Victor's New Home

Excerpted from The Family Connection, April, 1994

Families First (Davis, CA) began a pilot program four years ago to provide therapeutic foster homes for children with developmental disabilities who have significant behavior challenges. The Extended Family Program (EFP) exemplifies their belief that the [best place for children is] within a family environment. For families, the decision to look for another living arrangement has been a very difficult one and in the past, there have been few options outside of group homes or developmental centers. To best describe this support service, Families First and Victor's parents have allowed us to reprint his story.

At the time of Victor's referral to the Extended Family Program, the 15-year old's behavior included property destruction like punching holes in walls and throwing chairs. He was curious and persistent. He would tear apart an industrial strength state hospital mattress or disassemble a toilet in a couple of nights. Victor also urinated in his room and was a "runner," that is, he would unpredictably bolt and run off. His strengths included his curiosity, friendliness, and enjoyment of people and activities, such as music, bike riding, ball playing, roller skating, and looking at books.

Victor's parents, Steve and Paula Maziar, were skeptical that Victor could live in a family. The Maziars, like many loving parents of children with developmental disabilities, were driven by a desperation brought on by few options. Victor had been in and out of almost every setting in California. The Maziars were willing to try the EFP, not wanting to overlook any opportunity for Victor. At the same time, they did not really expect anything.

Charles and Roxine Harding were interested in being Victor's foster parents. They both had experience working with adults having developmental disabilities and were an active family that could keep up with Victor. Both families recognized there were risks involved, but were willing to take them to give Victor the chance to live outside an institution.

The Harding's willingness to care for and commit to Victor was tested severely. A sleep disorder resulted in the Hardings being up literally all night, night after night with Victor, to prevent him from jumping off the dresser, urinating on the floor, punching holes in the walls, and stuffing objects in the toilet and flooding the house. Working with physicians, it was determined that medication could help Victor relax and sleep.

Day and night, Victor offered challenges; smearing feces on the wall, jumping on the kitchen table to break it, meticulously taking the bolts off the toilet and removing it, taking the sink off the wall, knocking holes in the walls, throwing the television set, and hurting himself by putting his head through the wall.

The Harding's response to these challenges was to pick a problem area to focus on and not become overwhelmed. They had Victor participate with Charles in repairs - scrubbing walls, plastering, taking the toilet apart, laying new carpet, and whatever else was required. The Maziars were part of the team, too, gathering broken items when they picked up Victor for visits, repairing and returning them.

The Hardings paid attention to Victor's preferences in food, music, activities, and used these as rewards. Gradually, he began to respond. Charles believes Victor was testing their commitment to him through all of this.

After Victor had been with the Hardings for several months and not spoken a word, Roxine hit on a successful strategy. She would cook a favorite meal and serve him. If he wanted more, Victor needed to ask for seconds. This proved to be a great motivation, and soon he was talking. Today, she says "he comes up with new words and we wonder where he has learned them."

Through all of this, Victor's birth and foster family have worked together. According to the Hardings, "it's as if Victor has four parents... he sees us as a unit working together." For their part, the Maziars give great credit to the Hardings, comparing their work to that of Helen Keller's teacher. "Victor needed their kind of dedication... he wouldn't have made it without them... their balance of structure and personal caring has been the key."

The Hardings and Maziars always believed Victor could make progress, and their confidence has proven that the risk of a foster placement for Victor was well worth it.

For Victor, the future looks much brighter. After three years with the Hardings, he is still growing and learning. After exceeding every expectation, he is now a young man who is still reaching for his potential.