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Extended Family Home Helps Teen Achieve Healthy, Independent Life

Extended Family Homes Services

Shane NevusThis story was selected as a winner during our 2017 summer story contest. It was submitted by Shane Nevius, Extended Family Home Specialist with KVC Nebraska.

How do you know when you’ve finally found a home? How do you know that home is home if everywhere you go, you know you’ll be gone again soon?

Finding a home for a youth named Lena was a long and difficult journey filled with white walls, hospital beds and fearful looks from everyone around her. For five years, Lena resided in over 10 youth detention facilities, psychiatric hospital wards, and developmental disability group homes. She had brief interludes where she was able to return home with her biological family. Lena’s father is a farmer in rural Nebraska who loved his daughter dearly but didn’t know how to help what she was struggling with. Her family had been trying to manage her behavioral needs but lacked the resources to support Lena’s mental health needs. They also lived in such a rural community that didn’t offer many mental health resources. Lena’s aggressive behaviors would escalate to the point that she would need professional treatment in yet another facility.

For her, finding “home” meant finding somewhere that she belonged; where she could be understood when life became too overwhelming to manage. It meant being able to have a bedroom decorated the way she wanted it, go to the mall and hang out with her friends. But, most importantly, finding a home meant knowing she had somewhere that she felt loved, wanted and safe. With each new move, home seemed to be further away and less likely to even exist.

As Lena approached the age of 19 – the age of majority in her state of Nebraska, meaning that services would no longer be funded by the state – she had to leave her latest placement, a facility for teenage girls with behavioral challenges that have led to involvement with the juvenile justice system. So, Lena moved back in with her parents in rural Nebraska. She quickly fell back into her old routine of having screaming matches with her family that would result in the police being called. She and her family knew their living arrangement together could not be permanent as they were not able to meet Lena’s mental health needs. The behaviors Lena showed were disrupting the entire family’s ability to live healthy, happy and productive lives. Lena’s behavioral struggles made the prospect of finding another home, now as an adult, very daunting.

Finding support from an Extended Family Home 

The extended family home services that KVC Nebraska offers help to provide individuals with developmental and/or intellectual disabilities a chance to live in a more independent setting with a safe and loving adult. These services can be an option if an individual has been living in congregate care or has aged out of foster care, or requires support their biological family can’t provide. KVC Nebraska recruits extended family homes and provides training and support so that the individual can meet their goals.

KVC Nebraska began working to find a safe home for Lena and a family that could teach her the life skills she needed to increase her independence. We identified a caregiver named Ms. Janet that seemed to be the right fit for Lena, and we arranged for them to meet. When Lena entered the office for that meeting, she jumped for joy because Ms. Janet was a staff member she remembered from a previous placement. Ms. Janet lives in urban Omaha and has a bright personality and contagious laugh. Ms. Janet had experienced abuse as a child and spent time in foster care and she understood the struggle that Lena was facing in finding a home.

“She always got me. She always understood where I was at and was the only one who knew how to bring me back down,” Lena said about Ms. Janet.

Ms. Janet and Lena caught up quickly, reminiscing about memories from when they initially met. They updated each other on people they both knew, and after a great reunion, we all discussed if it would be possible for Lena to live with Ms. Janet. Ms. Janet was well aware of Lena’s daily struggles to manage her mental health. She remembered an incident they had weathered together in the past, and Ms. Janet felt like she could offer the type of support, understanding, and patience that Lena needed to live a more independent life. The meeting continued with stories and laughter and ended with a feeling in the air that something amazing was happening. Was it possible that Lena had finally found the home she needed and deserved? Lena’s father, who was also present at the meeting, summed it up perfectly as they left saying, “I feel like I’m in good company.”

Leading a healthy, independent life

KVC Nebraska continued to meet weekly in Ms. Janet’s home to ensure Lena’s needs were being met and helped to adapt goals that best fit what Ms. Janet and Lena were working on developing. KVC Nebraska also was available for 24/7 crisis support and attended school meetings to advocate for Lena.

Six months later, Lena is living a life she had only dreamed of. She is doing great in her new transition program, thriving in her community, building employment skills and enjoying hanging out with her friends. Most importantly, Lena has someone who understands when she is upset and knows how to walk her through it. Ms. Janet knows what it means when Lena dips her chin to the floor and stops talking. She knows what to say to help Lena express what’s bothering her. She helps Lena get back to a stable place mentally and work through the issue at hand. Lena no longer needs to be admitted to the hospital to feel safe. She knows she can reach out to Ms. Janet and that she will be waiting with an open hand and open heart.

Not every day is perfect and progress is rarely easy, but through Lena’s determination and Janet’s unending patience, they improve. Together, they focus on Lena’s goals and take life moment by moment. Lena would like to live on her own someday and be able to smile every time she looks into a mirror. She also wants to take college classes, have a full-time job and marry someone who is kind and has as much love to give as she has to share.

Lena has goals she could never have reached for back when she was lying in a hospital bed with a dim outlook on her life. Now she has Ms. Janet standing behind her saying, “Girl, you know you can do it! Nobody is stopping you but yourself!” With the skills she’s learned, Lena can talk to her family on the phone and visit with them without arguments. She is focused on repairing relationships that have been damaged in the past. She goes to school, meets friends at the movies and goes to the Lauritzen Botanical Gardens where she helps make the world a more beautiful place.

Lena can finally live her life in ways that she had never imagined. You can see it in her smile and when she gushes with pride about the progress she’s made towards her goals. She’s proud that she has found her home in the world, and she can trust it’s not going anywhere without her. It all started with a moment of recognition and reconnection. In a room where Lena and her father recognized they are “in good company.”

*Names have been changed and stock photos have been used to protect identities. 

We’re looking for more supportive, loving caregivers like Ms. Janet to help individuals just like Lena. Learn more about extended family homes and making a difference in the life of a child, teen or adult who needs some extra support.

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