Nakeita Patterson became a foster parent because, she said, she had interacted with a lot of them who exemplified the good, the bad and the ugly. With a background in criminal justice, social work and employment in a group home, she saw what happened to kids who had not lived in solid, nurturing foster homes. She knew from case managers that the need for good foster parents was great. So, she became licensed on Jan. 6, 2014. Twenty-five days later, she received emergency placement of a boy who was just shy of 4 about whom very little was known. What Nakeita did know was that this 3-year-old we’ll call Jamal was way too grown up for his age.
“He was a kid who’d almost raised himself,” she said. “I’d tell him, ‘You don’t need to think about what bus to take, or about the police.’ I wanted him to be a kid, to know about reading books, the park, things like that. You could put him on a corner and he would survive 24 hours, but you put him in a classroom and it was a struggle.”
Struggle is putting it mildly.
The boy would fly into rages and was extremely physically aggressive with adults and children, including Nakeita’s 8-year-old son, Jeremiah, with whom he shared a bedroom. After hurting another child, he would turn around and laugh. Jamal would defecate on himself and was unable to accept affection; he would not even sit next to Nakeita on the couch. “He did not know what a hug was,” she said.
He was kicked out of two day care centers and a school, and a crisis worker gave up on him. But Nakeita was determined that she would be the one to change the boy’s story.
“At such a young age?” she said. “I was just so hurt by it. A lot of people don’t understand trauma, but I thought, How could you give up on him? I said we can’t do that anymore.”
Nakeita admits, however, that things were pretty difficult in the beginning.
“There were many days that in my mind I said, I can’t do this anymore, and many nights I cried. But then I’d talk to the workers and do some more research, trying to figure out how to make this situation better for all of us. I’d worked with kids before, but I had no idea of everything he’d experienced and that he’d soaked up so much trauma.”
She was working first shift and getting calls about his behavior every day. She’d have to leave work and go and pick him up, and her job was in jeopardy. But her supervisor told her that what she was doing to help a child was important and moved her to a third-shift position working at home.
Nakeita relied on her training in trauma informed care, and Jamal’s school psychologist recommended a class that she said really taught her a lot. She maintains a good relationship with the boy’s biological mother and calls her frequently. They agree to use the same words to motivate the boy and to reinforce his need for consistency.
“I just constantly encourage her: ‘Whatever you need, I got you.’”
Then Jamal went to a pre-placement adoptive resource visit. Nakeita was wary of the situation, but she took him to the home at bedtime on a Friday night. At 2 p.m. the next day, the woman contacted her and told her to come and get him because he was being violent with her 4-year-old grandson and she did not feel safe around Jamal.
“At that moment, all I could think about was him being bounced around,” Nakeita said. “Because this lady was able to tell me this in less than 24 hours, I couldn’t imagine him being placed with someone then, in three or four months, after the honeymoon period is over, the behaviors would start to come out and he’d be bounced out again.”
So, Nakeita took Jamal back in and remains his dedicated foster mother. She continues to encourage his biological mother to do what is needed to achieve reunification. Nakeita’s extended family, including her sister, mother, aunts and uncles and even a grandmother who lives in Mississippi have a strong relationship with the boy.
Nakeita has made sure that Jamal got a lot of needed services, including occupational therapy, play therapy, day treatment, and an IEP assessment.
After a little more than 14 months, the difference in Jamal is remarkable, Nakeita said. “It blows me away!”
She has not received any phone calls from school in months, and the boy now loves to snuggle and give and receive hugs and kisses.
“It’s a matter of therapy, what we’re doing at home, what Mom is doing on the visits, medication – all that plays a part in his turnaround. He’s doing exceptionally well.
“Of course we have some days where we struggle. We all have those days, but when I think about how I’d get those calls and feel overwhelmed and think, I just cannot come and get him because I’m overwhelmed, I can’t even think that way now.”
Nakeita is a winner of the Governor’s Foster Parent Award. She was honored in a ceremony in Madison on May 27. The award, administered by the Department of Children and Families, formally recognizes, thanks, and celebrates foster parents for the incredible dedication and commitment they make to improve the lives of children and families in Wisconsin.
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