Finding His Voice: A Foster Youth Story

Sarah Davenport, FCNI Staff
May, 7, 2019 -

Sadly, some kids just get dealt a bad hand in life, through no fault of their own. Clay was one of those kids. He first ended up in foster care when his parents were arrested for using and selling drugs. At the time, Clay’s aunt and uncle stepped forward to give five year old Clay a home. But after many years with the family, Clay’s uncle was arrested for domestic violence and his aunt, severely traumatized, could no longer care for Clay. Now 15, Clay was again placed into foster care for his safety. Due to his many life disruptions and because of the violence he had witnessed, Clay had a lot of unhealed hurts which manifested into anger and mistrust. His behaviors were difficult, both at school and at home. He needed desperately to heal and find his footing in life. In order to make sure Clay received the stability and care he needed, Clay was placed into a family-based therapeutic foster home with intensive support services.    

Clay came into care with what seemed like only two reactions--either withdrawn or combative. He didn’t trust anyone--not his team or his foster parents--so carrying on a conversation with Clay garnered either silence or anger. Clay’s foster parents and team worked to create an environment in his new home where Clay would feel comfortable, welcomed and safe, minimizing his feelings of stress and anxiety. Clay’s foster parents used soft lighting, kept their conversations calm and tried to reduce unnecessary stimuli around the house. Clay was given space and time to familiarize himself with his new setting and to make his room his own. Stability was something that Clay’s life before care lacked, so his foster parents made sure to set up and stick to an easy schedule for him and their household, and were very clear and consistent with their expectations. While everything took time and lots of patience, eventually Clay began engaging more with his foster parents, offering them soft smiles and holding real conversations.

Clay’s mental wellbeing was a major concern of his whole team, but they learned early on that traditional therapy wasn’t a good fit for him. Clay didn’t want to sit on a couch and talk to another adult. Clay really wanted a tangible way to express himself that didn’t solely rely on engaging with another person. Therefore, his team had to get creative. After discussing different options, they finally settled on art therapy and Clay agreed to give it a try. Together with a therapist, Clay began exploring the world of art, trying different mediums to find one that would help him not only express himself, but also process all of his hurt. Clay eventually discovered drawing with charcoal, being drawn to its use of shadows and bold lines to create images. Clay felt able to really give himself over to the creative process of his drawings, and finally found his voice.

In care, Clay grew in ways he never expected. As a more adjusted, confident and engaging kid, Clay found the motivation to focus more at school, which resulted in improved grades. He also seemed to “find himself” in his art classes, connecting well with other students and other forms of art. A light switch had been turned on inside of him, and he became eager to learn more, do more and explore more.

As Clay nears his 16th birthday, his team is working to secure him placement in Transitional Housing, hopeful that Clay will continue to grow towards adult independence. With the support of his newfound self, and his foster parents and team, Clay is ready to take on the next stage of his life’s journey.