consultant to and referral for the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and consults regularly to judicial entities. She is an active member of the AFCC and a member of the International Association of the Chief of Police. She has been a guest and commentator on Anderson Cooper, Good Morning America, Piers Morgan, Erin Burnett, Kyra Phillips, 20/20, Diane Sawyer, and World News Tonight. She is coauthor of the book Safe Kids, Smart Parents (Simon & Schuster, 2013). She presents widely throughout the country on a variety of topics, including the premise of creating protected spaces for survivors of traumatic crimes and the importance of active collaboration among involved systems. She is an advisor for the JAYC Foundation and clinical director for their programs. She is the lead clinical consultant at Stable Paths of south Florida, a Transitioning Families program.
Joanne Behrman-Lippert, Ph.D., has 30 years of experience working with missing and exploited children and victims of crime and assessing threats of workplace violence and harassment. She also serves as a forensic consultant and evaluator in criminal and civil actions involving violence, threats of violence, and allegations of harassment and hostile work environments and child abduction and exploitation. She has been a consultant to municipal, county, and federal law enforcement agencies since 1985. She has also been a frequent consultant and faculty member in U.S. Department of Justice training and research programs including Reuniﬁcation of Missing Children the Missing and Exploited Children Action Program. In 1999 she completed a 5-year research and development grant for the U.S. Department of Justice on treatment models and family trauma response to missing children who have been recovered and to their families. In addition to treating children recovered from abductions, she has also assisted law enforcement and social services in reunifying children with their left-behind parents. She maintains a private practice in Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Elizabeth Bailey, RN, is a board-certiﬁed psychiatric nurse, currently working at the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA. She is coauthor (with Rebecca Bailey) of Safe Kids, Smart Parents (Simon & Schuster, 2013).
Cynthia Psaila, M.S., LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in psychotherapy with adolescents, young adults, and family reuniﬁcation therapy. Currently, she is an associate director and clinician for the Transitioning Families program, clinician and co-facilitator for the JAYC Foundation, clinical consultant to the Stable Paths Family Reuniﬁcation Program, and a mental health private practitioner in Sonoma, CA. Since 2011, she has worked closely with Transitioning Families and The JAYC Foundation to expand protocol and implement curriculum for families beneﬁting from reuniﬁcation in high-conﬂict or post- trauma scenarios. Her work with Transitioning Families also includes co-facilitation of educational workshops for mental health and family law professionals on the topic of therapeutic reuniﬁcation and the implementation of experiential and equine assisted modalities for families resisting traditional talk therapy. Additionally, she co-facilitates JAYC Foundation equine-assisted educational workshops for law enforcement on awareness in the ﬁeld of abduction and co-conducts animal-assisted school groups for middle school students on the concept of safety, integrity, and awareness in their community.
Jane Dickel, LICSW, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from the University of California at Berkeley, a certiﬁcate in mediation and alternative dispute resolution from JFK University, and a California Standard Designated Services credential in pupil personnel services and is a board-certiﬁed diplomate in clinical social work. After two decades in private practice, she currently specializes in clinical work with high-conﬂict families and other forms of transition, including reuniﬁcation of families after abduction or other trauma. In 2009, she helped in the founding of Transitioning Families and continues there as a senior clinician. She is a clinical advisor to the board of directors of the JAYC Foundation, where she has helped produce the Creating Protected Spaces for victims and families posttrauma. She has collaborated with the National Organization for Victim Assistance and the Virginia Tech Victims Family Outreach Foundation to develop practice guidelines for the convergence of authorities and other entities in crisis events. She has presented at venues across the country on various topics related to her work with Transitioning Families and the JAYC Foundation.