Category: Stories

Lucy’s Journey

Lucy’s Journey

Fists of rage have stained her story,
but she lets the intervention of others help her anger

Lucy was angry. She left another hole in the wall of her room at ACH’s Pat O’Neal Youth Emergency Shelter. This wasn’t the first time she decorated her walls with the emotions that raged within her. 

Lucy came in full of anger, had difficulty stabilizing her emotions, and was terrified of attending school. She had little care for herself and no regard for others. At her worst, Lucy was suicidal.

This was also not the first time the ACH team greeted Lucy through the Youth Emergency Shelter doors. Though the goal is not for youth to have to return to the Shelter, we are grateful to offer a safe and familiar place where youth like Lucy can return.

The only shelter of its kind in Tarrant County

The Youth Emergency Shelter steps in at a time of crisis in a youth’s life to offer safety and identify the best place for them to call home. Immediately, a team assembles around each youth that enters our doors. Our team is dedicated to quickly returning youth to their family if that is a safe option and if not, finding the best solution within 90 days. When you think about the trauma Lucy is walking in with, 90 days is not a realistic time to expect to see the deep healing she needs. All we can do is meet her where she’s at, help her cope with her trauma, and get her to a safe place to heal.

Recovering from significant trauma, hurt, and pain is a process that our team not only understands but embraces. Meeting each child directly in the dark place they find themselves in is the heart of what our Youth Emergency Shelter Program does. The process is hardly smooth, often emotional, but covered in intentional, intensive, and active interceding on behalf of each youth.

Stephen Parker, Youth Emergency Shelter Program Manager, shares “We have seen incremental growth in her in such a short amount of time.”

Fort Worth ISD assigns teachers to ACH's on-campus classroom

Youth that enter the Shelter are usually significantly behind in school. Our team works to help them get caught up. Lucy’s residential therapist, Jenny, recalls Lucy refusing to do anything related to school. She slowly progressed to actually going to school, and now the team sees her engaging with school and doing homework.

When kids feel supported, cared for, and valued, they’re willing to try. Their minds are open to the hopeful possibilities that they could never fathom for themselves. Lucy realizes that what she does matters and there is someone that cares about how she is doing.

Stephen shares that building upon small success has been their goal with Lucy. Celebrating the moment when a wall wasn’t punched to release an emotion, acknowledging when she respectfully voices her opinions, and letting her voice be heard while leaning into teaching moments with her have been key.

Lucy is not afraid of school anymore. She sees its value because she’s realizing her own value. She’s not afraid to try, because she’s starting to hope for her future. When you show a child their value, that changes everything.

Lucy shares her experience at the shelter, “I now have hope and look forward to having a future that excites me. The staff and kids here at the shelter have assisted me with gaining self-worth and coping skills.”

"I now have hope and look forward to having a future that excites me."


Lucy may still get upset and managing the way she responds in her anger may always remain, but the walls of her room no longer reflect the remnants of her raging fists. They are decorated in the colors of her youth – paintings, drawings, her art. They reflect the depths of her heart, both the joys and the pains.

*Names changed to protect privacy

About the Pat O'Neal Youth Emergency Shelter

The Shelter is a 24/7 residential-based program that offers homeless, runaway, throwaway and trafficked youth, ages 10-17, emergency housing and care while ACH works to connect them with appropriate social services, reunite them with their families, or find alternative safe and supportive long-term living arrangements.

The United States Department of Homeland Security said “ACH has been an invaluable partner in the fight against human trafficking. ACH faithfully provides a place where the victim’s safety, well-being, and immediate needs can be met and further assists in the transition to safe and stable housing.

At an average cost per child of $258 per night, ACH is facing a projected funding gap for the Shelter of $579,366. Your donations can help children find what may be the first safe and stable sanctuary with protective adult support in their young lives.

Ybanez Family

"It Never Happens This Way"

A touching story of adoption with a unique twist. With open and eager hearts, the Ybanez Family remains faithful to the process and continues to place each child’s needs above their own desires.

College sweethearts, Matt and Aimee, have always dreamed about adoption. “It’s always been a part of our family plan,” Aimee shares. Fifteen years into their marriage and two biological children later, it was time they got serious about it. Their kids were now at the age to understand what adoption is and be a part of the discussion. This would be a family decision and their girls, Keira and Micah “were enthusiastically on board!”

