Creating Order Out of Chaos
When faced with caring for a child with serious emotional and behavioral needs, Deanna and Trent didn’t just accept the unexpected for their family – they are grateful they embraced it with grace, patience, and humility.
The Harrisons journey with Micah truly began when they adopted in 2017. Deanna was a part of a foster family support group when she first met 2-year-old Micah and his then adoptive mother. Deanna and her husband Trent established and maintained a relationship with Micah and his mom. They cared for one another’s kids and arranged play dates with other families in the support group. Deanna didn’t know the details of their lives; she just saw a single mother and offered her support to Micah. In addition to caring for others, Deanna was mindful to protect the new dynamic of her own family in meeting the needs of her children, Kaleena, Jeremiah, Samuel, and Izzy.
During the height of the pandemic, Micah’s family went into recluse mode. Deanna would not see Micah or his family for two years. She would later find out that Micah was back in foster care. His mom had reached out to Deanna asking if her family would consider caring for Micah while she was being investigated by Child Protective Services. The Harrisons were under the impression it would be a quick, simple case, and a temporary stay for Micah. Deanna fully believed he would return home soon.
Regardless of the situation, they were willing and ready to step in and care for Micah. It wasn’t long before they were informed of the specifics of the case and that Micah’s home life was much, much worse than they could have known. The Harrisons realized this would not be temporary. Micah was in desperate need of a new home; a safe, nurturing, and loving home.
Each step into the unknown was a new step of faith.
Before he moved into the Harrison’s home, Micah had been in and out of residential treatment centers, which provide intensive help for youth with serious emotional and behavioral needs. He had been in different foster homes and was hospitalized. No one could handle his behavior. The behavior of children in the foster system is evaluated to identify the level of care and support they may need. Micah was considered to be at the therapeutic level, which identifies the most vulnerable of children at the highest level of needed care and attention. He exhibited “feral” qualities as Deanna would describe. She confessed, “On paper, we would have never taken Micah in. But especially since we knew him, we knew we had to have him.”
Micah was impulsive. Now at 7 years old, he acted destructively simply because he wanted to see what would happen. He was never taught what was appropriate behavior and what was inappropriate. Arguably, he learned that aggressive behavior was good and sometimes even encouraged. Micah would dump the contents of a stranger’s purse to the ground, rip down paintings from the wall, and stand on tables, all because he felt like it. It wasn’t vindicative, it wasn’t malicious, he just didn’t know any better. He had also previously experienced discipline in extremes, either none at all or harsh even abusive consequences. This was confusing for Micah. Deanna and Trent committed to patiently helping Micah break the habits he had developed from living in his previous homes.
You can’t just weed out the bad, you need to fill it with something better.
Deanna and Trent knew they needed help. After previously working with ACH during the adoption of Kaleena, Jeremiah, and Izzy, they didn’t hesitate to call ACH again for support. This time, because they were considered fictive kinship to Micah, they were connected to our Kinship Connections team. A fictive kinship relationship is one that a child has with an individual to whom they are not related but has an emotionally significant relationship with.1 Our Kinship Connections team offers support to families who are caring for children through kinship care (relative/extended family members) and fictive kinship placement (significant emotional relationship).
The Harrison family was connected to Mandy Martin, Kinship Connection Specialist. She was providing support for Deanna and Trent almost around the clock, answering all their questions and taking the time to explain the process to them. Mandy made daily phone calls, weekly home visits, and conducted research to provide new resources and suggestions for the family during their transition. She also helped them obtain the correct licensing they needed to foster Micah and pursue adoption.
Mandy shares that the beginning was the hardest part, just getting to know Micah. She remembers him being explosive. Mandy knew the best support was to be whatever Micah and the family needed that day. On her visits, if he wanted to play duck-duck-goose or football, they did. If he wanted to just sit and draw that day, they did. She not only cared for Micah but was inclusive to all of his siblings. Deanna shares her experience working with Mandy, “We had a person come into our lives who loved the children in our home, who even before we were licensed helped me with sweet Micah. Mandy is truly an angel who loves these kids and wants to see them shine!”
Taking in Micah meant Deanna needed to temporarily step away from her full-time job. This allowed her to give him the attention he needed and learn who he was and how to best care for him. Micah craved connection, needed hope, and wanted to be loved. He needed someone to tell him no, to offer him structure, and to show him how to care for himself and others.
Their faith has been what has sustained them, it’s what Micah needed. Micah has been shown appropriate discipline for his actions and choices. Through faith, he was offered the power to overcome his impulses. For Deanna, reflecting on Micah’s healing and progress is remarkable. Micah’s behavior was so destructive he couldn’t attend school. Now he can be in school every day and even has friends. The Harrisons can now enjoy a meal out of the house, take a family vacation, and go to the movies together. They have seen such lasting progress from Micah that he will be graduating early from his current therapeutic program.
"You're not a victim. You're victorious."
The Harrisons were not afraid of the interruption that came with taking Micah in, even though they knew that with adopted children already in the home, this would threaten their stability. They trusted in the foundation they had already built with Kaleena, Jeremiah, and Izzy. There would be setbacks, teaching moments, and a lot of patience, but they would respond to each child with the same grace, love, and gentleness, seeing them for who they could be.
Deanna and Trent continue to make a great team. They are both active and involved in their children’s lives. They intimately know each child’s personality and encourage their own individual hobbies. Deanna can tell you with such ease each of her children’s tendencies, triggers, and interests. She knows her kids.
She encourages others, “When you are committed to learning your kids, you learn their needs, and you can provide them an environment where they’ll be successful.” They learned that chaos creates anxiety for Micah. Deanna learned with Micah, “He needed to know what was expected of him. To correct him was to love him.” Micah now has stability, consistency, and something he can depend on. It has been less than a year since Micah moved into the Harrison’s home. People who knew Micah before don’t even recognize him as the same child.
Micah is learning about forgiveness and healing from his past. Deanna shares, “I don’t want him to live the rest of his life angry because of what someone else did to him. I want him to learn how to let go.”
He has officially been adopted into the Harrison family on March 31st. They live each day reminding each other, “You’re not a victim, you’re victorious.”
Kinship Connections is a voluntary program that offers support to families who are caring for a relative’s child or children. We don’t want families to be overwhelmed with all the new responsibilities, so we offer services such as support groups, parent education, in-home services, referrals, concrete services, and assistance with licensure or adoption. With ACH, there’s no need to go it alone.