Guest post by Kathryn Dentato, case worker at Kids Central.
I met Ashetyn in April of 2011 when his case transferred to the Adoptions Unit. He was playing basketball in the driveway of his foster home when I pulled up. Tall and clean-cut, he greeted me respectfully and took me in to meet his foster mother. We chatted for a while and Ashetyn shared his love of sports, especially football. He had moved to the foster home in January after the season ended and was eager to start practicing for the summer workouts.
Ashetyn’s enthusiasm for football was not enough to keep him on the right path, however, and his foster mother was concerned he was using drugs. Ashetyn also began to show a violent side which led to the involvement of DJJ. Over the next few months, we spent a lot of time together to complete his Teen Court requirements. Ashetyn began to open up, sharing some of his history during the hour-long drives between his placement and the courthouse.
Along with his brother, Ashetyn was adopted as a toddler by his foster parents. However, the adoption did not last. As you can imagine, stability was an issue for the boys. By the time Ashetyn was a teen, he told me he had been in at least a dozen group homes, moving frequently because he got into fights with other kids.
Because the jurisdiction of the case was in another state, the adoptive parents’ rights were not terminated until 2011. Ashetyn had a difficult time adjusting. He had just been moved from the non-relative home where his brother lived and was in a new foster home. This is when I met him. Though he appeared stable at the first meeting, it was only a matter of weeks before I heard that Ashetyn had turned again to violence and drugs. Charges were filed and he became involved with DJJ and the Teen Court.
After one confrontation, Ashetyn acknowledged that he had a problem with drugs and volunteered to enter a residential rehabilitation program for teens. Over the course of five months, Ashetyn struggled to overcome his addictions, but persevered. He graduated the program successfully and became a role model for other teens at the facility. I was so proud of him for working through the challenging program.
Following his discharge from the rehab facility, Ashetyn wanted a place to call home but was adamant that adoption was not the path for him. He agreed to meet the Hetland family because he thought living with a family with three teenagers would be a good idea and he wanted freedom from the foster care system.
Both Steve and Jennifer Hetland were determined to help Ashetyn develop a permanent connection to an adult and adjust to living in a family again. Within a few weeks, Ashetyn had moved to their home. Steven and Jennifer included his brother, who had aged out of foster care, and worked through additional DJJ requirements and school issues after he was caught with drugs at school. He tested Steve and Jennifer’s stamina, but they continued to be loving and firm.
The Hetlands’ consistent tough love approach and keeping Ashetyn accountable for his actions as a member of the family slowly won his heart. Ashetyn agreed to adoption with the family, and finalization occurred on his 17th birthday. In the year since, Ashetyn has made even more strides. He has completed his GED and is now enrolled in Withlacoochee Technical Institute in the Auto Mechanics program. Ashetyn has a family who loves him and accepts him for who he is, all the while helping him to become all he can be.