The Ybanez family jumped right into the adoption process. After extensive research, they found ACH Child and Family Services and loved that we work locally with the Department of Family Protective Services to care for children in the community.

They were showered in support from the very beginning. “Going into it, we were a little overwhelmed with the volume of items to complete,” said Aimee, “but ACH was great about keeping it organized and providing us options.” In just 8 weeks from the start of their training, they were officially licensed for matched adoption!

ACH is there, every step of the way

Lizbeth Bryant, Foster Care and Adoption Supervisor, was happy to walk this journey with Matt, Aimee, and their girls. She was ready to “fill their toolbelt” with all they’d need throughout this process – support groups, training classes, and frequent check-ins.

Finally licensed, the Ybanez family did not hold back. They eagerly threw themselves into every part of the adoption process, saying “yes” as a family and ready to provide a child a safe home.

They agreed to help children that needed temporary respite care as they waited to be matched with a child to adopt. Short-term respite foster care is when one family temporarily cares for another family’s foster children for various reasons. The Ybanez Family opened their home and hearts to many children. They never held back the love and care they had to offer a child in need. Matt and Aimee recall “accepting every respite request that came through – from an infant in double leg casts all the way up to a 12-year-old girl who stayed with us for almost two weeks.”

It was during this time of welcoming many children in and out of their home that they met Jenny.* After a trial run and a short weekend stay, they became the ‘go-to’ respite family for Jenny. During this time, Matt, Aimee, Keira, and Micah fell in love with Jenny.

From "matched adoption" to "foster to adopt"

Jenny was a 3-year-old girl whose case was still in process, and a safe permanent placement was still being determined for her. At the time, Jenny was living with a foster family that would later decide they would not be able to adopt her. The care team that surrounded Jenny then needed to search for a new foster family to take her in for the remainder of her case who could also be an adoption possibility.

Knowing Jenny would be in a safe and loving environment is all they truly sought.

Since the Ybanez family had already begun building a relationship with Jenny during multiple respite stays, they were being considered as a possible foster family and adoption match. First, the Ybanez family needed to change their adoption licensing from “match adoption” to also include “foster to adopt”. This was a major decision. Matt and Aimee never imagined they would foster, yet they had no doubts. They loved Jenny and were ready to welcome her into their family. The Ybanez family moved forward with the licensing change so they could become Jenny’s foster care family with the hope and possibility of adopting her.

It was soon looking like the decision on Jenny’s case would be that her biological mother’s rights were going to be terminated. The hearing was in just two weeks and the Ybanez family would foster Jenny during that time. Matt, Aimee, Keira, and Micah would go about their days and welcome Jenny with this anticipated plan in mind.

Yet the process continued. Meetings got delayed, extensions were given, and the timing is usually never as you’d expect. Jenny’s biological mother was given an extension in hopes of family reunification. In this new limbo, Jenny stayed with the Ybanez family for months while her case continued, only now the Ybanez family felt a little unsure how to prepare for the unknown outcome.

Protecting Children and Preserving Families

The Ybanez family remained supportive of Jenny’s biological mother throughout the entire process. Knowing Jenny would be in a safe and loving environment is all they truly sought. As they cared for Jenny, ACH remained there to offer the Ybanez family support and guidance along the way. They were faced to now navigate such conflicting emotions. They had such a deep desire to permanently bring Jenny home and knew the warm and tender care they would offer her.

At the same time, they had such a softness and hope for Jenny’s mom and the reunited family they could be. They never ceased to maintain Jenny’s best interest at the heart of each decision, no matter how joyful or painful it may be. 

How can you truly prepare for the unexpected? Being present and available is sometimes all you can do. Throughout this time, Aimee says, “Before we partnered with ACH we truly did not understand how much support and partnership there is, which is such a blessing. There is no shortage of support at ACH.” The Ybanez family felt more prepared to meet Jenny in her situation and care not only for Jenny but for their entire family. Jenny’s biological mother’s rights were soon reinstated and she was granted permanency. The best home now for Jenny was being reunited with her mom. 

It's what's best for the child that's important

The Ybanez family learned to walk not only with open hearts but open hands as well. While they never wavered from putting the needs of the child first, they fully realize how precious it is to preserve families. They have uniquely experienced the delight and heartache that comes with living so fiercely and boldly in love.

"There is no shortage of support at ACH."

