KIRKLAND FAMILY STORY

We're Not in this Alone

“Before becoming a foster parent, I was working as a CNA in a nursing home. So that was a big difference going from working with the elderly to working with youth, but I found myself getting attached to the kiddos, and I just kept thinking, ‘wow, I can help give them a chance at life,'” says Avarell Kirkland.

Now, Avarell and her husband Frank have been fostering for 17 years, helping numerous youth find their footing and start their adult lives on the right track. Initially, they started as traditional foster parents, but after seeing the support that their friends and neighbors, the Wades, received through our treatment foster care (TFC) program, they decided to give it a try.

“I was listening to the in-home support and additional therapeutic support they’d get, and I thought that was cool. I liked the idea of having a full team to support us and our foster children,” says Avarell.

Treatment Foster Care is a program model designed to help youth who have experienced severe trauma or chronic stress develop skills to manage their emotions and behaviors and heal from those experiences. “They are taught the skills to be able to lead a healthy and productive life in the home, school and community. Our TFC foster families receive additional support and coaching from the TFC specialists who work with them and the youth placed in their home to help the youth learn the needed skills, decrease negative behavior and increase appropriate behavior and interactions,” says Jennifer Smith, TFC manager at Cornerstones of Care.

Each week, the Kirklands and their foster children meet with their TFC specialist, Rebbecca Johnson, in their home. Together, they talked about the challenges and goals for each child and the family as whole.

“During our clinical visits, I usually provide intervention and/or clinical services to the children and their foster families … We work together on step-by-step information, such as games, activities, art and worksheets. I also inquire and instruct regarding the youth’s problem behaviors, and provide the TFC parents strategies for effective engagement, care and intervention needs,” says Rebbecca. She continues, “Additionally, the youth have a therapist that also meets with them each week.”

Currently, the Kirklands have a 7-year-old boy named Gavin* who has been placed in their home. “He’ll stand there cursing and we know it’s not normal for a 7-year-old boy to use words like that,” says Avarell. “Rebbecca has brought a lot to the table. For example, with Gavin, she’s taught me that his cursing is part of his survival skills. He’s so young that he can’t necessarily fight, but you can hear him roar ... it’s what he had learned from adults around him previously. And it’s how he’s taught himself to survive, but it’s our job to teach him that there are other ways to survive.”

As part of the TFC program, licensed foster families are offered monthly opportunities for additional training. “Each year families are required to complete 10 additional hours of trainings related to caring for youth with elevated needs, which includes modules about trauma, child development and crisis management," says Jennifer Smith.

“Sometimes, as foster parents, you have to step back and realize that their behavior is because there is past trauma that’s making these behaviors come out. Going through training on trauma has helped me learn more about the lasting effects of trauma on the brain,” says Avarell. Frank adds, “These kiddos have been traumatized and let down so much, so we have to be the ones that don’t let them down.”

After months of consistent structure and positive reinforcement from both the Kirklands, Rebbecca and their therapist, Avarell and Frank saw Gavin take a huge step forward in positively communicating when he started to feel angry.

“Just this morning I saw a growth in him, because of the way we teach him and what we do to redirect him when he starts to feel upset. But this morning, Gavin got angry and I didn’t hear a curse word come out of him. So, he’s growing, and I’m proud of what he’s done,” says Frank. “It all makes it worthwhile when you can help someone that statistics say they aren’t going to make it.”

Want to learn more about treatment foster care? Read the Wade Family Story or the Willoughby Family Story to hear more about other foster parents' experiences first-hand.

*Child’s name has been changed to protect their privacy.