For six years, Danielle moved from placement to placement, home to home, school to school. Foster care felt like a merry-go-round she couldn’t get off.
Until her Dallas CASA volunteer Diane simply asked her what she wanted and Danielle finally answered.
Danielle, 10, was removed from home due to domestic violence and abuse in her family. First, she was placed in foster care. Then a relative stepped up to take Danielle, but that situation ended when the relative grew frustrated and kicked Danielle out with no warning. Danielle returned to foster care with a new caregiver, which went well until she was moved to be with her sister in Houston. That situation failed, and Danielle ended up in a psychiatric hospital. Two more foster homes followed, then Danielle ran away. She turned up at her father’s home, where she, now 13, was again abused. More placements with extended family members followed, each failing when caregivers grew frustrated or family drama boiled over.
Every time she moved, Danielle changed schools, teachers and classes. She changed therapists and doctors. She had to learn new house rules and expectations and how to get along with other household members. She ate new, unfamiliar foods, had new pets and different beds and bedding. She struggled to make friends as each placement lasted only a few months.
In one placement, she was allowed to eat snacks in her room. In another, she could not. Keeping the rules straight was hard. Steering clear of family drama was even harder.
The only thing that didn’t change was Diane’s commitment to Danielle.
Every time Diane visited, she asked Danielle what she wanted, but Danielle didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and was reluctant to share what she felt. She was scared to disappoint someone or destroy an important family connection.
“She kept trying to make her biological family work, but her biological family didn’t work,” Diane said.
Until one day when she was 15, Danielle told Diane that there was someone she would like to live with. She had connected with an employee at a residential treatment center where she’d stayed and thought that was someone she could live with.
The employee, Charity, was surprised but pleased when Child Protective Services called. She had left the residential treatment center but remembered Danielle well. With the support of her spouse and two younger children, Charity immediately offered to let Danielle come stay for the summer. She started her application to be a foster parent and began classes to adopt. She wanted Danielle to get to be a normal teenager.
Within weeks, Danielle moved to Charity’s home. When Diane visited Danielle for the first time after she moved to Charity’s, she found a young woman more visibly relaxed than she’d been in years. She introduced Diane to the family’s cat, who had taken to sleeping with her on the top bunk. She shared plans to get her learner’s permit and that she was learning to cook. Her smile went all the way from ear to ear.
As school approached, Diane asked Danielle how she felt. “I’m really happy here!” Danielle exclaimed. She wanted to stay forever, and Charity said she wanted to adopt Danielle. The adoption was consummated in November, just in time for the holidays.
For the first time in Danielle’s life, she has nightly dinners with her family. She has friends to hang out with. She found a part-time fast food job and opened a bank account. She goes to Friday night football games. She has a family that won’t give up on her.
She gets to be a normal teenager.