-- Aimee Ybanez

ACH’s Lizbeth has seen their faithfulness to Jenny and is grateful to walk alongside the Ybanez family through this emotional journey. They may not have been able to welcome Jenny permanently into their home, but their hearts were open to far more than they thought capable.

Thanks to their eldest, Keira, they have pursued and maintained contact with Jenny and her mother. Aimee confesses, “honestly, we may never have gathered the strength to reach out that first time after she’d gone home if it hadn’t been for Keira.” Keira wanted to submit her drawing of Jenny into an art contest but wanted to ask her mom for permission first. Aimee pushed through her own grief to reach out.

“At first, we had no idea what an ongoing relationship with Jenny or her mom was supposed to look like. Perhaps we still don’t – there’s no template for it, but we’re doing our best to figure it out as we go.” They find themselves a part of something greater than themselves and have rallied behind a mom and joined her team to care for her sweet daughter.

Aimee shares, “We had never imagined we would foster, let alone see a child go back to her biological mom, and yet, there is something pretty amazing that happens when you can be a part of a larger support system for both child and parent.”

The Ybanez family is still patiently waiting to permanently welcome home a fifth member of their family. They remain hopeful and excited for when that day comes. 


*Name changed to protect privacy.

Foster Care and Adoption

Every year hundreds of children in our area are removed from their biological caregivers due to abuse or neglect. And every year ACH Child and Family Services place many of them into temporary foster care with kind and compassionate adults who have been thoroughly vetted and trained. When a child comes to us, an ACH foster and adoption specialist creates and implements an individualized Plan of Service, essentially a guide for the child’s anticipated service needs. Our professionals meet with each child at least once a month, more frequently as required. Learn more about ACH’s Foster Care and Adoption Program.

Harrison Family

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.

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.”

"But especially since we knew him, we knew we had to have him."

Deanna Harrison
Micah, 7 years old

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.


On ACH's Mandy Martin: "Mandy is truly an angel who loves these kids and wants to see them shine!"

Deanna Harrison
"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.

The Harrisons respond to each child with the same grace, love, and gentleness, seeing them for who they could be.

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

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.


1 Legislative Exchange Council. The Kinship Care and Fictive Kin Reform Act, 2017.

Meet the Blair Brothers

When all you know is abuse, violence, and aggression, what hope are you left with?

Carter and Travis didn’t know how to trust others. They didn’t even trust each other—and they’re brothers. Their neglect and abuse left them defeated, desperate, and angry. When they first moved into the Behavioral Care home, they exploded on each other. They were already separated from their parents, older brother, and two younger sisters. They didn’t see a need to stay together.

Even though the boys could not see it, the ACH staff knew how important it was to keep the brothers together. Carter was 11 years old at the time and Travis was 13, a year older than the Behavioral Care program allows. Our team decided to make an exception for Travis and allowed him to move into the home with Carter. Their caseworkers would try to find a foster family the boys could go to together. Their older brother, Jay, was 14 years old and in a different ACH program.

Carter’s deepest desire was to be seen and loved. He yearned for the attention of others to the point of acting out, being verbally angry, and running away.

Travis only knew how to respond in the ways he was taught – anger, rage, hostility – with deep-rooted mistrust. He would respond with more physical aggression. He was always upset and held on to everything, holding close his hurt and pain in order to self-protect.

The brothers would frequently respond to each other in angry verbal outbursts. From a broken home, our staff was seeing the effect it had on broken brothers. Committed to preserving their family, our ACH team was committed to the Blair brothers.

A commitment beyond words

ACH staff member, McKenzie, poured hope, patience, and steadfast care into the boys throughout her time working with them. During their stay at the Behavioral Care home, the boys saw staff members they had grown to trust, take on new opportunities that would mean they wouldn’t work directly with them anymore. McKenzie, too, was set to transfer roles, leaving the boys in the care of new staff, again. McKenzie realized the trust they’ve worked so hard to build with Carter and Travis, and the faithfulness they deeply desired to find in others. She decided to delay her transfer until the boys had their final day at the Behavioral Care home, which wouldn’t be long.

Before the boys said goodbye to their home at ACH, McKenzie and other ACH staff decided to take them to a Rangers baseball game. Previous staff members that had worked with the boys in the earlier days throughout their stay even returned to join them at the game. The commitment of the ACH team to these boys, showing up even beyond the role, showed Carter and Travis that they do matter, they are loved, and goodbyes don’t mean abandonment. They were ready for a new home.

