by KIM HILSENBECK
The future holds endless possibilities for Kayla Adams. She hopes to graduate from high school, attend college and become a chef.
It wasn’t long ago that Kayla wasn’t sure what her future held because of her past.
Kayla (not her real name) lives at the Central Texas Children’s Home (CTCH) in Buda, a private nonprofit home for kids with troubled lives.
Tom Hagen, executive director of CTCH, explained how Kayla ended up at this facility nearly two years ago.
“Her story begins when she was about four or five years old,” Hagen began.
He delicately described how Kayla and her little brother were unwitting pawns in a twisted life where their parents videotaped them doing unspeakable things in the bedroom.
Hagen said Kayla told another child on a playground what she did at home with her brother.
“The friend goes, ‘I don’t think that’s right,’” Hagen said. “And the friend gets really upset and goes to tell the teacher. She calls the police and they get Child Protective Services involved. CPS investigates and the parents were arrested and the parents go to prison.”
He went on to say that Kayla and her little brother were placed with their grandparents.
What happened next was nearly unbelievable to Hagen, a former minister with 21 years of experience working at facilities like CTCH.
“CPS was monitoring them for about a year,” he said. “And CPS said, ‘Well, we think you’re in a stable home now and we don’t need to monitor anymore.’ And the grandparents go, ‘Cool. Now we want you to do for us what you were doing for your mom and dad.’”
This time, Kayla knew something was wrong and Hagen said she told a teacher. Her grandparents were arrested and went to prison, as well, according to Hagen.
Her little brother was placed in a psychiatric facility. In all likelihood, Hagen said he will probably always be there.
At about age 10, Kayla was adopted by a family that wanted to give her a second chance.
So how did she end up at CTCH?
Kayla wanted to see her grandfather, but by court order she is not allowed to have any contact with her biological parents and grandparents. Hagen said her adoptive parents chose not to tell her the reason she could not see her grandfather was a legal order. Hagen said when they told her she could not see her grandfather, she got angry.
“It was typical teenage girl angst on top of emotional neediness,” he said. “An argument with her adoptive mom escalated. Kayla yelled out something like, ‘I wish you were dead’ or ‘if I could kill you I would.’”
Her adoptive parents, according to Hagen, “kind of freaked out.”
Kayla had a lot of anger, Hagen said, and she started acting out that anger more and more. He said they didn’t know what to do anymore; they felt it was a situation they could not or did not want to handle.
“They said, ‘She’s from an abusive home, therapists are telling us she has all this anger, now we’re the target – we don’t need that in our house,’” Hagen said. “Her adoptive parents tried everything they could to help her and work with her.”
Starting at about age 15, she bounced from one residential treatment facility to another, he said. When her time was up, Hagen said the therapists told Kayla’s adoptive parents that she made some good progress but she couldn’t come home yet.
“They said, ‘She needs some structure.’ And that’s when she came to us,” he said.
Today, Hagen said Kayla has made a lot of progress.
“She’s just a beautiful young lady with a great personality. She’s enjoyable to be around,” he said.
Hagen paused for a moment.“She’s basically lost her whole family and now her brother, too. She feels sad that she can’t be a part of his life. She’s a very emotionally needy person,” he said. “If she knows you well, she’ll come up and hug you because that affirms to her that she’s OK. And then she’d come back and say, ‘Do you still like me? Am I OK? Do I look OK?’”
Still, Hagen says Kayla has a good future ahead of her.
“She really has a good head on her shoulders,” he said. “She is gaining self-confidence and a backbone. She is standing up and saying, ‘no, because it’s not in my best interest.’”
Hagen continued, “We’ve talked with her about the fact that she has so much potential and so many possibilities for her future. We simply want to help her make good choices and learn to stand by her choices. She’s beginning to do that.”
A few months ago, Hagen said Kayla’s adoptive parents contacted her with some surprising news that threw a monkey wrench into her progress.
“I can’t say the events are related, but right about the time she turned 18 and the stipend from the state stopped coming, they called and said, ‘Don’t come home. We don’t want you anymore. We have no interest in ever being a family again,’” Hagen said.
