Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Safety Fort: An Art Therapy Intervention for RAD and Trust Disorder kids

By John and Diane

Diane and I were recently troubleshooting an issue another Foster parent was having with one of their RAD kids.

Their foster son who had the usual safety and security issues that trust disorder kids have, had numerous set backs in his treatment. He had several traumatic home visits and issues with one of his caseworkers where he felt he was not being understood and thought he was being lied to.

These issues piled up and the child had a meltdown resulting in a suspension from school and emergency meetings with counselors.  During this time his foster parents were trying to reconnect and repair their foundation with their foster son, which had been damaged during all of these problems.

Although none of the problems the boy suffered connected to his foster home, the foster parents were concerned and wanted to make sure the boy felt secure in his placement in their home.  They  wanted a way to determine how he was feeling and wanted to make him feel more secure.

As Diane and I talked she, (being an art therapist) and I (being a guy with a lot of random stuff in my yard) began brainstorming on how these parents could work with their son to get him to feel secure at home.  This is what we came up with.

The Safety Fort

What you need:

An outdoor space
Wood palletes


Tell your son you are going to go out and build a fort.

The Therapeutic Concepts:

The use of wood and tools to build something helps burn off anxiety and builds confidence for the boy, which he needs, especially during a time of crisis.  Concentration on building a fort helps break the cycle of anxiety and diverts his attention.

 While building the fort, the foster parent will be working with the boy, talking about building a safe place, how to build a home, feeling safe and secure etc.  Discussion can also be held on how once the fort is built, how the child can play in it for months and months to come, which  will make the child feel more secure as well in his placement in the home.

Later, the foster parents or caseworker can use the structure as a device to evaluate or work with the child when he feels in crisis or insecure. Should he have another issue, they can approach him by inviting him to work on the fort to make it stronger, thereby offering him a chance to express his vunerability and make himself feel stronger or more secure again.


The foster parent worked with 2 children when doing this project.  He worked mainly with the RAD child in crisis, and another foster child in his care who also had trust disorders, built his own fort as well.

During the process the foster parent made some interesting observations.

The child in crisis built his fort under trees and among bushes in a very protected, covered space, reflecting his need for shelter and security.   Meanwhile, the other child, who is much more secure and trusting, built his fort in an open field where he could be seen, and could see everything.

The child in crisis talked about adding locks to his fort and putting a door on it so no one could get in and so he could be safe in it. Further expressing his extreme insecurity.

Using the construction material, being that it was very heavy and sound made the child feel very secure inside it.  So, using REAL materials is important in this process (as opposed to making a blanket fort.)

This project was seen as a success and a safe project for many reasons. 
1.     It is a safe project as the parent was working with the boys and the tools
2.     The Pallette forts can be played in, yet, since the palletes have large spaces between the slats, a parent can see what is happening within the fort, making it safe for monitoring behavior later on.
3.     The child in crisis got a chance to handle material and release anxiety as well as talk out his issues during the process with his foster parent and re-solidify his bond and security within his foster home.
4.     The fort is a reminder to the child of the process and that he has a safe place to go.

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