A new hope

ACH found a foster family who was ready to invite all three brothers into their home. Hope. Crying and tears are not the kind of emotions our staff was used to seeing from the Blair brothers. Despite their wet eyes, Carter, Travis, and Jay were excited to move into their new home.

The Behavioral Care program offers a safe and highly structured environment for children whose moderate to severe emotional and behavioral problems prevent them from living with their families or in less structured environments. Using strategies and techniques such as Trust-Based Relational Intervention® and playful engagement, the program teaches adaptive behaviors in a secure residential setting.

Turning Point is a specialized, urgent mental-health care program for foster children and their families. The program provides crisis intervention and acute stabilization with the goal of family preservation. This innovative program is designed to help children and their families receive urgent relief of symptoms as well as therapeutic interventions that prevent hospitalizations and placement disruptions.

This transition did not come without its challenges. New people to trust, a new environment to settle into, the family needed support. They returned together to ACH, this time to our Turning Point program, which offers short-term intervention and stabilization for foster youth and their families.

Carter would still ache to be loved and desired, but he would receive attention and care from his foster dad. He and his foster dad shared a love of sports with each other. His foster dad wanted to be involved with the boys and enjoys playing with them in the yard.

Travis would not let down his guard without a fight. He was still very angry and still had a tight grip around his pain. Testing the boundaries to make sure they were going to stick around would continue to be the cry of his heart.

A little more patience

After two years of living with his foster family, Travis found himself back at Turning Point for additional help controlling his behavior at home. It’s not uncommon for foster youth and families to return to Turning Point for care as they continue to work on their behavior, process their past, and transition into a new home. McKenzie had taken Travis out to lunch one day when Travis finally realized, “they’re not trying to replace my parents. They’re trying to give me a home.”

All three boys have been with their foster family for three years now. Jay and Carter have both been adopted by their foster parents! Travis remains living with them, happy and healing.

*Names changed to protect identities.

Want to help? This year, the Behavioral Care program will face a projected budget deficit of $357,413  and the Turning Point Program will face a budget deficit of $7,472. Your donation can make a difference!

Meet Alicia

Fortunately for Alicia, a sad situation turned into a big breakthrough

When ACH gets a Safe Place call, they’re entering situations that can be high-stress and potentially dangerous. However, some calls require
them to deescalate smaller situations. While at first glance these situations might not seem like big issues, they can prevent a bigger situation from happening down the line. 

At the time, ACH Shelter Outreach Coordinator Angela Lewis was on the outreach team to respond to calls from Safe Place. She got a call from the Fort Worth Police Department about a 15-year-old girl who had locked herself in a QuikTrip restroom. Angela quickly arrived and assessed the situation.

Not a temper tantrum…

Alicia’s mother had dropped her off with her father for the weekend. They were stopping for gas when Alicia and her father got into an argument over her cell phone. Alicia was getting ready for the homecoming football game that evening at her high school where she served as a Football Trainer, a position she took very seriously. Alicia was texting her coach when her father got upset and snatched the phone from her. Alicia ran inside the QuikTrip restroom and refused to come out.

Angela urged Alicia to come out for over an hour and when she finally did, Angela was able to deescalate her and get to the deeper issue. Alicia’s parents were going through a nasty divorce, and this had been weighing heavily on Alicia. Alicia revealed to Angela that she felt responsible for the divorce.

Safe Place is a locally administered, national program that provides access to immediate help and safety for youth in trouble (ages 10-18). The distinctive yellow and black Safe Place sign can be found outside of business and community locations including QuikTrip. 

…but a cry for help

Since the beginning of the divorce, Alicia’s parents began to notice negative mental health behaviors arising, including self-harm. Angela was able to provide resources to Alicia’s parents including recommendations to ACH’s counseling program. After talking with Angela, Alicia came outside and apologized to her dad.

Teenagers with divorced parents are 300% more likely to experience mental health issues, a link that cannot be ignored.

“Sometimes it just takes an outside voice to step in and provide insight,” said Angela.

The police officers thanked Angela for coming out, even though this wasn’t an emergency. What started as a small crisis turned into a large breakthrough for Alicia and her family.


For more information on Safe Place, visit For a 24-hour text-for-support service for youth in crisis, text the word SAFE (7233) and your current location to 4HELP (44357).

Want to help? This year, Safe Place will face a projected budget deficit of $36,131. Your donations can make a difference.

