Davion Only, 16, the Florida orphan who made international headlines last year with his public plea for a forever family, has recently been kicked out of a home in Ohio that had planned to adopt him.
According to reports, Davion got into a physical altercation with one of the children at the home and since then, he has been transferred back to Florida for treatment administered by the Tampa office of Eckerd Youth Alternatives.
This latest setback for Davion is one of many that he’s had in foster care. His father’s whereabouts are unknown and his mother is deceased. Since Davion’s story has been made public, he has attracted over 10,000 inquiries.
Kevin Campbell wasn’t one of those 10,000, but felt compelled to help Davion. On his own time, he utilized his skills as a world-renowned family-finding expert and located 52 of Davion’s relatives. Here he talks about those findings and his hope for children like Davion.
Todd: How did you find Davion’s relatives?
Campbell: Based on the information provided in the Tampa Bay Times article, I was able to get Seneca Search (public records) Reports for Maternal Relatives within a few hours. For Davion, I found 52 relatives, some of them who appear to work for the Department of Education in Georgia. Anyone can get information using Seneca Search at familyfinding.org
Todd: Will you send your findings to Lorita Shirley, director of the agency that oversees Davion’s case?
Campbell: I requested the searches so I could attempt to route them to the adoption recruiter for Davion mentioned in the press coverage. Through a former colleague, I was told they were delivered. I don’t have first-hand confirmation of them being put in her hands. To be clear, I only sought the reports in an effort to give the recruiter options beyond stranger recruitment.
Todd: What do you think Davion should do at this point? What advice do you have for him?
Campbell: Davion should be supported to build a team of adults from his family and outside his family who are not paid. This group, with Davion as a member, should take over decision-making and planning for his life.
Service agencies should be seen as just that: services. When Davion and his team value a service they will keep using it. When they don’t, they will work to make it better or terminate it. You can see the function of a network like this – it could provide protection from the unintended consequences of the foster care system. The most vulnerable child on the planet is one without a parent.
Todd: Have you been motivated to shoot an email or contact Davion’s relatives?
Campbell: It would do no good for me to contact the relatives; they and I would be excluded without the full support of the agency that is being paid to “care” for Davion.
Todd: What advice do you have for foster youth in Davion’s situation? Should a kid go to their local library and start researching online for relatives? Where could they start?
Campbell: Young people need greater protections in the system, which is the role of state legislature and Congress. The approach to permanency planning for older youth is based on planning for infants. It fails to place a value on relationships from the youth’s perspective or history.
Instead it says, ‘Here is the family in Ohio “we” found for you, forget everyone else you ever knew including your siblings.’ Many youth are using social media resources when they can get access with or without their caseworkers approval or knowledge. This reality needs to be recognized and made a normal part of the experience of foster care rather than a hidden part of it that youth have to navigate alone.
The challenge of youth searching on their own is that case workers say they don’t have enough extra time to support youth to maintain connections, they only have time for a person or family willing and able to become legal parents. This is probably true. It is also true that casework agencies are not paid or incentivized to sustain, support and strengthen relationships of affection and support except with parents or possible new parents. This has led to the creation of the loneliest people.
Todd: What are your final thoughts on Davion’s current situation?
Campbell: There is no evidence for a “treatment” for what has been done to Davion. The first step to helping him is to stop isolating and insulating him from relationships of affection and protection that he can expect to last a lifetime. I fear the quote from the agency about his need for “treatment” is that it is simply more isolation and time separated from a network of committed, permanent adults.
He needs a team of non-paid, caring adults, including safe relatives to be built, engaged in his life and sustained through efforts of the case management agency. Family finding is not a letter that gets sent to a relative asking if you want to become a parent. Family finding is a process of an authentic and sustained partnership with the family and community to keep youth connected and loved during the crisis of their lives, foster and residential care.