This winning story was received during our 2016 summer story contest by Matt Arnet, Director of Outpatient Services for KVC Kansas.
I met Josh when he was 13 years old. He had been in and out of foster care for several years, and as a result, he had difficulty managing his emotions, connecting with caregivers and succeeding in school. When he was referred to KVC, he was angry and displayed aggressive behavior. Josh also suffered from a serious physical health challenge – kidney failure. From the time he was born, he had to take medications to help his kidneys to function as they should. Eventually, Josh needed a kidney transplant.
In the beginning, it was difficult for me to connect with Josh. He called therapy “stupid” and didn’t participate. Other therapists had taught him how to use coping skills, but he had no intention of ever using them. Josh was pessimistic about life in general, and told me that anyone who had ever cared for him had given up.
I refused to give up on Josh, and over time, we formed a working relationship. No matter how much he resisted and how little he talked, I kept showing up. Josh routinely had challenges that caused him to leave one foster home and move to another (something we work very hard to avoid at KVC – stability in foster care is critical), but I just kept showing up and continued to try and help him.
When Josh was 16 years old, he started dialysis and began the process of applying for a kidney transplant. One key component of a successful transplant is emotional wellness. Josh and I spent many sessions processing the surgery and recovery ahead. A close friend of mine had experienced a kidney transplant around the same time, so I was able to offer Josh some guidance based on what my friend had encountered. I attended Josh’s care team meetings at the hospital and advocated for his mental health progress.
When Josh turned 18, he began to push back against the rules in his foster home, believing he should have more independence. Josh ultimately decided to age out of foster care and enrolled in community college. I offered to continue services, but Josh was focused on living his life and making his own decisions.
For a while, I lost track of Josh. He stopped attending classes and was evicted from his apartment for non-payment. He moved to Nebraska to live with a previous foster family, and that was the last I heard from him.
In the fall of 2015, I received a text message out of the blue from Josh. He was having a difficult time and asked if he could call me. We talked for over two hours and I listened to him explain the last three years of his life. He explained how he had moved several times, struggled with substance abuse, and been taken advantage of by others. He said I was the only person he could trust, and that he needed my help to get back on track. He went on to say that even though he wasn’t easy to get along with, he knew I would always be there for him and that helped keep him going.
Since then, Josh moved back to Kansas and reconnected with services through the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF). He is healthier than he has been in a long time, and he is getting the mental health treatment he needs.
Even though my work and connection with Josh took some time to show results outwardly, the experience taught me that sometimes the most powerful intervention is making a relentless effort to show someone that you truly care.
Each year, nearly 30,000 young adults age out of foster care without a permanent family or home. With no family or home to turn to, they are at high risk of becoming homeless, unemployed, incarcerated, victimized, unexpectedly pregnant, and dependent on government assistance. At KVC, we believe that communities must #NeverStopCaring about youth in foster care. Leaving foster care shouldn’t mean that young people are on their own. Learn about an exciting initiative we are leading to help this vulnerable population.