Adoption Thoughts from an Adult Adoptee

Katie Reisor is a member of ACH’s Community Engagement team.

As an adoptee, I know firsthand how difficult it is to process the loss of identity one can feel after separation from their biological family. Even when a child is adopted as a baby, trauma can happen. Relinquishment is not biologically necessary, but sometimes the necessary step that took place. I personally work hard to advocate for all members of the adoption constellation (a term used to describe the members of the adoption community such as adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents) because I believe despite the trauma- good work is happening and that the focus is adoptees. Adoption centers around them and they are worthy of amazing lives.

Ways to advocate for adoptees

Listen to their stories. Adoptees, just like me, are using their social media platforms, their voices on podcasts, writing books, and starting up organizations to share about the realities of being an adopted child. Our stories matter and they are so diverse. I challenge you to go and dig into some of the amazing, amplified voices out there and to share them. We can learn so much from one another. Here are a few adoptees I follow on social media that I learn so much from: @therapyredeemed, @katiethekad, @adoptee2adoptionworker, and @hannahjmatthews to name a few

Realize that adoption/foster care is about them, not you. Sometimes we unintentionally place ourselves on a pedestal of saviorism. It’s good to check our intentions behind adopting/fostering and decide if we are doing something for ourselves or simply because a child needs a loving and safe home, and I can provide that. The truth is, it’s not about what we can do, it’s all about helping that child succeed in life. I dream of a world that is eradicated of the problem where children need homes, but the reality is there are so many kids who do. When we are looking to help, it’s a great reminder that this is all about those kids.

How hopeful adoptive parents can equip themselves to best care for an adopted child
  • If you are adopting, especially if internationally or transracially, you should be considering how to surround your child with their culture in your immediate circles.
  • What friends do you have that can be mentor figures in your child’s life?
  • What books and classes are you using to educate yourself on culture, trauma, RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), TBRI and other trauma informed care, and to hear from adult adoptees?
  • Are you in therapy to work through your trauma and quirks?
  • Are you capable of self-regulating in stressful moments? There are so many things to consider in preparation to adopt or foster, but also simply to grow as a person.
How we as an organization can help

Preserving Families. While not always possible, preserving families is always the best option for a child. If we can equip families to succeed as healthy parents, we can keep a child in the environment that they know. We can keep that family from being another statistic of a broken home. We can help that child thrive in their biological family and with the identity they are already forming. While there are always situations that call for different strategies, I think it’s important for us to not get jaded by the difficult situations we have seen and still have hope that a family can find redemption with the right resources.

Protecting Children. ACH helps equips hopeful foster families and adoptive parents with the tools for success. It never ceases to inspire me how many people are passionate about helping children in need. Every child deserves a loving home and people are excited about helping. However, you cannot just feel passionate about providing a home, you must be equipped to best care for a child.

We do that by making sure that our families who wish to open their homes are:  

  • Trauma informed
  • Asking how they plan to implement a child’s culture into their lives after adoption/fostering
  • Do they have people in their communities that will come alongside them and support their families?
  • Will they continue to fight for a child who is not adapting into their family and might even be lashing out behaviorally?
  • Are they willing to continue growing in education resources so that they can learn to be a safe space for kids?

I think we do a great job with these things at ACH, but there is always room to grow. Really focusing on setting our foster/adoption families up for success is vital.

Interested in fostering or adopting? Call 817.886.7140 or click below.

Every Child Deserves a Family

10 Years of Finding Forever Homes for Children in Need

In her decade spent at ACH, Foster Care & Adoption Director Stella Maggs has helped more than 500 children get adopted by safe and loving families.

Stella’s history with foster care and adoption goes all the way back to when she was a child in foster care. She and her two brothers were adopted as children.

“I want to help other children find a forever family and have the great experience that I had,” said Stella.

For more than 25 years, Stella has made it her mission to find the best possible homes for children in foster care.

“Every child deserves a family that will stick with them through thick and thin,  to love on them and treat them like their own children because they should be their own children,” said Stella.

Even during a Pandemic, kids can't wait

When hurdles come their way, Stella and her team always put children first. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, her team pivoted to make sure Foster and Adoptive parents were receiving their training and kids were not put on hold.

“Watching my staff turn on the dime and adjust was awesome,” said Stella. “No one blinked twice, they just jumped up and did whatever they needed to do to make sure our kids were safe, and our families were well taken care of.”

