As a middle school teacher, Dan has long had a front row seat to the struggles of vulnerable children. But few stories compared to that of William, a 13-year student who was in a foster placement. With his biological mom in prison and a string of broken placements behind him, William was seeking guidance from a secure, caring adult, and he found that in his teacher, Dan. They quickly developed a strong connection.
Then, when William’s third “almost-adoption” fell through, Dan temporarily opened his home to William. But what was supposed to be temporary turned into long-term. Dan had always thought he might become an adoptive dad, and William entering his life felt like the perfect time to step into that role. So after a few months of living together, they began the adoption process to formally become a family.
For a short time, things went very well. Dan and William communicated, showed respect for one another, and had a camaraderie that felt almost like a friendship. But as the months went on, and as Dan increasingly embraced the role of a parent/rule-enforcer instead of friend/mentor, the situation became more difficult.
Then when William entered high school, things began to spiral out of control. A new school meant new freedoms and a new group of friends. Difficult behaviors began to emerge, borne out of mental health struggles that William had previously kept hidden from the adults in his life.
Then COVID-19 hit, and, as Dan puts it, the wheels fell off. William was subjected to the anxieties associated with distance learning and a lack of socialization. And to top it off, his biological family came back into his life, adding to his growing list of stressors. At this point, his mental health struggles were impossible to keep hidden from Dan; reckless behaviors like drug use, self-harm, and sexual acting out emerged. William was beginning to lose his identity.
Meanwhile, Dan was doing all that he could to heal his family. He and William were enrolled in multiple therapy and case management programs, but nothing seemed to work. They were in full-blown crisis mode. It wasn’t until 3 years into William’s placement in his home that a mental health case worker recommended Chosen. Dan discussed it with the family therapist, who confirmed that TBRI, a tool used by Chosen staff, could be helpful for their family.
Dan and William were matched with their care manager, Alex, who took time to understand their story and explain the effects of trauma on young people. This gave Dan a deeper understanding of William. William was not “being a bad kid”; his destructive behaviors were closely linked to his trauma and lack of attachment to a safe and loving caregiver.
Alex began helping the family address these root causes, rather than reacting to the behaviors that were emerging. “I realized we were applying Band-Aids to a deeper wound,” says Dan. “when what he really needed was the right combination of attachment, care, and autonomy.
Since beginning work with their care manager, Dan and William have moved beyond their crisis stage. Executive functioning issues have been identified, Dan has altered his parenting style, and they continue to be intentional about building a strong and honest relationship.
Today, William is attending in-person school full-time, he and Dan set aside time every evening to talk openly, and the two of them are planning a summer trip in their camper. Family memories are being built every day. Things are not perfect—they both plan to continue working on their relationship—but now, they have hope.
When a family has been impacted by the child welfare system, Chosen is here to help. We are relentless in helping children heal by strengthening their families. If you or someone you know could benefit from services, please reach out to us at the link below.
*Names have been changed.