Shay Johnson is a Family Support Worker for KVC Kansas. In her role, she provides direct services to children and families who are going through difficult times. She plays an important part in guiding children in need either towards reunification with their birth family or towards finding an adoptive family if reunification isn’t an option. In this story, Shay describes the journey of how a teen boy with found the perfect forever family. If you’re interested in a career helping children and families, visit our careers page.
I began working for KVC in 2013 as a Family Support Worker. Early on I started working with a teen in foster care named John*. John had been neglected in his birth home and developed severe behavior issues because of the trauma he experienced. He had entered foster care after it was determined an unsafe place for him to live, and after months the courts deemed that reunification would not be possible. John needed a forever family to adopt him.
John was very defiant of those around him. He had been caught stealing, frequently ran away from his foster homes and got into fights regularly. John had attachment issues and pushed back against those who tried to get close to him. That’s how he knew to react to love and caring adults because he hadn’t experienced that before.
John and I had some serious talks about how to control his emotions and brainstormed strategies to overcome his hurdles in life. However, one incident left him charged with a felony for theft, which carried the potential penalty of more than one year in jail. After going through the court process, it was decided that John would be given only one more chance or would end up incarcerated.
As John was nearing adulthood, he was to live in what’s called an “other planned permanent living arrangement,” which means that he would live in one place until he reached adulthood. Because of this change, he was to have a different support team, and we wouldn’t be working together which made John very angry. He called me and told me he was going to run from his current foster home.
John ran a few times from his placement but came right back each time. Our teams worked to figure out how we could best support John for success and since I had a positive relationship with him, I was assigned back to his case. He and I discussed that he might age out of the system if an adoptive home couldn’t be located. He told me:
“I don’t want to age out. I want to be with a family and be normal.”
My mission was to find a family that would adopt John. Just one caring adult who would open their home to a boy who just needed love and support. After a few weeks in this placement setting, I received a call back from one of his former foster parents named Sara*.
“Was John ever able to get adopted?” she asked.
“No, he wasn’t,” I responded and then updated her on John’s recent difficulties.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for him. When I cared for him, I always enjoyed driving him to his baseball games and have wondered about his status for a while. I know he can be difficult at times, but I see a lot of great potential in him if he had the right environment and support. Do you think he’d be interested in staying with us?”
“That could be something he would really love,” I replied. “Let me speak to John and see what he thinks.”
I spoke to John and he was instantly enthusiastic. He was immediately ready to move into Sara’s home, and he kept asking me how long it would all take.
I quickly turned in the correct paperwork at KVC to move the process forward. John called me eagerly each day during the approval process. When Sara’s home was approved, I picked John up and took him to his new home. He was very excited but also nervous.
“What if I screw this up?” he asked me.
“You are the only one who has control over your life,” I told him. “If you try your hardest, you can still succeed.” I helped him realize that after working together, he now had the skills to understand how to control his temper, work through struggles and communicate how he was feeling. I knew that he was in such a better place with understanding himself, that this would be a great opportunity for him to succeed.
Once we got there, the whole family was there to greet him, and everyone embraced him with multiple hugs.
John did wonderfully for the next few months in their home. Sara and her family offered support, guidance, love, and safety to John. Sara called and updated me regularly on how things were going. Each time she mentioned how much of a blessing John had been and that he was supposed to be part of their family.
As John began to settle into their home, he started to excel in school. He got into marching band, the debate club and became a straight-A student. He also enjoyed helping with the youth group at the family’s church.
One day John and the family were playing hangman, and it was John’s turn to come up with a phrase. As they began guessing letters, it quickly became obvious that John had chosen “Will you adopt me?” The whole family resoundingly replied with “Yes!” Shortly after, Sara called me and was so happy, and I could tell she had tears in her eyes.
As of August 2018, the family completed the adoption process. Sara’s home and willingness to work with John to heal from his trauma has been a blessing for him and turned his life around.
*Names have been changed and a stock photo has been used for privacy.