She’s 17 years old. She’s about to graduate high school with a solid B+ average. When she walks down the hall, it seems like everybody knows her, wants to say hello. People know her outside of school, too: she’s been quoted in the newspapers and participates with Hawaii Coalition of Foster Youth to help raise awareness of the challenges for youth in foster care.
Three years ago, her doctors would have told you none of this was possible.
Crystal entered Hale Kipa’s Therapeutic Foster Home Program at age 14. She had come directly from Kahi Mohala, a residential treatment center, where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her
treatment team thought that there was some hope for her, but that she might be in and out of mental institutions for the rest of her life. At regular intervals, she would suffer psychotic breaks that would erase most of the progress she had made.
Three years counting, and no breaks.
Actually, Crystal was an A student before her first psychotic episode, before her life began to fall apart. There had been some problems in her past, and she had been removed from the home when it became clear her family had difficulty caring for her at that time. What followed was a series of institutions and foster homes, one loss after another. Hale Kipa found Crystal the perfect match in her therapeutic foster family. Already caring for their own son with special needs, the foster parents brought understanding and empathy to the task, and developed a nurturing, structured environment for Crystal. She gradually began to believe that she was in a safe environment, that she would not be abandoned yet again. She began to ask for the support she needed, and the support came.
Three months after entering the Program, the Hale Kipa team transitioned Crystal into Waipahu High School. At first reluctant to accept her, the school decided to give her a shot. The going was tough at first. She was teased by other students and got into fights.
Then things began to change. Building on her safe home environment and regular sessions with her Hale Kipa caseworker, Crystal began to make real progress. While she had started in special ed classes, she began to fit in regular classes as well. Her grades improved, the fights stopped. She got a job working on campus, and began to make friends at school. As Crystal changed, so did the attitudes of her schoolmates.
The future is uncertain for Crystal Cagata. After graduation, she will say goodbye to her foster family. She may enter Hale Kipa’s Transitional Living Program or another such program. She’ll have to find a job. She’ll have to learn how to make it on her own. Just like the rest of us.
“Guess what? I’m an artist. I designed Waipahu High School’s Hawaiian club shirts and name tags. Also, I designed Kapolei’s canoe paddling team shirts. I’m going to take art classes every day after school. I also want to be a cook and a massage chiropractor. One of these days, I will be famous.
I thought you were a great friend in my heart. In my heart I will always care for you, no matter what. I remember you taught me a great lesson, always respect and talk in pride no matter what! I’ve taken in so much pride and it was because of you! You made me smile when I was down.”
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