Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Overcoming the killing tendency with kindness

Posted by Kimberly on November 15, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
November 15, 2007 (1,091 words)

Nancy Thomas is one of those innocuous women you’d see walking down a street. Yet what separates her  from the masses happens to be something so unique and special, you would never view her in the same ordinary light again.

Nancy, along with her husband Jerry, have shared their lives and home for over 30 years, with severely emotionally disturbed children dealing with attachment problems.

“I specialise with children who have killed,” she said, adding that 90 percent of the children who live with her are in that category.

With an 87 percent success rate, the children live at the couple’s ranch, “to give them an opportunity to heal their hearts and brains.”

It is at this point that Nancy explains about the idea of a conscience, adding that it is not something we are born with, that “when they [the children] don’t have a conscience, they don’t feel bad when they do bad things.

“A conscience is developed through a relationship and these children have a problem with relationships,” referring to the problem as “attachment disorder.

“They have to have a relationship of respect and trust with someone to internalise their beliefs and moral values,” she said, adding that those neglected and abused children, ones that had been separated from their birth parents, “and don’t have a healthy relationship with someone else after that,” are the ones that get into trouble.

Nancy’s “children” tend to fall between the ages of as young as two months and as old as 15 years of age.

When it comes to the babies though, she added, it’s about preventative work, “because we can spot this problem when they are two months old.

Asked to elaborate on this issue, she said, “they don’t make eye contact with people who love them. They don’t cling. A baby who’s bonded holds on and these babies put their hands flat on the chest and tend to lean out away so they’re harder to hold, they get stiff rather than cuddle in.

“They don’t laugh and smile when the mother or father laughs and smiles with them.

“They just glaze over, avoiding that connection of interaction,” she said.

She explained that, “with the little one we have weeks of hard work with those who have had their heart broken and are off track, with the ones who are 15 we have months or even years of hard work to help them heal. But it’s worth it,” she said.

Nancy is currently in Macau providing a series of workshops that began on Monday and will extend to Friday, dealing with such issues as building broken bonds, self esteem and when love is not enough.

Asked what her first impressions are of such children, she said, “well when you first meet a child with reactive attachment disorder they’re very charming, a little bit too charming and underneath that facade of charm is a lot of anger.”

Of course, the question of what happens to those children that weren’t successful within the program came up.

“The children I’m not successful with end up being given back to the government to raise, some of them are prostitutes, some of them are in and out of prison,” said, adding that it was difficult to understand why it was difficult to work with some and not others.

“I worked with a lot of children that had drugs and alcohol before they were born and that certainly hurts their brain on a deep level as far as making good choices and remember why they’re making good choices.

“I just see some of the children are not motivated enough to work on change. It’s just too hard for them, like with an alcoholic. They can go through the same program. Some people reach for the help and succeed and some people fail,” she added.

Curiosity as to the reasons why Nancy chose to follow such a seemingly dangerous and danger-fraught path, led the the question to which she responded, “I love the children. I always wanted a exciting life and I’ve had a very exciting life!

“I’m not a person who necessarily needs peace and quiet. I can handle a lot of chaos and children create a lot of chaos so that’s OK. I’m not even close to perfect so it’s easy for me to accept other people who are not perfect,” she said.

Of course, she loves a challenge, with these children being “a very special challenge.

‘And when you see one heal, see one reach for love and feel it for the first time it’s such a rush of excitement. It’s more exciting than winning the lottery and keep on helping another child and another,” she said.

Nancy and her husband have three natural-born children and have adopted three others, one of whom, Beth, was on an HBO television special titled, “Child of Rage’

Beth is also featured in a new book by Nancy called ‘Dandelion on my pillow, butcher knife beneath,’ “which is a story of nine of the children that we live with.

“She [Beth] wrote her story in there so it’s really interesting to read inside the mind of a child who is a sexual predator.

“How she felt and also while she was doing the things she did, and when she lived in our home and was healing. It helps people to understand more of what parents are going through when they have a child like this,”s he said, adding that “somebody told me Stephen King would have nightmares if he read it.’

Nancy has also written a book titled ‘When love is not enough’ which has been translated into Cantonese by Hong Kong’s Mother’s Choice Orphanage and is also in Portuguese and several other languages.

Then there are the videos to help teachers, grandparents, community members and orphanage staff, among others, to cope with such challenging children and situations.

She ad her husband are currently working with the police department to help when a family calls for help as well as bringing out a DVD of the top 10 dads who have been successful in turning their “very challenging children around,”which will be out next summer.

Life in Nancy’s household is hardly a bed of roses and she acknowledges that.

“There are challenges along the way, where they say ‘I’m going to kill you because you want me to make my bed.’

“So we have these little meltdowns here and there, but we just work them through. I’m alright, the beds get made and life goes on,” she said laughingly.

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