The pandemic also allowed Stella to spend more one-on-one time with her families. Even after 500 adoptions, Stella enjoys keeping up with each family and seeing how their children have grown over the years.

Stella remains close with many of the families, and one touched her heart in an amazing way. During her second year at ACH, she met a couple, who already had two biological children, that were eager to adopt a child. With doubts the family would be open to it, Stella asked if they would be interested in adopting a sibling group of four.

“I thought, ‘there’s no way they are going to take a sibling group of four.’ He called me the next day and he said, ‘Stella, we want to move forward with these kids. We really think they’re the ones for our family.’”

After several visits, and going through the adoption process, the couple adopted all four siblings.

“I presented all four siblings, thinking,  there is no way they would be interested in a sibling group of four, especially since they had two children already which would make them a family of eight;  but they jumped on it, and they have been wonderful advocates and parents for these children,” said Stella. “It has been amazing to watch them all grow and to see them grow as parents to these kids.”

A passion to serve

“Stella came to ACH in 2011 as the Adoption Program Manager and has continued to invest in and build our foster care and adoption program,” said Melissa Opheim, ACH Chief Operating Officer.

“If you ever talk with Stella about adoption, you can immediately see her passion and dedication to children and families and her love for what adoption means to so many of the children we serve, a family of their own.”

Dedicated to ensuring a child's safety

Stella also thinks of the parents who welcomed a young boy into their home who was diagnosed with cancer just months before his adoption was finalized.

“This family went through everything with him,” said Stella. “Bone cancer, multiple surgeries, all kinds of things to find something to help him.”

The family knew  the boy would not live long enough to have the adoption finalized, but they asked ACH and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services if they could change his last name to their family’s name before he passed.

“They were committed to him from day one and it didn’t matter what anybody threw at them or what he went through, they were there,” said Stella. “That is the kind of family ACH recruits and trains. Families who will take care of a child no matter what.”

For Stella, the most rewarding part of her job is seeing children thrive with their new families, despite the trauma they have experienced. When she sees 500 adoptions and 500 children that have gone to a forever home, and have had a great life with their families, it’s priceless.

“To think you just had a small part of that, of placing a child with a family, feels great,” said Stella. “ “This is why I am so proud of my team because they are so dedicated to ensuring a child’s safety. To ensuring our children get a forever home or go back to a home that can now truly help this child grow into anything they want to.”

Stella feels the passion her team has is consistent with every program at ACH.

“Everyone in this organization has a passion for children, all the way from our CEO to our maintenance team, and it comes through in everything that we do.”

Meet James

When James was 17 years old, his father was struggling to care for him at home. His father became disengaged and was ready for James to start living on his own. James’ father dropped him off at ACH’s Youth Emergency Shelter, and this devastated him.

The Pat O’Neal Youth Emergency Shelter at ACH is the only 24-hour emergency shelter in Tarrant County offering 24/7 safe shelter to runaway and homeless youth and trafficking survivors, ages 10-17. 

When James first came to the shelter, he struggled with peer interactions and behavioral issues. Every day, ACH staff worked with James to build a trusting adult relationship. Over time, James started to open up to staff and began to accept their help. He became invested in his future and began to change his behaviors and outlook on life.

“James figured out that he mattered, and his future was important,” said Stephen Parker, ACH Homeless Services Program Manager. “Our relationship with James allowed us to help guide and mentor him, and together we put him on a path for success.”

James recently got accepted into ACH’s LIFE Project. LIFE is a supervised independent living (SIL) program that promotes self-confidence and self-sufficiency for young adults aging out of the foster care system and homeless young adults.

“James’ progress, change in behavior, and focus was outstanding and exactly why we do this type of work,” said Stephen.

Many of the youth in ACH’s shelter share similar stories to James. They are in most need of safety and shelter, as well as trusting adults to show love and support. To learn more about the shelter, click the button below. 

With open arms and open hearts, ACH welcomes youth in need

“I thought my life was over at 17 and they showed me how it had just begun and to fight for a better life for myself and others.”

The Morris program at the ACH Wedgwood Residential Campus provides 24-hour care for youth ages 14-17 who are difficult to place in a permanent family setting. These children have been traumatized to the extent that it is difficult for them to express their emotions appropriately, leading to behaviors like aggression, running away, emotional outbursts, drug experimentation and early pregnancy.

When we received this message, we immediately shared it with our Morris team. She is, after all, “going after the dream they instilled in me.”

