One day last week during spring break, I noticed a tall, lanky young man walking along the driveway to the outdoor plaza accompanied by one of our therapists. I recognized him as one of our former residents, and was pleased I would have the opportunity to greet him before I headed off to an appointment.
In the months since he’d left Hillsides to live in a foster home at age 13, I’d heard that his return to the community had been challenging for him. Like many of our residents he can be impulsive, single-minded, and easily misunderstood. His foster mom is a very unassuming woman who is consistent, patient, and very understanding, but in spite of her support he found himself being disruptive in school and was eventually expelled. At one point his behavior required the involvement of the local police department and he was referred to the juvenile justice system. As I would hear reports of how things had spiraled out of control for him, I worried for his well-being and what would become of him in the long- term.
So I was thrilled to see him. He looked good, and engaged easily in our conversation. I was happy to learn that in spite of his recent challenges, he is now back with his foster mom, attending school, and no longer under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system.
It is not uncommon for children and youth who have been in treatment to experience setbacks. However, with proper attention and care, those setbacks can be mitigated and gains restored. This youth’s visit to Hillsides to check in with his long- time therapist was just one way that he reconnected with the progress he had made while in our program. It was also an opportunity for him to know that no matter what, he was welcome here and would always be supported.
I remember speaking to him while he was living at Hillsides. I can still hear his plea to find a family where he could belong. Both he and his sister had lost their biological parents to addiction and severe mental illness. After considerable effort, he was fortunate to find a wonderful foster parent who was willing to support him despite the challenges.
Studies show that the most decisive factor in the success of foster children is having at least one adult who can be a consistent presence in their lives. In spite of the horror stories that trigger our outrage of children abused and neglected in the foster care system, it is heartening to know that there are wonderful foster parents who, without much fanfare, serve as an indispensable refuge for such youth. It is within such a home that dreams of happiness and success are nourished and can be fulfilled. This fills me with hope about the future of this youth, and I look forward to catching up with him the next time he returns for a visit.