Our son, John, just turned 28 this past July. We adopted him when he was 8 years old. He came to us with a history of trauma and we really had no idea how much it had affected him or how to help him heal. By the time he was fourteen we didn't feel like the other children in the house were safe with him there. He would never hurt them -- I was his target -- but I was afraid they were going to get hurt if they were between us when he was angry with me.
We decided to ask our county for help and the help they gave us was to file a "Child in Need of Protection or Services" petition against us staying "abandonment" as their grounds. He went into foster care and then began a journey of four years where he was in and out of foster care, residential treatment, and our home, though his time at home were never for very long. He manipulated the system pretty well.
He was in and out of facilities that were not good for him. He told me last night that several of the guys he lived with in one facility sued the facility and won because of the maltreatment the kids received. None of the facilities worked with us -- other than to allow us visitation -- and many of them seemed to work against us.
He finally landed in a really good place before his 17th birthday. It was a Christian boys ranch, similar to where I work now. He was doing great there... so great that our plan was that he enter their independent living program.
Except that the county had a policy. You have to "try" a "least restrictive environment" after twelve months in an institution. While I understand the policy, in his situation this was not a good plan. I argued my way up the chain of command at that county and lost.
The rest of the story doesn't go well. He was put in foster care which lasted three weeks and then his caseworker told us that he was going to put him in a residential facility that was typically for juvenile delinquents "for a couple weeks." This was the institution I mentioned above that was recently sued. I read the article today -- I won't like it. Too sad. Too ugly. Too disturbing.
His two week stay lasted about 4 months until I fought for a different alternative right before his 18th birthday. That's a story in and of itself.
The next several years have been very hard for John. The most recent violation of his probation has been heartbreaking. He is such an amazing human being with such a tender heart and yet his mental health issues and battles with alcoholism have him in prison now for the next couple years. We have no idea what would have happened to John if the county had made other choices, but he truly believes had he stayed at the Boys Ranch he would have ended up with a completely different outcome.
The organization where I work will take children without counties being involved. Parents can place their children with us on a voluntary basis and we have a sliding scale... nobody is turned away because of their inability to pay. During the journey described above we were paying hundreds of dollars a month for the mediocre care John received and had no choices. Here, at PHFS, parents have choices and have input into what is happening with their children.
Most recently, we are on a journey to become a "Teaching Family" Association. As I went through the training (all directors and managers go through it), I learned about how to teach five basic skills: Greeting skills, Following Instructions, Asking Permission, Accepting No As An Answer, and Receiving Feedback All of the children in our cottages will leave with those five skills.
I hate to confess that many of my children did not have those basic skills when they left our home, especially those who had to live other places. I look back on the journey we had with John and had he been able to be in a place that worked with us to discover what was best and that taught him those skills, he would certainly have had a better chance.
The other day I came across this blog entry, written ten years ago. It tells the story of when we went to visit John when he was at the facility who is being sued. I just reread it and it made me cry.
So in case you didn't know why I go a little overboard in fundraising for the place I work, it is because I know what it is like to be the parents, desperate for someone who can honestly help. And I know that at PHFS we are able to help.
This story may impact you because you have been there, or because you worry you might some day. It might be because you know a family who has struggled with a teen and have shared their journey. If it has an impact, I encourage you to give.
We have chosen not to take state money because it impacts the way kids are are treated and how decisions are made (you read above how county policy about paying for residential treatment derailed my son).
I know I've asked a lot and in many different ways, but if we can raise enough to help just one family avoid the pain we have gone through.... if I can make the difference in one life so that a young man is not wasting away in jail.... it's worth any price.
As I hung up from talking to John last night, we both knew what we knew ten years ago: regardless of everything that had happened in the past, and with everything that will happen in the future, there is always love.
Ok, I need to stop now because I'm making myself cry. But think about it.
Here's the link if you want to donate: I'd appreciate It, but more importantly, so would a family.