Category: Stories

Meet Suzie

Suzie’s daughter struggles with drug addiction. One weekend the daughter brought Suzie’s 4 grandchildren, ages 2-17, to visit Suzie and never returned. Suzie found herself as the full-time caregiver for all 4 grandchildren, while Suzie herself lives on a fixed Social Security income. Suzie encountered obstacles she never knew existed when caring for kinship children. She needed to enroll her grandchildren in school but was unable to because they did not have the appropriate legal paperwork. Fortunately, Suzie found ACH’s Kinship Navigator program through an online search. 

A Kinship Navigator specialist was aware of the McKinney-Vento Act, which ensures that each homeless child or youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education as provided to other children and youths. She was able to contact the school district’s McKinney-Vento liaison and get Suzie’s school-aged children enrolled in school.  

The Kinship Navigator was able to help Suzie apply for state Medicaid, SNAP benefits, and TANF, as well as get the one-time grandparent grant for each of her four grandchildren. Suzie met with a specialist in her home once a month, helping to apply for benefits and helping Suzie to set and achieve goals. One of Suzie’s goals was to get her older grandchildren into counseling. This was a difficult task because Suzie had no legal paperwork naming her as the children’s guardian. Over time, Suzie and her Kinship Navigator specialists were able to contact Suzie’s daughter and have a Power of Attorney form notarized, giving Suzie the ability to schedule doctor checkups and counseling sessions for the children. 

When Suzie came to the Kinship Navigator program she was lost and hopeless. Now, with the help of her Kinship Navigator Specialist, she is working towards helping her grandchildren connect and thrive through creating positive childhood experiences and is well on her way to receiving legal conservatorship. 

Are you or someone you know raising children for a relative? Don’t go it alone, we can help.

Arianne’s Story

Consistency brings comfort to a young lady facing constant change

Change hinders the building of healthy, trusting relationships. ACH’s goal is to be that constant and steady care for children and youth in the midst of their unknown and uncertain journey.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Report, more than one-third of foster children and youth experience two or more placements each year. A frequent change in their living arrangement is disruptive, stressful, and traumatizing for youth and hinders healthy development and growth. Like all children, foster children and youth need stability and reliability in a home-like environment.

ACH recognizes that instability only adds to the trauma faced by the youth we serve. Our continuum of care provides children with a safe space to learn and grow while keeping them connected to familiar people in a familiar place. Arianne experienced this above and beyond level of care in the midst of many unsettling transitions.

A life of never knowing what tomorrow will bring

“So I packed my stuff up again” is the phrase Arianne was most used to. She had lived in multiple foster placements and residential centers before she turned 18. Sometimes with as little of a day’s notice, she threw her belongings into a bag and was ready to be taken to her next living arrangement. She never knew how long her next stay would last.  

Arianne’s plight began years earlier. She dealt with a lot of depression growing up, took medication for bipolar disorder, and exhibited impulsive behavior. Her depression worsened at age 13 after experiencing a cycle of deaths in her family. She shares, “I would run away from home. I remember one instance when I ran to the highway. The cars stopped, police came, and I was hospitalized. I had bad impulsive control. That’s not safe.”

Throughout the years, Arianne would battle hopelessness, not want to come out of her room or talk to anyone, and would lash out toward others. Some days she didn’t even want to be alive and sunk deeper into depression. “This was really hard for my mom to hear,” Arianne said, confessing the effects of her emotional health on her family.

Arianne entered care at 15 years old when her placement journey began. Arianne experienced seasons of hurt, grief, and pain. She needed a safe place to process her emotions, learn how to cope with her feelings, and grow relationally with others. ACH’s RTC would eventually be chosen as the best placement for Arianne.

"They busted through the door dancing, singing, and laughing."

--Arianne upon meeting ACH staff
Being present and showing we care

Now 17, Arianne felt so close to making her own decisions on where to live that she did not want to move into ACH’s Robert and Jane Ferguson Residential Treatment Center (RTC). She sat in her case worker’s office for what felt like hours. Rich Capodagli, Director of Residential Services at ACH, drove to the office to meet Arianne in person. Arianne made sure Rich knew she would not be staying at the RTC. Rich thought she might say that, so he told her he’d return with some of his favorite team members for Arianne to meet. He wanted Arianne to feel more comfortable knowing some of the team before she moved in. Not very hopeful but impressed by Rich’s effort, Arianne sat and waited.

At the time, Morgan Richardson was a Youth Care Specialist at the RTC. Morgan shares her memory of the moment she met Arianne: “My supervisor at the time and I were asked to speak with Arianne to see if we could encourage her to accept the offer to be placed within the RTC. We showed up with nothing but energy ready to ‘hype’ Arianne up so much that she could not resist coming to the RTC and hanging out with the ‘cool’ staff.”

“They busted through the door dancing, singing, and laughing,” Arianne remembers. Before she knew it, Arianne was laughing with them and was ready to move into the RTC. She felt comfortable knowing the staff that would be there to care for her.