The stipend from the state for a child such as Kayla is $400-$1,000 a month, according to Hagen.
He said he can only guess that since Kayla has so much emotional baggage, her adoptive parents don’t want to bother with a child whose blood line is not their own. The couple has several daughters of their own and now a grandchild, as well.
“I’d hate to think everything they did is for money,” Hagen said. “It really surprised me that they chose to say, ‘we’re done.’”
Hagen said, “I’ve seen some parents that when they say ‘We don’t want you anymore’, I go, whew, that’s the best thing that could happen to that kid.’”
Yet what’s puzzling to Hagen is that Kayla’s adoptive parents keep calling and occasionally visiting her, even taking her out for the day sometimes. But they still maintain they don’t want her to return to their family after she graduates high school.
A few days after our first visit to CTCH, Hagen arranged a meeting at the center’s main building with Kayla and her house mom, Shelley. They decided not to tell her in advance because they didn’t want her to get too anxious about talking with a reporter.
When Kayla walked in the door, she glanced around nervously. Her greenish brown eyes grew wide as she looked back and forth to Hagen and her house mom for an explanation.
As he gave her a big hug, Hagen told her that someone wanted to hear her story and print it in the newspaper.
“I thought I was in trouble,” Kayla said with a nervous laugh.
As Kayla’s story unfolded, she fidgeted continuously with her face, her hair, her shirt. She appeared anxious and at times sad yet remained upbeat and positive.
Kayla spoke warmly about coming to CTCH and the role this surrogate family has played in her life.
“If it hadn’t been for Miss Shelley and Charles and Mr. Tom, I don’t know where I would have been. I wouldn’t have had any place to go,” she said.
Her first impression of CTCH was negative because another girl she met said it wasn’t a good home. But her impression soon changed.
“I fell in love with [CTCH] right away. Not as a ‘home home,’ but as a place I would be safe,” she said.
It’s not hard to imagine why a child or teenager would like the facility. Tucked away from the main road on 152 acres near Creedmoor, though technically Buda, CTCH appears inviting and welcoming.
Driving down the narrow lane, the first building to come into view is the main office, a square, white, unassuming building with a utilitarian façade and a small concrete parking lot. But beyond that are several houses, large trees, a playground and lots of open space.
The children’s homes, several hundred yards away, are stone-sided ranch houses, each with a small front porch and a rocking chair. CTCH currently has six girls and six boys, with one house for each gender and a set of house parents. A third, older home serves as a storage facility.
Of the five other young women who live in the home with her, Kayla said, “At first we didn’t get along but we worked it out and now we get along all right.”
Shelley said Kayla is learning to take responsibility – for her chores, her schoolwork and her life. Shelley said she’s also taking an interest in cooking and learning more about getting around in the kitchen.
Kayla talked about how she ended up leaving her adoptive family and ending up at CTCH.
“Me and my mom would get in arguments, and a couple times I thought about suicide,” Kayla said.
Though she never acted on those feelings, Kayla said she didn’t like what was happening in her life and thought, ‘Why not just end my life?’
Shelley and Hagen agree with Kayla that her visits to the treatment centers and her time at CTCH have helped Kayla develop better, healthier ways to cope with her anxiety, anger and feelings of hopelessness.
And while she feels safe and loved at CTCH, Kayla said she still thinks of her adoptive family as her real family.
“I get so excited when my mom calls,” Kayla said.
She believes she will be in touch with her adoptive family after she goes to college.
Kayla said she is looking forward to going to college, but knows it will be different.
“There’s not going to be anyone telling me what to do and I’ll have to act by myself and pay my bills,” she said. “I’m kind of excited but also nervous because it’s going to be a new adventure.”
Kayla said it’s sometimes hard for her to focus on tasks and get things done.
“If I put my mind to it and stick to it, I can do it,” she said.
Shelley said Kayla has changed a lot since she came to CTCH.
“She is really working hard on school,” Shelley said. “She’s also better at handling situations and talking directly with others about issues.”
Kayla does not want to have contact with her birth parents other than to make sure they know she turned out fine.
“My main goal is turn to my birth mother and show her, ‘look what I’ve done even after what I was put through,’” Kayla said.