Sierra’s story

Posted on: 12th January 2017

At Body & Soul we deliver a proven transformational programme for people of all ages who have had adverse childhood experiences. One of the groups we work with is families living with HIV. The virus is generally only one element in a complex constellation of challenges, many of which are associated with childhood adversity. Sierra’s story illustrates why there is more to HIV than just a virus.

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Sierra has been coming to Body & Soul for a number of years. She is 13 and HIV positive. A few years ago, her mother died of an AIDS-related illness and she was left to live with her father. We raised some concerns with social services around her relationship with her father – he was not doing enough to ensure she took her HIV medication, which meant she was becoming quite ill, and it was felt that he was relying too heavily on her for emotional support. There was rarely food in the house and her father was not always aware of Sierra’s whereabouts. Eventually Sierra was removed from the care of her father and fostered by her grandparents.

At Body & Soul, we have been providing consistent emotional support to Sierra and helping her to work through some of the issues she faces. She has taken part in a small group workshop for youngsters who have been bereaved and was able to talk openly about the loss of her mother and how this affected her. We also assigned her a mentor – a young adult also living with HIV – who was able to talk to Sierra about the importance of taking her medication.

Girl silhouette sun

The last year has been a tough one for Sierra – she got a new social worker and was removed from her grandparents’ care and placed with a new foster mother. In this time of flux, we were concerned that Sierra was not being supported to attend our monthly group for adolescents. We worked closely with Sierra’s new social worker to ensure her foster mother understood how important it was to enable Sierra to continue coming to Body & Soul. She has also been attending weekly child psychotherapy sessions at North Middlesex Hospital.

Body & Soul has been instrumental in coordinating Sierra’s professional support network. We met key professionals last November, including Sierra’s psychotherapist, to discuss an incident at school where another student had shouted across the lunch hall to Sierra about her diagnosis. Sierra was upset by this and concerned that it would mean she would need to change school again as she had already been removed from one primary school due to bullying around her diagnosis. The group discussed Sierra’s tendency to share her diagnosis with her peers without fully understanding the impact and irreversibility of doing that. Her HIV status is clearly to the forefront of her mind – when she underwent a medical examination, her first question to the doctor was ‘when am I going to die?’

The group agreed that it was important for Sierra to continue engaging with Body & Soul, to be around other young people living with HIV and to discuss her diagnosis with peers who have similar experiences to hers. Body & Soul’s monthly Teen Spirit sessions provide a valuable space for Sierra to talk openly with peers, ask questions and learn important health information about HIV and medication.

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The names of members may be changed for reasons of confidentiality.



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