Learning to Be Loved

After seven and a half years in the foster care system, 17-year-old Chase Bailey is learning how to trust and let his new family really love him.

By Dwain Hebda

Chase Bailey and Family

One of the first things Chase Bailey's mother, Dawn, will tell you about the 17-year-old is he's a mama's boy. He's also a bright student, a basketball fanatic and busy, balancing his time among school, family, church and a new job. Most of all he's loved; although it's a concept that's taken time to get his arms around.

"I had to learn to trust [my family] just like they learned to trust me. Love is just another part of that," he said. "It’s great to know that somebody’s love is unconditional. But it’s really hard to understand that, especially if you haven’t learned that from the beginning."

It's nice to think all children know they're loved—loved when they win and when they fail, loved when they're little darlings and loved when they're grounded—but life doesn’t always work that way. To Chase, real love was largely a foreign concept.

"Being in the situations I've been through, you don’t really know if somebody’s going to be there," Chase said, "or keep you for a couple days and then get rid of you."

Arkansas's foster care system manages more than 5,000 children and while 91 percent go home, to a relative's or are adopted, that still leaves hundreds to bounce around the system. Chase was one of these.

The national average for children staying in the system is 13.5 months, 27.3 months for kids who are adopted—Chase was in for 7.5 years. According to Texas-based adoption advocate Kenneth A. Camp, the average child changes foster residences seven times; Chase experienced more than double that.

"He had 11 homes in those 7.5 years, in addition to five facilities and group homes, that took him in and then sent him away," said Dawn. "He acted up or got in trouble and they didn’t want to mess with him."

A teenager's prospects of being adopted are comparatively dim and with Chase's string of failed placements, it looked like a happy ending would be nothing short of a miracle.

Fortunately, God had the Baileys' number. "It was really all a Jesus thing," Dawn said. "We have seen the Lord intervene with the people that we have connected with and the people that helped us. It has been absolutely crazy how God has had his hand in, every step of the way."

That said, the Almighty had to play hardball to get Dawn on board initially. Having already raised two girls and in the home stretch with another, Dawn wasn't in the market for another child. But that didn't stop friends from needling her and husband Brad on the subject; in 2015 some went so far as to send a link to a local news report on adoption profiling Chase.

“Three different friends of mine sent Brad and I messages saying ‘Y’all need to watch this video. Y’all need [Chase],’” she recalled. “Honestly, I was kind of irritated. I said, ‘I’m sorry. I will pray for this boy to get a family, but I am not adopting a teenage boy. Y’all have lost your mind.’”

“That was Thanksgiving weekend in 2015. That Sunday the Lord convinced me that this is supposed to be [my] child,” she said. “I just got to thinking, what if something happened to Brad and I? Who would take care of our kids? I would want somebody to step up, no matter what age they were, and make a difference.”

“So I spent two days crying, going ‘OK. I guess this is what we’re supposed to do.’” The Baileys underwent six months fulfilling requirements of Arkansas Division of Children and Family Services to become what's known as an open home. Again, strictly on faith.

“We had to be an open home before they would say ‘Yes, he’s still available,’” Dawn said. “We went through that whole process and it was actually May before we found out if he was even still available for adoption.”

Chase moved in July 8, 2016, and after a mandatory six-month trial period, his adoption was official in January 2017. The family minces no words describing the joys and challenges of their journey so far, particularly as Chase's festering trauma over abandonment wormed to the surface.

“In his eyes, anytime he did something wrong he would just be sent away,” Dawn said. “That’s where a lot of the trauma from his life has come from. The healing for us was to teach him that even when he makes mistakes, he’s not going anywhere. Mom and Dad are going to be there no matter what.”

Today, the good days outnumber the bad. Through Immerse Arkansas, Brad and Dawn learned Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), an alternative parenting methodology for children with trauma. It's had a marked impact on Chase, allowing him to develop perspective on the nuances of a forever family.

“I learned there’s always going to be consequences, good consequences or bad consequences,” Chase said. “I’ve also learned that families don’t give up on each other when you mess up. And I’ve messed up a lot, but they never gave up.”

“Right now, I find myself probably at the best position I can be. I’ve still got to work on some things between me and some of the stuff that I’ve been doing. It’s all part of the family; you’ve got to improve yourself to improve others sometimes. That’s probably the best thing you can do.”