Dear ACH,

I am eternally grateful to the Morris home and the ACH programs—they have helped so much in my adult life. In the Morris home, I was taught how to budget and to cook, not to mention the value of friendship and kindness.

I know that these things might sound funny, but before I came to Morris, I was 17 and numb. I was unimpressed with the world and anything to do with other people. I knew nothing of how to take care of myself and was homeless as a child more than once. I felt that because I had no biological family to rely on, I didn’t need anyone nor did I want anyone to “mess with me.” I had addiction problems and countless behavioral problems that I didn’t see as an issue. I was always running away and every time I was up to no good. I was self-harming and saw no point to life.

When I got to Morris, the staff welcomed me with open arms and open hearts and shared their priceless wisdom of life with me. I learned how to care for others and for myself. I learned to be kind and to make friends, which I had plenty of that year in school! They taught me to be passionate about things. I threw myself into softball and music and art. They taught me how valuable life can be and that you just have to push through the hard parts.

“I use the skills they taught me today as an adult and I have so much more to learn, but they absolutely jump-started my life.”

I can’t even begin to explain how grateful I am to the staff for the days I would sit in my room with one of them and cry and they would just sit and listen. So many of the staff at Morris home have been through the same types of situations as the kids that are currently there or were there in the past and they taught us how to persevere and thrive.

I am now 20 years old and going after the dream they instilled in me. I’m going to be in social work and hopefully get my recreational therapy degree so I can help kids that are in situations like I was. I thought my life was over at 17 and they showed me how it had just begun and to fight for a better life for myself and others. I use the skills they taught me today as an adult and I have so much more to learn, but they absolutely jump-started my life.

Thank you 100 times over, ACH.


This Morris transitional living program focuses on factors that have been proven to help youth be successful post-foster care. We aid in their academic achievement, vocational planning and by assisting them in finding gainful employment or volunteer experience. We also help these youth to attain a valid ID or driver’s license, to improve their ability to manage their own behavior, to cope with stress, and to gain insight into their interests and strengths.

To learn more, visit

Meet Abigail, Mother & Survivor

With the help of ACH’s Families Together program, Abigail has taken back control of her life after experiencing domestic violence.

You, your kids, and the clothes on your back. That’s all most mothers have when they are escaping a violent abuser.

In Texas, one in three women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime. Intimate partner violence alone affects more than 12 million people each year and can affect anyone regardless of race, gender or income.

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so do the challenges it brings. This year, it’s especially important to highlight intimate partner domestic violence as a growing issue in Dallas-Fort Worth. With more families feeling the stress of the pandemic, instances of abuse can arise or worsen. In 2020 alone, 19 adults and two unborn babies were killed in domestic violence homicides in Tarrant County.

Abigail experienced years of physical, and mental abuse from the father of her children before she was able to escape. And just when she was on the verge of independence, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed her recovery.

ACH’s Families Together program helped Abigail take back control of her life and put her on a better path for herself and her children.

What is Families Together?

Families Together provides transitional housing for single mothers and their children who are experiencing homelessness due to intimate partner domestic violence. The program offers a safe and stable living environment while they work to overcome the trauma that led to their homelessness and return to independent living.

This is Abigail's Story.

When Abigail first met her partner, Ben*, she already had a young daughter from teen pregnancy. Becoming a mother so young gave Abigail pride, determination, and a strong sense of independence.

After just a few years into their relationship, Ben started to become more controlling. Abigail mistook his actions as caring.

His jealousy led to him asking Abigail to quit her job and become a housewife.

“I thought he just wanted to take care of me, but it slowly started to become more and more of a pattern.”

Abigail soon wasn’t allowed to leave the house. Ben also took away her phone and social media, so she didn’t have a way to ask for help.

“I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I was walking on eggshells every day,” she said. “He was becoming more and more controlling.”

With promises to change and be a better man, the two got engaged. However, Ben’s grip on Abigail intensified when she became pregnant with their son.

“Once I had my son, it started to become physical,” said Abigail.

With no family in Texas, Abigail had no one to turn to. She and Ben were living with his mother, who refused to help Abigail, even though she witnessed the abuse.

“I was under his eyes at all times. And not just under his eyes, his mom would tell him when I took too long at places,” said Abigail. “I felt like I was always being watched.”

