Karla Buchanan’s Story: Fostering and Adopting Children with Special Needs

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image009The Buchanans have fostered dozens of children with behavioral health challenges. Though none of their adopted children are biologically linked, Karla likes to say they are “linked by love.” As such, they never turn a child away, despite not being a therapeutic home, because every child deserves a chance to be a part of a family.

As they have a lot of kids with behavioral and mood irregularities, a lot of time is spent in counseling offices and ER rooms, waiting to see what can be done for one of the kids. Sometimes the help they get works and sometimes it doesn’t. Unfortunately, not many providers in the area where the Buchanans live take Medicaid, or the time between appointments is too long, or the caseloads for Medicaid are closed, which means there are a lot of barriers in place when it comes to helping their kids. Fortunately, a nearby Community Mental Health Center has recently moved in from another county and has begun to offer services to kids and families.

The challenges the Buchanans face are daily and very real. Though Karla would love to say the help they receive always works, the reality is that it doesn’t. For example, their 18-year-old, who was in the foster care system for 10 years, had a multitude of diagnoses and became physically and verbally aggressive. One day Karla and her husband had no choice but to get the police involved, but as there was no Crisis Intervention Training in their town, the police did not understand how best to deal with kids. Their daughter ended up in a juvenile detention center for incorrigibility, and the Buchanans had to refuse to take her home in order to get her any help.

image013“You cannot imagine how hard it is to stand and say you cannot take your child home when she is crying and banging her head on a table pleading that she will be good. It is not about her being good, you want to explain. It is about everyone’s safety, but she would not have heard or understood that.”

The Buchanans were surprised when the psychiatrist told them to be thankful that their daughter would be 18 in less than a year when they could “cut their ties with her and be free.” Such advice went against what Karla and her husband believed in. They continue to fight for their daughter, searching for new facilities and new providers and new residential centers.

image007“I have learned never to give up and to teach my kids never to give up. I know that adult programs need funding and help, but kids and teens are way behind what the adults receive. I learned that there needs to be more education about youth and mental illness.  There needs to be more programming for the families as well as the kids. The parents need to know it is not anything they did or did not do that made their kids have this illness. I also learned that foster parents need a lot more education on mental illness so that they are not scared to take kids that need help. A kid is a kid, and kids need a home no matter what challenges they have.”

Karla has some advice for parents, too. “Love your child and love yourself. Take care of yourself as well as your teen. You cannot help your teen if you are not well. … Believe in your child and never give up hope! These illnesses can set lives back, but if we step up and seek help and speak out, then the system will eventually get better. … Most of all, take a deep breath, relax, and hold on for the ride, cause life will happen no matter what comes your way!”

Many thanks for Karla for sharing her story and advice. Our hope is that by speaking up and out through PVI, the system will get better. Her courage and strength, and that of her husband and family, is an inspiration to us all.

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