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After years in state custody, Cody reunites with family

June 15, 2012

One of his uncles calls him Little Clifton because of his resemblance to his father.

In fact, after not seeing him for nearly a decade, Cody’s paternal grandmother, Jacque, singled him out in a room full of boys at a Youth Villages group home.

“I knew exactly who he was,” Jacque said. “He looked just like his father.”

Teaming with Jacque, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and Youth Villages made quick work of reuniting Cody with his grandmother. After years of living in state custody, Cody, 17, had a home.

“We met with the grandparents in July of last year,” said Laura Anderson, Youth Villages family intervention specialist. “We had a really good team, and made the permanent transition at the end of August.”

Jacque and Cody made up for lost time, reuniting with extended family and mother and father. But there was still quite a bit to work through. Cody’s mother and father terminated their parental rights when he was young, the consequences of drug abuse. He was then adopted, but became physically and verbally aggressive and spent time at Youth Villages’ Deer Valley residential campus.

In November of 2007, he was placed in state custody.

“There was so much frustration and anger,” said Carlos Hawkins, regional manager for Youth Villages’ residential services. “The biggest trigger was the adoptive parents. I think there was a false hope that he was going to return home.”

Cody went into foster care – homes in Knox County, Scott County, Claiborne County, Cocke County, Kingston, then back to Knoxville; then group homes throughout Middle and West Tennessee. He also stayed at Youth Villages’ Bartlett Campus. He was running out of placement options. Julie Flannery of Harmony Adoptions found Jacque.

“They asked me if I was interested in taking custody of Cody, and I said, ‘How fast can we do this?’” Jacque said. “It’s like I’d waited 17 years for that day.”

Cody is a smart young man, but the years of foster homes and state custody had affected his ability to trust others. And to compound the confusion, he was introduced to his biological family after years of feeling alone.

Carlos, who worked with Cody during the transition from Deer Valley to a group home, became Cody’s mentor.

“It took some time for Cody to trust that we weren’t there to take him out of the home,” Laura said. “Jacque was committed, but there was still some doubt with Cody.”

And he compressed those missed years into a few months. His father came to visit. He spoke with his mother. He found out he had a younger sister. He met aunts and uncles.

“My dad visited for two or three days, and I had a lot of feelings about him not being there and why he left,” Cody said. “I thought I didn’t, but I did. I was angry with him, but I learned a lot about what was going on at the time. I’d say we have a good relationship now.”

Carlos witnessed Cody’s transition from those first days at Deer Valley, through group homes and foster homes.

“I wasn’t sure he’d be able to make it,” he said. “He was just so angry, and he’d lose control every time he was told he wouldn’t be going back home to his adoptive parents. He needed a home environment. Now, Cody can express himself rationally. He can cope with his feelings.”

Jacque played an important role in that.

“It was a big adjustment with him coming in the home,” Jacque said. “But he’s home, and we’re just happy he’s here.”

Laura worked with Cody and the family through the first months of the new home arrangement, continuing to help with Cody’s coping skills, setting boundaries and establishing rules and consequences in the home.

There are still issues that arise, as there are in any home with a teenager, but the family works through them just like any other family. Cody kids around quite a bit with Jacque and his grandfather, Ken. He also enjoys cooking dinner for the family.

“Cody’s very protective of his family,” Laura said. “He has a deep respect for his grandmother, and the connection has been intensified by those years of absence.”

Cody should finish high school this spring. He plans to attend college to learn how to be a chef — just like his father.

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