It was almost summer break and Michael was in middle school. His dad showed up at school with Michael’s bags packed. Wondering why, Michael asked where they were headed. His dad told him they were going to Michael’s grandparents’ house.
“An hour into our trip, my dad told me I was going to a hospital,” Michael said. “He told me he had been planning this for a while.”
Michael was understandably upset.
“I was lied to and I wasn’t ok with it,” Michael said.
He stayed at the hospital for several months. But the most devastating news came toward the end of his stay – he was told he was not going back to his family and he was taken into Child Protective Services’ (CPS) custody. He was 13 years old.
With uncertainty in his future and no family to turn to, Michael felt hopeless. At that point, he had no motivation to control his behavior.
“I didn’t really care about getting a new family because I thought it was never going to happen,” Michael said. “I had already been [in CPS custody] for months. I was disobedient to teachers and cussed at them. I didn’t have many friends.”
But Michael’s behaviors were not a true indication of how he felt.
“I’d been praying a lot and asking God for a family because I had been there for too long,” Michael said.
Michael and his sister spoke over the phone often, and each time during their conversations his sister would ask if he had found a family.
“I told my sister that I couldn’t wait until the day she asked me if I found a family and I could finally say yes,” Michael said.
After that phone call, Michael decided to start working on his behaviors. He wanted a forever family.
He was featured on WFAA Channel 8, an ABC affiliate in the Dallas Fort Worth area, during a segment titled Wednesday’s Child.
Jennifer Moffatt, a few hours away from Michael, saw his Wednesday’s Child story on the news. She’s a first grade teacher and mother of three children who didn’t have plans to adopt a child.
“I’ve seen Wednesday’s Child probably 100 times,” Jennifer said. “And every time I stopped and prayed for the kids that they would find a good family, and I would move on.”
This time was different.
“Michael said in the interview, ‘I just want a family that will love and support me,’” Jennifer said. “And I literally looked at the TV and said, ‘We can be that family.’”
This time she couldn’t move on. Jennifer said she worried about Michael, wondered if he felt ok about himself and if someone was taking good care of him.
“I just felt like I was his mom, like we were his family,” Jennifer said.
Because Jennifer and her husband Derek Moffatt had not been planning to adopt, she was hesitant to bring the idea up to him. Derek’s also a financial planner, so Jennifer guessed he would say they couldn’t afford another child. Surprisingly to Jennifer, there was no hesitation on Derek’s part.
“Why not?” Derek said.
With Derek on-board with the idea, Jennifer wanted to get her kids’ feelings on the topic.
“We have a senior who has been mad at us ever since we had the other kids, so I thought he would say something rude if we suggested adopting another child,” Jennifer said jokingly. “I said to him, ‘Hey, I almost adopted a kid off TV today,’ and he said, ‘why not?’”
Jennifer said her daughter, Hope, was with her when she first saw the Wednesday’s Child episode and she knew Jennifer’s heart wouldn’t let Michael go.
“Hope couldn’t let him go either,” Jennifer said. “We were leaving the next day or two for vacation, so we agreed to just table the subject.”
During their vacation, all three of Jennifer and Derek’s children pointed out ways Michael would have fit in with the family. From open seats in the car, to enough space in the condo, to sharing the amount of food ordered for dinner. At the end of the vacation, the family was all in and ready to adopt Michael.
Jennifer and Derek attended an informational meeting hosted by the State CPS office and were given a packet with a listing of child placement agencies in the North Texas region. Feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility to research which agency to choose, they almost backed out.
“This was in August. I’m a teacher, so I was getting ready to go back to school,” Jennifer said. “And we had our house on the market – we were in the middle of selling and buying. We didn’t have time to thoroughly research which agency to choose.”
At that point, Derek noticed on the front page of the packet a name he recognized, Dr. Wayne Carson, CEO of ACH Child Family Services.
“I know Wayne,” Derek said. “We attend Rotary together. I’ll give him a call tomorrow.”
By the end of the following day, the Moffatt family had an ACH caseworker connected with them who had researched Michael’s case and was in contact with them.
“It was like an army of ACH people lined up to make this thing happen for us and Michael,” Derek said. “He wasn’t even an ACH kid, he was at another place in Tyler. It was amazing. I was just so impressed with the resources and how quickly ACH mobilized. Everybody there had such a heart and passion to make it happen.”
On the road to become licensed foster-to-adopt parents for Michael, the Moffatts worked hard to get the process complete as soon as possible. Unknown to them, Michael had been praying that he would have a forever family before his birthday, which is in November.
Michael didn’t know a family was interested in adopting him at this point, but he did know he would need to change some of his behaviors to be ready for adoption if the opportunity arose.
“I started going around and asking staff how to get to basic level,” Michael said. “I started working toward changing my behaviors and so after that I started doing better in school too.”
The Moffatts and Michael progressed parallel to one another, all the while making their way to each other.
It came to the end of the Moffatts licensure journey, and they were called to make a decision. They hadn’t met Michael yet, but the case-working staff wanted to know if they were ready to commit to Michael.
“One of the CPS managers asked us, ‘Are you 110 percent sure you want to adopt Michael? Because we’re not going to tell him there’s a family or let you meet him unless you are sure,’” Jennifer said. “And we said we were completely sure.”
While the Moffatts had known for months they were planning to adopt Michael, he found out two days before he was scheduled to meet their family.
“I swore driving for the first time to see Michael I wasn’t going to clobber the kid or cry,” Jennifer said. “And as soon as we got there, I said ‘Michael!’ and ran to him.”
“She clobbered me, she cried,” Michael said.
“I cried, I hugged him, just short of stuffing him in a baby sling and carrying him around with me!” Jennifer said. “I mean really, it was like seeing one of my kids.”
Michael and the Moffatts hit it off during their visits and he was able to make that important phone call to his sister.
“That very day I called my sister and said, ‘Guess what? I got a family,’” Michael said. “I told her all about mom [Jennifer] and dad [Derek] and she said she was happy for me.”
A few weeks later, Michael was at home with his new family, the Moffatts. The transition hasn’t been without its challenges, but Derek and Jennifer said they were prepared for the change.
“It was very much about Michael becoming part of our family,” Derek said. “Like when a new baby disrupts your rhythm. We were bringing him and bringing us into this new family together.”
“You kind of learn a new pattern for everyone,” Jennifer said. “It’s a commitment and a heart attitude. Michael is not our project, he’s our son. It’s changed our family forever, and for us, it was definitely the right thing.”
Michael knew he belonged with the Moffatt family, but still worried about the transition to living in their home. But the worry didn’t last long.
“The second day I was at home, I called my mom ‘mom’,” Michael said. “She looked at me and she smiled and I was like, ‘Yep, that’s my momma.’”
Michael celebrated coming home to his forever family on October 23, 2015, three weeks before his birthday.