At 9 years old, little Shayla had experienced more trauma than most people endure in a lifetime. After being physically and sexually abused as well as neglected for the first six years of her life, she was removed from her biological home and placed in foster care by Child Protective Services. Deeply emotionally distressed and suffering from high levels of complex trauma, Shayla displayed severe aggressive behavior and developmentally inappropriate sexual behavior. The following three years were harrowing: two foster home placements failed, and Shayla was admitted to psychiatric hospitals on three occasions due to the severity of her emotional distress and the trauma-induced behaviors she exhibited.
Then Shayla was placed in foster care with the Dean family through DePelchin Children’s Center. Having completed DePelchin’s training in trauma-informed care, the Deans were aware that parenting her would be very challenging. Hoping to one day adopt Shayla, the Deans engaged a therapist in their community who specialized in working with adopted children. Time went by, and Shayla made slow progress.
Tragically, Hurricane Harvey struck, flooding the Dean’s home. They lost nearly everything—the majority of their furniture and belongings, their car, and one of their two dogs—all gone. In the weeks after the storm, the loss and the stress the family experienced triggered post-traumatic reactions in Shayla. Her aggressive and defiant behavior worsened, and her foster parents discovered that she had begun accessing pornography on the Internet. It seemed that the progress Shayla had made with the community therapist seemed lost. With their resources already stretched thin, the Deans began to question whether they could adopt and care for a child with such intense mental health needs. They shared their concerns with Shayla’s clinical case manager at DePelchin.
The clinical case manager recommended that they engage DePelchin’s FIRST (Family Integrated Relational Services Treatment) team. Supported in part by Rebuild Texas and the Texas Center for Child and Family Studies, FIRST clinicians provide intensive home-based, trauma-informed mental health services to children in foster and/or adoptive care and their families. A team of clinicians immediately assessed Shayla’s status and began providing several hours of mental health services each week to Shayla and her family. For months, they coached and mentored Shayla’s parents in trauma-informed parenting skills while also helping Shayla work on managing her emotional responses and social skills so that she could maintain control of her behaviors.
Gradually, Shayla improved. She learned to communicate with her family about her feelings, wants and needs, and demonstrated more self-control. With new skills, her angry outbursts and aggressive behavior stopped, and she developed a stronger bond with her foster parents.
After many months of anticipation and repairs, Shayla and the Deans returned to their home. The stability provided by the move helped Shayla to feel even more secure, and she progressed further. The family’s relationships grew even stronger, and they decided together to go forward with Shayla’s adoption.
Today, Shayla’s behaviors and demeanor are dramatically different from those of the traumatized and terrified child who first entered the Dean’s home two years ago. She and her adoptive family continue to receive ongoing, lower-intensity services through the FIRST program, which will remain available to them throughout her childhood. We salute DePelchin Children’s Center for the work they do in helping children heal from complex trauma and in helping them find “forever families” like the Deans. Their commitment to best practices and expertise in trauma-informed care make them #HarveyHeroes.