'Aaron' - Jim Craven

Foster parents provide safe home to grow and learn

Anna and Mike Boyd of Medford had raised their own three boys, and were busy enjoying their 10 grandkids when the 60-ish couple decided to become foster parents with the Community Works Treatment Foster Care program.

"We've always enjoyed teenagers," she says. "To be frank with you, I think they've made us young."

Teens ages 13 to 18 are referred to the treatment foster-care program either through the youth offender program or by the Department of Human Services, says Gabe Dawson, program manager.

Anna Boyd, 59, said the two boys they provide foster care for are loving, happy kids. At least they are now. But others have come "with such behavioral issues you can't even touch them on the shoulder," she says.

Bad things happen to children every day — things most adults can't even comprehend, says Mike Boyd, 63.

"It's an eye-opener," he says. "We were raised properly. We raised our boys properly. My heart goes out to every one of these kids."

Aaron, 17, was placed with the Boyds in February. ("Aaron" is an alias the boy selected to protect his identity in this story.) He arrived just two weeks after the couple also started fostering a younger teenage boy.

"When they first got here, they were both scared to death," says Anna Boyd.

Taken from his natural parents and adopted into a new home when he was 2, Aaron has battled "poor temper control" all his life. Recent physical altercations with his adoptive father had landed Aaron in a Grants Pass youth shelter, he says.

"My dad's ex-military," he says. "It's his way or no way. I'm the rebellious one."

Aaron attends Lithia Springs school where he studies math, science and language arts. He also attends therapy sessions, where he is learning skills to help him control his temper.

"When I first got here, I had a temper no one wanted to be around," Aaron says, adding his former motto was "If you mess with me, I'll hit ya."

After months of intensive therapy, a structured home environment with the Boyds, and some serious self-examination, the teen says he now takes full responsibility for his actions.

"The first day I got picked up I was really p—-ed off at the whole world," Aaron says. "But then I cooled down and realized I'm the idiot who went after my dad."

Aaron says the therapy sessions have helped him to understand his anger and to develop ways to avoid future problems.

"I'd bottle things up and then explode," Aaron says. "I've learned to use more in-depth feelings to understand what is going on."

The goal of the therapeutic foster program is to get the teens back with their parents if possible. The Boyds support Aaron's program goals by providing a structured environment in their home, says Anna.

"We teach (Aaron) life skills like cooking, cleaning and doing his own laundry," she says. "He does really well. I think his mom is going to be impressed."

Daily support is provided to the foster parents in the form of meetings, phone calls and e-mails with the teens' case workers, teachers and therapists, says Susan Slavin, program director for Lithia Springs school.

"That way the kids can't manipulate the parents," Slavin says. "And the foster parents don't accidently unwind the progress the therapists and teachers make."

The teens earn privileges like going to a movie or having more free time by exhibiting good behavior. It is important that all adults in the treatment program maintain a united front and remain in daily communication for the sake of the teens. Keeping close tabs on behavioral growth spurts and slip-ups helps everyone "stay on the same page," she says.

"The treatment families are part of our team," Slavin says.

Aaron's parents have made visits. Things are going well. If he continues to follow the rules and keep his temper in check, Aaron will be allowed to go stay with his parents for weekend visits. Aaron expects to be back home after he completes his GED. Then on to a job, he says.

Aaron says he has no illusions about what his life would be like without the program.

"I'd be locked up in detention until I was 18, then in jail," he says.

The Boyds are aware they are providing a home to teens many people might be afraid of. But people need to understand the teens earn their way into the foster program.

"I think people are honestly afraid," says Mike. "But the kids need an opportunity to be in a nice home and see what a stable home life is like."

The foster parents help the teens learn what a home should feel like. Prior to becoming foster parents, the Boyds say they were unaware of the level of abuse some kids endure — and overcome.

"I had no idea that a human being could be so hurt, so abused, have broken spirits. That kind of surprised us both," Anna says.

Her husband agrees. But the Boyds say the flip-side to witnessing the aftermath of abuse is helping the teens to heal by providing them a safe environment to do so.

"I think the biggest thing people don't realize is these youths can change your life," Mike says. "It's an opportunity."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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