Like many kids, Erin Brumfield Grima knew early on what she wanted to do when she grew up.
"When I was in elementary school I had a really good friend who told me at a sleepover that she had been sexually abused" she said, "so it was something I always knew about and it influenced me to become a therapist."
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Elgin-area resident Brumfield Grima is the administrator at Larkin Center in Elgin and a therapist in a residential treatment program for kids with problematic sexual behavior.
"My friend had told me a lot about what happened to her and who had hurt her, and it happened to be another kid," she said. "At the time we really hated him, but now the kids I work with are basically that kid."
She understands the irony, but more importantly she understands how these kids got here.
"Pretty much every kid that we work with we can trace back to a point when they were innocent, so to speak, and they were exposed to something they shouldn't have been," she said. "Through the process of them trying to understand what happened they start to have inappropriate boundaries and they start to engage in sexualized behavior that is too old for their age."
The Larkin Center has been in Elgin for 116 years. They agency serves more than 500 kids and adults per year. The youth residential program is for kids ages 8 to 18 who are experiencing emotional or behavioral problems.
There are also family counseling programs, adult programs for the chronic mentally ill who are seeking independent living skills, and a therapeutic day school for first- through 12th-graders who are at risk of dropping out.
The treatment program typically lasts from a year to 18 months. Kids work on regulating their emotions, healthy sexual development, resolving the history of victimization and how they're going to integrate back into the community, Brumfield Grima said.
Because many of the kids are younger -- one client is a second-grader -- Brumfield Grima uses experiential therapy to help draw them out.
"We do some art exploration, sand tray and play therapy with the kids," she said. "Those are opportunities for kids to be able to express themselves through mediums that aren't verbal because a lot of kids that are younger don't have the words to put to the experiences they've had or the feelings they've had from those experiences."
It isn't easy work for the kids or the therapists. But there is a payoff.
When you invest time in the kids, she said, you can see it making a difference since nobody else has ever done that.
"They might not ever tell you, but you can see that it makes a difference for them. They'll make choices that are more positive for them, they'll succeed in school, they'll improve their relationship with their family or move on in some way, and there's a piece of that that you know you've played a part."