Imagine a child drowning in a sea of confusion, uncertainty and loneliness. Drifting aimlessly from one place to another, at the mercy of uncontrollable currents that pull him this way and that, he becomes angry and depressed. Worst of all, he begins to give up hope.
Then imagine a life preserver suddenly being tossed out to that child. He desperately grabs it, holds on tight as he’s pulled in and then embraces the safe port to which his rescue leads.
That’s what happened to Thomas. Growing up, he never really knew what it meant to be part of a family. His parents weren’t able to care for him and he ended up in the foster care system.
By the time he was old enough to drive, Thomas had lived in 22 foster care placements. Every day held the possibility he would have to move again, starting all over in a new home, a new school and a new neighborhood. Constantly living in fear and uncertainty, it was no surprise the youngster often acted out with anger and aggression.
Then Thomas had the opportunity to enter our Boys Town Family Home Program in his home city of Washington, D.C. The compassionate, family-style residential care we provided turned out to be the lifeline the teen had needed all his life.
The Boys Town family Thomas joined was unlike any place he had ever lived. His Family-Teachers, a trained, married couple who lived in the Family Home full-time, were responsible for his daily needs and for teaching him the skills that would help him succeed in school, with others and in life. They made sure Thomas did his homework, helped him learn how to pray, taught him to complete chores around the house and helped him build a strong relationship with the other boys who were receiving care in the home.
In the eight months Thomas lived with his Boys Town family, he found a new direction and purpose.
“I had the greatest caregivers in the world,” Thomas said. “They were so inspiring, so motivating. They taught me what it means to have a mother and a father. They taught me patience and kindness. Had it not been for them, I would not be the man I am today.”
Earlier this year, I met Thomas for dinner at a restaurant. He was on summer break from college and was working at our Home Campus as an intern. Thomas was wearing a new suit he had just purchased, his shoes were shined and he was using great social skills as we talked and got to know each other. He told me about how he had worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., as part of an internship with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption. He described how he had shared his life story as a featured speaker at youth and family care organization events. Thomas was very excited that he would soon graduate from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania with a degree in psychology. I couldn’t be a happier for him.
Thomas is just one of the tens of thousands of children whose lives have been changed through quality residential care. Boys Town and a number of other organizations have taken a leadership role in a nationwide effort to advocate for this care approach because research shows it is often the best option for high-needs children and gives them their best opportunity to achieve positive outcomes.
We strongly disagree with decision-makers and critics who contend that eliminating quality residential care is the answer to cutting costs, reforming the child welfare system, and, most importantly, providing necessary, effective care for youth with the greatest needs. There will always be young people who need more intensive care than foster care or in-home services can provide, and Boys Town and its fellow advocates want to make sure these children receive the right care, in the right way, at the right time.
Sitting in the restaurant that evening, I knew this is what had happened for Thomas. Now, he’s in control of his life and is charting his own course for success.
To hear Thomas’ story in his own words and to learn more about Boys Town’s residential advocacy efforts, please visit www.boystown.org/quality-care/success-stories (Rebirth).
If your child or a child you know could benefit from Boys Town’s Family Home Program, please visit www.boystownadmissions.org