Mary Jo McVeigh (pictured above) is the founder and Principal of Cara House, a centre for resilience and recovery. She has a masters degree in social work from Belfast, Northern Ireland, where she started working with children who have experienced abuse and trauma. Over 25 years on, she speaks at various national and international conferences, publishes journal articles, writes books and supports children, carers and agencies through training, consultation and supervision. She developed the program Wrapped in Angels, used by CAPS, and here she tells us all about it.
What is the Wrapped in Angels program, and how does it work for children?
Wrapped in Angels is a journey of resilience that explores what has sustained and nourished children and families when facing abuse, violence and trauma.
This is done by making an Angel Blanket. The symbols of family, friends, pets, places, and events sewn onto fabric: a colourful representation of a safety net. It was not just a safety net of metaphor or a distance genogram or ecomap written in case notes stored in a filing cabinet.
The blanket is a tangible object to be wrapped in, to bring closer strengths, protection, connections and relationships. It can warm and comfort with its touch and it can hold memories sewn on to its fabric. It helps children remember and keep remembering all that may be lost through a damaged net: death, removal from family of origin or some form of abuse or trauma, or all that may be present but still needs to be drawn closer.
How did you come up with the idea?
Over twenty years working with children I have worked in many places. One of these was a business centre where my desk sat in one corner beside a large window. In this spot I enjoyed the beauty and warmth of the day’s sun. The birds visited my window garden and I was treated to a fabulous light show when the moon rises.
At that time I had one of those times in my life, which we are all visited by, where I faced pain and difficulties. I remember asking for the guidance of my grandmother. I asked her to send me images of angels to help me through this time, to show me she was protecting me. None were forthcoming. As I came out of my ‘dangerous time’ I started to be sent images of angels by friends and
colleagues who had no knowledge of my desire for angelic imagery. With a wry smile on my face I thanked my grandmother. For I realised that while no images of angels were appearing, some very special people sustained me through this time.
For me it was my grandmother’s way of telling me that the angels were with me all the time, they never go away. They live in my memory of her and those of my godmother and aunt, they live in the beauty of nature and the sound of my favourite piece of music and most importantly they live in the actions of those around me who support and love me.
And so around my desk I placed the images of angels to remember, honour and act as symbols of being guided, protected and strengthened in my life and also in the work I do with children and their families.
In 2002 I was seeing Tom and his mother Chris. Tom and his mother Chris were consulting with me one day about Tom’s struggle with nightmares and being bullied at school. We spoke about his fears and doubts, his moments of triumphant and problem solving skills. We also spoke about hobbies and interests and Tom revealed his love of medieval knights; their weaponry, their amour, their valour.
He also spoke about his aunt who had died but still guided him in many ways and he spoke of his belief in angels. As I listened to Tom I heard a verse in my head that described the protection of angels. The words were originally from the breastplate of St Patrick, but I replaced the word Christ with angel.
One idea sparked off the next as we spoke of Tom’s angels and breastplates that protect a knight in battle. And so Tom’s shield was created with the words of the angels written on it to protect and strengthen him. He not only brought the symbolism of the shield in his waking world of the school playground but also his sleeping world: He no longer felt intimidated by the boy at school and the monsters of his nightmares stayed away.
Through consulting with me, a young woman came to know of the work I did with Tom. When she left Australia to work in Ireland she made me a magnificent tapestry upon which she had sewn the words of the angel verse. It hangs proudly on my wall.
Around this time I worked with a young girl called Kay and her foster mother on the traumatic experiences that brought her into care and the effect of these experiences on her current life. The first time she saw the tapestry she asked if she could drape it around her shoulders. I told her it was a tapestry to hang on the wall but she insisted that she be allowed to drape it upon her shoulders.
When I did she slept for her entire session a deep and peaceful sleep. Sleep of this quality was a comfort that Kay did not normally enjoy. As she awoke I told her that we would make her an Angel Blanket. And so I gave this blanket and all others that have come after it the name Angel Blankets.
How many years has the program been running and how widespread is it?
I made the first blanket in with a child in 2002. I have trained small groups of professionals in government and non-government child protection and therapy roles. Therefore, it has not gained widespread recognition. Although over the past two years as the professionals who I have trained have had wonderful experiences with clients it is gaining momentum through word of mouth.
How can people access Wrapped in Angels?
CLIENTS: We run, group, family and individual sessions at Cara House and Cara West which we advertise on our website or through invitation to partner agencies. The agencies I have trained I assume advertise through their connections when they run their Wrapped in Angels programs.
PROFESSIONALS: We run regular Wrapped in Angels training at Cara House or for agencies upon request.
Do people have to believe in Angels?
No, people do not have to believe in Angels. Wrapped in Angels is not a religious or even a spiritual process, but it can be. It can be whatever the person making their blanket wants it to be because it is a process of healing which harnesses the individual creativity of the maker.
What are your future plans for the program?
I would like to continue training more professionals so that the program can reach a larger client population. I would like to engage in research about the process and I would like to find a publisher as I would like to update the program that I have written and train to professionals.
But most of all I like to give everyone, everywhere, who has been through difficult and dangerous times the opportunity to wrap themselves in their own Angel Blanket.
I have watched and experienced the process of making many Angel Blankets range in nature and depth. Nightmares of several years’ duration have ceased, courage and strength have been regained, and recovery from trauma has moved forward. Each Angel Blanket is as different as the life of the sewer. But each time it has been an experience of significance.
To this day I do not really know what it is about Wrapped in Angels that makes it so significant and while I am toying with the idea of basing my PhD on it. There is a part of me that really does not want to know but just accept what people tell me, how much they love their blanket.
Below is a selection of images of angel blankets: