Joseph came into State custody in 2013, a mere 12 days after his fifth birthday. This is the day he began his journey to healing from neglect, exposure to drug use, abandonment, and loss. A quote from Wes Fesler, the great Ohio State athlete, once said, “A family ship will never sink until it is abandoned by its crew.” Joseph’s family ship sank and no one thought he was important enough to give him an explanation. One needs to look no further than Joseph’s trauma history to know that angry people live in angry bodies. Joseph’s loss would often manifest in rage and internal pain. He soon experienced multiple foster home moves, shelter stays, living several years in a group home, declines from adoptive parents, and disrupted trial adoptions. In April 2021, Joseph’s adoption specialist shared information about a family who understood trauma and how difficult it is to parent a child who has suffered a traumatic childhood. They had already adopted a child close to Joseph’s age who presented many of the same challenges as Joseph. The family was aware of his behaviors and vowed not to give up so quickly. In July 2021, 13-year-old Joseph was placed with the family and approved for Enhanced Foster Care services. Joseph attended weekly individual therapy and monthly therapy with his family; they also benefitted from Systems of Care wraparound services, crisis prevention planning, and regular treatment team meetings to share progress and concerns. For 8 months, the family provided Joseph with structure, guidance, and an environment of safety while Joseph provided the family with a constant array of what trauma looks like in an abandoned child. However, their diligence slowly helped Joseph begin to lower the walls that had been there for so long. His tantrums became less frequent and his meltdowns were reduced. Most importantly, they provided Joseph with the type of love he had never experienced before.
Adoption was in Joseph’s future, but his unresolved grief and fear still surfaced at times as anger, as it did just 2 days before adoption finalization. Joseph expressed he didn’t want to be adopted and demanded to leave because they weren’t his “perfect family.” With 48 hours left in his journey to permanency, Joseph’s team pulled together to problem-solve. His amazing team of caseworkers, along with his incredibly resourceful Enhanced Foster Care team and the ever-knowledgeable Statewide Coordinator for Adoption Preservation Services, Dr. Bonni, were able to support Joseph and the family. Joseph’s team reminded the family that traumatized children will push away the people they love the most because they are safe people. During an emotion-filled treatment team meeting, Joseph’s team explained to his parents that adoption itself is a traumatic event and Joseph is simply scared of once again being left behind. His pervasive fear of abandonment told him that he should leave rather than take the chance of being left. However, his amazing family stayed the course and were determined to not abandon their family ship. Joseph also made the decision to trust his family ship. In March 2022, in a crowded court room of family and friends, Joseph continued his journey of healing from loss and grief and took the next step. After 3,239 days of searching for permanency, Joseph found his family and became Christopher.
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