This is a true story. I know the people who live these lives. Only the names* have been changed for protection of their privacy.
Joey* is a success story for Alabama’s foster care system. We often hear the stories of failure but there are successful and good stories of the system working, they just don’t get the spotlight as often as the times the system isn’t successful do.
Joey, at the age of eight had enough wisdom to know he didn’t want to grow up in a home where drugs and alcohol were more necessary than food, shelter and clothing. Joey didn’t want to never know who that man was in his house when he came home from or went to school. A lot was wrong in the home Joey was being raised in and Joey knew if he didn’t get out then he’d grow up to do what he saw his mom and older siblings doing; dealing and using drugs. So Joey ran away to the Department of Human Services. He then became a child placed in the state foster care system, as did his younger brothers, of which one had learning disabilities.
Even though he made the decision to leave his family, Joey was having a hard time letting go of the life he’d had for eight years. He had an even harder time facing how his mother’s actions were saying she valued her drugs more than him or his younger brothers. She certainly couldn’t give up drugs to get them back, so what else was he to think? Until she did she couldn’t provide adequate housing or provisions for her youngest children.
It took DHR several foster home placements before DHR found him a home that fit Joey and his needs. Carla and Jesse Carter* accepted Joey as he was and he felt their love for him in many ways. He also knew he loved them too but it was hard to let the old life go. Having had to raise himself, living by his own rules, doing what he felt he had to in order to simply have enough to eat, these were the past realities for Joey and it was hard to let someone else take care of those things. It was all he had ever known. Plus, there was the hope nearly all foster children shelter in their hearts; the hope their parents will change.
Joey was a therapeutic foster child because of his emotional needs. He was on the verge of becoming a teenager now, at the age of 12, and he was changing in many ways. His behavior escalated and then his foster-father, Jesse, died after a battle with lung cancer from working in the coal mines. Joey’s acting out his unspoken inner feelings made him defiant, angry, sullen and obstinate. He refused to obey the Carter’s house rules. He added much to Carla’s grief and refused all her attempts to help, love and support him. Carla had to admit she couldn’t handle Joey’s behavior on her own while she and her older children were mourning Jesse’s death too. She explained to Joey what the family was going through and told him they needed to work together to move on without Jesse.
Counseling, behavioral modification, respite services and Carla’s unending love didn’t help. Joey grew more out of control and violent in his anger. Her broken heart from her husband’s death now shattered feeling that she was unable to help Joey. Reluctantly and with much sorrow Carla called and asked the foster care agency to remove Joey.
He went through more foster care placements but Joey was out of control, his behavior ruled by his anger. He had many things to be angry about, Joey was angry his mother refused to change, not to get him or his siblings back, not if it required giving up drugs. He was angry Jesse died. He was angry he had to change foster homes. Everything and everybody was against him, in his mind. Everything was a reason to be angry. Finally Joey’s anger caused him to be so out of control that he found himself in an inpatient psychiatric facility.
Now forced to be quiet and still and however reluctantly, to take part in counseling and group therapy as well as to take medication, Joey had time to think. Once more Joey’s wisdom managed to at last rule his emotions. He remembered Carla’s promise to him, when he was willing to change she would be waiting. Joey thought about why he left his mother’s house to begin with, not wanting to be the type person she and his older siblings were. He realized his behavior, his choices were as destructive as his mother and older siblings and even without drugs he was headed down the wrong road. Joey begged someone to call Carla.
Carla came. Joey went back home, the only real home he’d ever had. He started trying at school and his grades came up, he was then allowed to play basketball by the school. He began to date and to work part-time jobs.
Joey, Carla and her two older adopted children became a solid family. The court wanted to sever Joey’s biological mother’s parental rights but every time his mother would seem to have stopped doing drugs and was willing to get her life together to get her kids back. But every time she would not stay clean long enough for her kids to come back to her home. It was a painful see-sawing experience for all involved.
Wanting very badly for Carla to adopt him so he could be her “legal” son was something Joey talked about with Carla regularly. His heart only accepted the reality of that not happening when Carla told him, “Joey, you are my son. In my heart, and in Jesse’s, you have been our son since the day you crossed the threshold into our home. Now nothing can change the fact that biologically your mother is your mother. Nothing can change that Daisy* is going to do what Daisy is going to do. Everyone who matters knows you are my son. Gene* and Alicia* know that when I pass away everything gets split three ways and it’s in my will that way. Put your energy into your hopes and dreams for your future and I will always be here to cheer you on.”
That’s exactly what Joey did too. He graduated high school with grades good enough to get into one of the best universities in the country. He started attending college, living on his own, through our agency’s independent living program and he worked part-time. He soon discovered that though his basic needs were met it was a challenging lifestyle. So Joey thought long and hard and after talking to Carla he enlisted in the Navy.
He spent time in Iraq, volunteering to go with a team of Marines and he went to Cuba to be a guard at the military prison there. Joey managed to see many parts of the world while in the Navy and experience many different types of work. When his enlistment was up he returned home, a new wife beside him, and resumed his college career.
Joey and Eileen* found marriage wasn’t as simple as they thought. Eileen was accustom to having plenty of money and Joey, working part-time and going to school full-time wasn’t making much money. Eileen found the adjustments to life in the South from life in the North ones she felt she just couldn’t make. So even though she was expecting their son she left Joey and moved back home to her parents.
Carlos* was born premature and has some medical struggles. Eileen and Joey agreed they are better people when they are not together and that divorce is best for them. A failed marriage was not in Joey’s plans and he accepts his own role in the break-up of his and Eileen’s marriage but he is as much a part of Carlos’ life as he can be and financially Carlos is well taken care of now.
From a desperate eight year old little boy forced to take on his own survival to a member of a loving “permanent” foster family to the U.S. Navy to a college graduate to the owner of his own security business, Joey has proven that the foster care system can produce productive and honorable members of the world community. Especially with those like Joey who learn that they do indeed control some of their lives with the decisions they make and who find foster parents like Jesse and Carla. The Carter’s, especially Carla, were willing to work hard with the foster child who was struggling like Joey had been.
There should be successful foster home placements for all the kids like Joey. If you’re considering adoption consider foster care as an option to find the child that is right for you. There are many successful adoptions through the foster care system. Can you and your family help a child like Joey? Also, don’t overlook the older child or sibling groups that are in need of forever families too.