“You could immediately see the tears of joy streaming down Peter’s face,” Kandis said. “He never gave up hope. Even when we didn’t think it was possible, he would be able to return home, he never doubted. At Cunningham Children’s Home, sometimes the impossible is possible.”

It was early one October day when Kandis, a caseworker at Cunningham, received word the courts and Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) were not only satisfied with the amazing progress Peter had made, but also the progress of his parents, and he was going to be able to return home at the end of the year.

Kandis coordinated a special in-person visit between Peter and his mother on the Cunningham campus. Peter was surprised and excited to see his mom and was overwhelmed with emotion by the news that he would be ushering in the new year at home.

Family has always been at the center of Peter’s motivation to work through his past trauma and learn to regulate his behaviors. His temper and aggression stemmed from a home life in which he had to take on a great deal of responsibility at a young age. His young parents struggled to balance working the nightshift and raising their family, so Peter, the oldest of four, often stepped in to manage the household the best he could at just 9 years old. This included cooking and cleaning, but also assuming the role of disciplinarian for his younger siblings, which caused problems once they were put in a foster care setting.

“Peter liked to be in control and easily became agitated with peers when they did not listen to him,” Kandis said.

When he arrived at Cunningham, Peter had to spend time in the quiet room daily with staff for the first two months because of his very aggressive tantrums. But with significant staff prompting and reminding, Peter learned to better focus on his own actions and how they impacted others, while letting go of what he couldn’t control. At Cunningham, he embraced and loved the structure and order of his daily routines and quickly won over the hearts of staff with his eagerness to help, clean and organize.

“At Cunningham, we don’t expect perfection, but we hold kids accountable to being a little bit better every day,” Kandis said “Peter really took that to heart.”

Peter was always counted on as the first to volunteer for activities like attending chapel, singing in the choir, spending time with pet therapy dogs, going on field trips, swimming or playing games in Special Therapies. He also participated in things like the spelling bee, sports and the annual talent show.

But, as much as he adapted to his new surroundings, he never lost his strong connection to home and family. He hung pictures of his parents and siblings next to his light switch in his room so he would always see them when he was coming or going. And on his supervised visits with his family, he always wanted to take them little gifts he made and was very thoughtful about what they might like.

As Peter prepared to leave Cunningham, which included telling Santa he wouldn’t be at Cunningham next Christmas and making sure he knew where to find him, he went to the Spiritual Life Center to pick out his quilt. A special Cunningham tradition, as youth prepare to transition to another place, they are given a quilt, hand-picked just for them, to take as a reminder of the warmth, safety and love they found here.

When Peter was selecting his quilt, he was dialed in on picking one his family would love and decided on a quilt that would match their living room so everyone could enjoy it. He beamed with pride as he held his new quilt that he would share with his family…at home.

*Our stories are real, but names have been changed to protect the privacy of our youth.