Meeting each child where they are is the first step of each ACH program

Arianne spent about eight months at the RTC. Throughout her time there she remembers the staff’s warm welcome and continual care, “They made sure I was comfortable from day one until the very end of my stay there. They were a really big help.” The team was patient with Arianne as she grew in patience with herself. Morgan got to see Arianne’s bold personality grow as she learned to open up to others and allow herself to try. Morgan recalls, “Arianne is a strong advocator. If she’s not advocating for herself, she’s advocating for her peers.”

Arianne is especially thankful for the ACH staff’s display of kindness and forgiveness. They never held her failures or mistakes over her and she realized they genuinely wanted her to learn and grow. Whether a small failure in her eyes like not getting a job or a larger mistake like starting a fight, Arianna shares “They didn’t hold it over my head. They were so kind. I felt cared for, not just by the staff but by the kids too.”

“I felt cared for, not just by the staff but by the kids too.”

--Arianne

ACH offered Arianne stability and a safe and familiar place to transition into adulthood. Now an adult at 18 years old, Arianne is a part of ACH’s LIFE Project, a supervised independent living program for youth ages 18-21 who are homeless or have aged out of the foster care system. She met LIFE Project Director Nick Little before she turned 18. She recalls a time while still living at the RTC when Nick gave her and two others a tour of the program before they had even applied to move in. “That was really kind of him. He didn’t have to do that.”

Arianne had grown reluctant to new placements, which brought new people to trust, new rules to learn, and a new environment to adapt to. As ACH staff had proven reliable to her, the transition from the RTC to the LIFE Project was something Arianne looked forward to. Arianne was also welcomed into the program by a familiar face. Morgan became a LIFE Project Case Manager; she had transitioned into this new role from the RTC shortly before Arianne’s move.

Morgan believes, “Youth placed in care deserve genuine care and support. Arianne has taught me to be human and the importance of creating a safe space for youth to be just that.” 

Arianne felt surrounded by people she knew and trusted and felt cared for and supported

For the first time, Arianne was excited and hopeful for her next move, not reluctant, guarded, or hesitant. She and two others from the RTC transitioned to the LIFE Project – a transition that meant they were ready to live life on their own. This move with her friends brought additional comfort. They have been a huge support system for each other in encouraging one another on their journeys. Through ACH’s continuum of care, they can continue growing into adulthood together, with the help of ACH staff all along the way.

At the LIFE Project, Arianne has experienced many milestones with the staff’s support. She opened up her first bank account, bought her first phone, and graduated from high school. She buys her own groceries now and is enrolled in driving school to get her license.

Arianne describes herself as the type of person who doesn’t like to ask for help. Years of being guarded and distrusting others have conditioned her this way. The consistency of the ACH team has built her trust in others: “I’ve learned how to ask for help.” She lists off LIFE Mentors and Case Managers that check in on her, offer resources, and whose names and phone numbers are now in her phone to call if she needs them. Since being at the LIFE Project she has learned the importance of having people on her team and “having a great support system that I know I can call on if I ever need anything.” From a car ride to a job interview or someone to talk to on a bad day, the ACH team has shown her reliable and genuine care. “They want to see us grow into the best versions of ourselves,” Arianne says of her experience with the LIFE Project team.

She’s hopeful for a better future for herself. She’s thankful for the support the LIFE Project offers her to fall back on and with a sigh of relief says, “it’s going to be okay.”

The Robert and Jane Ferguson Residential Treatment Center

The Robert and Jane Ferguson Residential Treatment Center (RTC) is an important part of a continuum of services designed to help children with significant behavioral and mental health issues achieve permanency in a family setting and/or receive a level of care that can help them heal from trauma. While ACH has several programs that address this need, the RTC offers a longer-term program for teenagers with this level of acuity. The RTC is the only one of its kind in Texas and joins professional home-based care, therapeutic foster care, support services, and foster care in the ACH continuum of care. These integrated services were developed to reconnect children with their biological families or when that is not possible, to find them a forever family with relatives or adoptive families.

This year, the Residential Treatment Center will face a projected budget deficit of $120,110. Your donation can make a difference!

The LIFE Project

All too often, youth from challenging backgrounds reach their late teens having developed few of the life skills and trusted adult relationships necessary for a self-sufficient, productive life. Whether on their own because they aged out of foster care or because they are homeless, these teens are highly motivated and want a helping hand to change their situations. The ACH LIFE Project was created to help young adults ages 18-21 gain self-confidence and become self-sufficient.

Participants are offered dormitory housing on the ACH Wichita Street Campus. Up to nineteen males can live in the Rees-Jones Family Residential Building, six females in the Virginia and Meto Miteff Family Home, and five girls in the ACH Wedgwood Campus Stocker House. Case managers provide program participants assistance in finding safe and affordable apartments or on-campus housing at a college or university. All youth are required to attend college or vocational school, work at least part-time or a combination of the two.