Both Ben and Abigail grew up with abusive fathers. For their families, this was just their way of life. When Abigail confronted Ben’s mom, she would blame Abigail’s disobedience for the cause of the abuse.

“I knew that she would not protect me if anything happened,” Abigail said.

One evening after a fight became physical with Ben, Abigail tried to leave. Ben locked her in the garage and wouldn’t let her out.

“I went out through the garage and ran out, and he dragged me by my hair from the driveway back inside in broad daylight,” said Abigail. “That’s when I knew that this was going to end with me being killed.”

That’s when Abigail planned to make her escape. She would ask Ben for his phone so that she could pay bills online, and she would use that time to contact her friends on Facebook and ask for help. One friend had experienced abuse as well and told Abigail, “You don’t need to tell me what is going on. Just tell me when you need me to pick you up and I will be there.”

After their next explosive fight, Abigail took her kids and left to stay with her friend. However, it wasn’t long before Ben started to show up at her friend’s home and became physical once again.

Feeling unsafe in her own home, Abigail’s friend asked her to leave. Abigail and her kids were now homeless and living in her car. A counselor at her daughter’s school helped get them into a shelter, where she was connected to the ACH Families Together program.

Families Together Provides a Safe Space

When Abigail first entered Families Together, she was very anxious and felt hopeless. She was now a single mother of two children with no job and no plan.

“The staff at ACH were very welcoming, and they gave me the space I needed,” she said. “They didn’t make me feel overwhelmed.”

Abigail hit the road running on the path to recovery. She quickly started counseling, attending group sessions with other mothers, and began applying for benefits for her and her kids. She eventually got a job and finished her cosmetology degree.

“When Abigail entered our program, she was determined to make a change and make a better life for her kids,” said Sharla Hosford, Families Together Family Care Specialist. “She didn’t want her daughter to repeat the same cycle that she saw her go through.”

After entering the program, Abigail started to see changes in her daughter. Her daughter witnessed a lot of the abuse and understood what was happening. ACH started to provide counseling for her as well.

“I do believe that it is a cycle that has been broken. She was seeing the same things I was seeing and that is why I felt I needed to help her,” said Abigail. “I saw myself in her so many times and I knew I needed to get help for both of us.”

Overcoming Hurdles from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Abigail entered Families Together at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic which made getting a job increasingly difficult. At the time, only essential workers were being hired and there was a waitlist for rideshare and food delivery services.

On a whim, Abigail saw that a daycare center was hiring and applied. She got the job but every time there was a COVID-19 exposure the daycare was shut down and she had to apply for unemployment.

Only two months into the program, Abigail hit another bump in the road. She was driving on the highway with her two kids in the car when it caught on fire. This totaled her car and she had to save up even more to get another.

Then, when Abigail tested positive for COVID-19, the staff made sure she had everything she needed. They brought her a refrigerator and provided all her meals.

 COVID-19 also brought more loss to Abigail’s life. While in the program she lost three close friends to the virus. One of those, she didn’t find out about until Christmas morning.

“Staff in Families Together always knew what to say and how to calm me down,” said Abigail. “It was a scary time, but the staff was always there for me.”

Looking Ahead

Because of her strong motivation and hard work, Abigail was able to complete the Families Together program early and move into an apartment.

Although she does have a degree in Cosmetology, Families Together showed Abigail that she could help women with similar experiences. Today, she is in college, working to become a social worker.

Abigail also has dreams of writing a book about her experiences with domestic violence to help others who are going through it.

“When she left ACH, she was empowered,” said Sharla.

Abigail’s Message to Mothers

Abigail is still close to the staff at Families Together and is very thankful for the help she and her children received. For her, the most beneficial part of Families Together is time—the time they give you to save money and work to rebuild their life.

“Being able to have that time to process while they are here in a safe environment and look at what they went through and address that trauma and heal from that trauma and learn to recognize red flags,” said Sharla, “They see who they are and what they can do and go from there.”

For other mothers or partners who are experiencing domestic violence, Abigail said to listen to others when they are seeing the signs and expressing concern. If no one is expressing concern, ask questions to others about what you are experiencing. “Is this normal?”

“An outside perspective can be a really big help,” said Abigail. “They can be what prevents your family from having to plan your funeral.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please do not hesitate to contact ACH at 817-335-4673. (Call 9-1-1 for emergencies.) To learn more about ACH’s Families Together program, visit  

If you would like to support ACH in our fight against domestic violence, please visit

*Name has been changed.