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For Jakob, a family helped everything fall into place

December 12, 2013

Jakob stands with counselor Megan and adoptive mom Julie

Youth Villages Family Intervention Specialist Megan Whitehead stands with Jakob and his adoptive mom, Julie Morehouse.

Megan Whitehead didn’t know what to make of Jakob when they first met.

His case file was inches thick, documenting the history of a boy who had been abused, neglected and abandoned by his parents. Adopted and then rejected by a family. He had developed emotional and behavioral problems and been through many residential treatment programs.

Jakob was being disruptive and aggressive in a foster home. Megan, a Youth Villages family intervention specialist working from the Bloomington, Ind. office, was assigned to help him.

It wasn’t an easy task. Jakob had seen a lot of counselors come and go, and he didn’t trust them. He had heard what they said: that he was antisocial, that he would end up in jail. One said flatly that it was impossible for a troubled child to change after turning 13 years old. Jakob was 14.

But Megan saw Jakob differently. She saw an intelligent, sweet boy who had mostly given up on himself and the people who had tried to help him. He was desperately unhappy in his foster home. In fact, Jakob had never been happy in any family.

Don’t worry, Megan told him. “Families are like jeans,” she said. “We have to find the one that fits you, and we will.”

While Megan began working with Jakob, the Indiana Department of Child Services looked for that parent, that home that would make a difference for Jakob.

DCS found Julie Morehouse, who worked part time at a group home and knew how to help children with serious emotional and behavioral problems. But Julie and her husband had fostered only girls.

“What would you think of a boy?” the case manager asked. After meeting Jakob, Julie agreed to help him.

“He was so unsure of himself and alone,” she said. “No one had loved him, and he felt like he would never be loved.”

To help him, both Megan and Julie had to earn the boy’s trust.

“He knew all the clinical terms and the interventions that counselors generally use,” Megan said. “I had to be creative.”

After Jakob moved to the Morehouse home, Megan worked with Julie to make sure Jakob was receiving the right treatment for his mental health issues. He was diagnosed with ADHD and put on new medication.

Things were a little rocky at first. “Jakob would get mad and puff his chest up and try to intimidate,” Megan said. “But he met his match in Julie.”

Because Julie set realistic goals and taught through consistent rewards and consequences, Jakob got with the program pretty quickly. He learned how to solve problems without becoming angry or aggressive. Using an emotional thermometer approach, Megan taught Jakob how to monitor his emotions and calm himself down when he began to feel angry.

Being accepted in a family made such a difference.

“They don’t try to look at everything I’m doing as wrong,” Jakob said. “I haven’t been in trouble for anything in months. If I get frustrated, my mom is always a couple of steps ahead of me.”

Julie and her husband weren’t thinking of adoption at first, but they knew Jakob was happy and wanted to stay. “We absolutely loved him,” Julie said. “I knew that he needed that, and he needed to have a life. At the end of the day, we’re family.”

“It’s just kind of natural,” Jakob said. “She made me feel wanted. I feel confident that she’ll take care of me.”

With basic security in place, Jakob can think about his future. He has a high IQ and is catching up in school. He’s planning to try out for the basketball team this year, and maybe find a girlfriend.

For Jakob, a family helped everything fall into place.

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