Trauma Coach Spotlight: Jill Cummings
Jill Cummings is a trauma coach with MSPCC’s Encompass: Community and Collaboration for Foster Parents, a pilot program for foster families in the Greater Worcester Area. As a trauma coach, Jill meets with foster parents weekly to help them understand how trauma affects the children in their care and to make sense of their children’s behaviors and feelings. Jill believes there is nothing more perfect than “me helping other foster parents know what I didn’t know [and have] someone who understands the system.”
Jill and her husband began their family in 2007 when they applied to adopt a little girl from China. The process took over a year and during that time, the couple also applied to become foster parents through the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF). After finally travelling to China to bring their daughter home, Jill and her husband decided one year later to reopen their home to more children. In March 2011, they adopted a sibling set from foster care. The children, as Jill describes, “brought a host of issues.” Both children suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder (a disorder brought on by severe interruption and separation from an infant’s primary caregiver) as well as a number of cognitive delays. The couple closed their home after the adoption, but reopened it again in 2013 for short-term foster care which entails fostering children for a few days at a time. Needless to say, they soon adopted again, another pair of siblings.
With five children at home, two of whom required full time care and others with ADHD and compliance concerns, Jill was unable to work full time. Out of necessity and a determination to change systems that continued to fail her family, Jill became a staunch advocate of children in foster care. When she asked the Department of Mental Health (DMH) for a list of summer camps that accept high-needs children, the Department had no such list. So Jill created the list and shared it with DMH to share with other families. “I knock on doors to find answers. If they don’t have the answers, I ask them why. If they don’t have the list, I create the list.”
Today, Jill is an Area Representative for the Massachusetts Alliance for Families (MAFF), volunteers as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), and sits on a number of boards yet she wanted to do more. As an Encompass trauma coach for foster families in the Greater Worcester area, she is able to impart what she’s learned to others. “There’s power in knowledge. When you know better you do better. I want [families] to look at things differently. The kid isn’t having drama, they’re having trauma. If you look at things through a trauma lens, you can see the kid better.” Jill has already had breakthroughs with her clients. Recently, a client shared with Jill that her foster child would attack her then say “I love you.” Jill said she understood, and the client began to cry, saying “you’re the first person who has actually believed me.”
Jill is passionate about making sure foster families have everything they need. “I try to give clients the balanced truth. Nobody should feel like they’re out there untethered. I infuse them with as much knowledge as possible. I didn’t have it, and I had to do it on my own. I love this job. It’s nice to finally have a position and feel like I’m really helping people.