Want to help? This year, the LIFE Project will face a projected budget deficit of $669,885. Your donation can make a difference!

It’s Time to Let Go

Sierra* was left to make sense of her trauma-filled past and losses and found a home at the Morris Program, staffed by a team who would encourage her, challenge her, and most importantly, just be there with her.

“We don’t know how to help you,” is what the last placement home told 15-year-old Sierra before she found herself without a safe place to live. At different points in her childhood, she had lived with her parents, grandmother, aunt, and 3 placement homes. She soon found her way to the ACH Pat O’Neal Youth Emergency Shelter.

Sierra came in sad, angry, and depressed about her life. Her parents were so neglectful, she often took on the role of caregiver for her siblings. Then she saw people close to her suddenly pass away. After two months at the Shelter, she was still feeling anxious and expressed a lot of mood swings.

ACH has a continuum of care

The Shelter team thought moving into the Morris Program home at ACH would be the next best transition for Sierra and she agreed. She was admittedly nervous and scared when she first moved into her new home. She wasn’t sure if the other girls would be mean or if the staff would be able to help her.

Sierra is “…learning to build trust with others.”

-- Fredresha Overstreet, ACH Program Supervisor
Morris House

Describing herself as strong, independent, and outgoing, there’s a unique resilience to Sierra that reveals her compassion, steadiness, and confidence.  She quickly identifies herself as the “mama bear” of her two siblings, her twin sister and younger sister by three years. As a result of their trauma and neglectful childhood, Sierra has always been the most comfortable taking control, making decisions, and more importantly, not relying on anyone for help.

When you sit down with Sierra, two things become evident: 1) you think she’s well into her 30s, and 2) what she’s most proud of in life are “her girls,” for whom she’d do anything. ACH Morris Program Supervisor Fredresha Overstreet says, “She is motherly. There is this sense of responsibility about her. She is open and outgoing, but she is learning to build trust with others.”

Because she had gotten used to doing everything on her own, Sierra struggles to believe she is worthy to be loved by anyone.  “One of my biggest challenges during my time at ACH,” Sierra shares, “has been being open with others and feeling secure to ask for assistance.”

Finally Feeling Free

One of her goals when moving into the Morris home was to worry about her sisters less, set boundaries, and learn to take care of herself. Sierra wanted to learn how to rebuild her relationship with her siblings to just be their sister and not their mom or caregiver, and only prioritize what a 15-year-old should.

“I want to fulfill my dreams and do things I thought I couldn’t do.”

-- Sierra

Sierra now speaks from a place of freedom: “I grew up to see the world differently. It’s not rainbows and butterflies. I can’t grow up and dwell over it. I can just learn to make it better. This is what made me this way, but I can’t blame it.”

She is free and ready to let go, loosen the grip of any grudges she may have held, release the pains of her past, and find hope for not just her future but her sisters as well. When she thinks about her sisters today, “I’m hopeful for the girls to blossom. I want them to do what our parents couldn’t. I want them to chase their dreams.”

When she thinks about her own future she shares, “I want to fulfill my dreams and do things I thought I couldn’t do. I want to help other kids, and I want to travel.”

The Shelter invited Sierra into a safe environment to rest and take a deep breath. The Morris Program offered her a place to reflect on her past and gain the needed self-awareness and skills to grow and hope for her future. At every turn, the entire ACH team from the Shelter to Morris has been there for Sierra.

Our people make the difference

She reflects on her interactions with team members, “Ms. Fredresha brought me out of my shell, Mr. Danny is always so excited to see me, Ms. Dionne is always there to talk, and Ms. Mahoganey always pushes me. They have offered me so many opportunities.” The ACH team has expressed patience, care, and understanding toward Sierra. She has felt their presence with her every step of her healing journey.

While Sierra’s twin is in a different group home, they both hope to be adopted by the same family. Their younger sister is living with a foster family and hopes to be adopted by them soon.  It has been difficult for the girls to be apart from each other, but they have regular Zoom calls and stay in contact frequently.

Sierra understands the help ACH has provided and encourages others with, “there are people out there who love you! Don’t make things hard on them because you’re only making it hard on yourself.”

*Name changed to protect privacy.

The Morris Program

The Morris program at the ACH Wedgwood Residential Campus provides safe, stable, and nurturing homes for youth, ages 14-17, who are unable to live with their families or in a community home setting. These youth have been traumatized to the extent that it is difficult for them to express their emotions appropriately. This program provides home-based intervention therapy that assists youth in gaining independent living skills in a safe and supportive environment. Youth will work toward gaining the necessary skills to succeed in a variety of settings. This may include a family foster care placement, family reunification, a transition to independence, or an independent living program.

At the Wedgwood Transitional Living program, we focus 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 the children in our care 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.

The Morris Program will face a projected funding deficit of $289,439 in 2022. Consider donating to support ACH programs and youth like Sierra today.

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.

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

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.

References

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 ACHservices.org/Safe-Place. 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.”