Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

News and Events

After Much Heartache and Hardship, a Young Girl Finds Redemption and Love

During a visit to Boys Town’s home campus in Nebraska, Emma met with Father Steven Boes, Boys Town’s National Executive Director

When staff members at Boys Town North Florida first met 14-year-old Emma Slater, they instantly took a strong liking to their new "bouncing ball of energy."

Emma's cheery disposition, however, belied a dark and tumultuous past.

Born in China, Emma was abandoned by her parents when she was just 3. A police officer rescued her from the streets and she was taken to an orphanage. Sadly, the orphanage staff neglected and abused her.  

Emma longed for someone to love her, and at age 7, she was adopted by an American family and brought to the United States. But two years later, the family dissolved the adoption and gave her to another family. That family also adopted Emma, but later tried to unsuccessfully pass her off to several other families. All of this occurred outside the child welfare system, so Emma had no one to protect her or advocate for her.

Eventually, Emma was placed in a locked residential facility. By the time she finally entered the formal foster care system, she was carrying a long list of trauma-related behaviors no foster parents could deal with and the despairing belief that she was unlovable.

In 2014, Emma arrived at her Boys Town North Florida Family Home in Tallahassee with severe attachment issues, academic failures and unresolved anger problems. If that weren't enough, the teen also suffered from speech and language impairments due to a cleft palate.

Despite the many disruptions and disappointments she had experienced, Emma was excited to be at Boys Town. Tonia Westerfield, director of the site's Family Home Program, called Emma's first two months a "honeymoon."

But then it all unraveled.  

"As the new school year approached, Emma felt intense anxiety," explained Tonia. "Those fears, combined with other stressors, led Emma to hurt herself and engage in scary behaviors."

Emma's combativeness grew more frequent and severe, and she was especially volatile when her Family-Teachers® (the married couple caring for her in the Family Home) corrected misbehaviors and provided consequences.     

"Emma equated love with material possessions. So when things were taken from her as a consequence of her negative actions, she thought love was being taken away, too," Tonia said.

Changing Emma's polarized, black-or-white thinking took time and patience. To help her broaden her thinking and understand the true meaning of love, her therapy included giving all of her personal belongings to Tonia. To earn them back, Emma had to demonstrate she could be a good "sister" to the other girls in her Family Home. That meant treating them with respect, helping to take care of the home and not putting herself or anyone else in danger.

Emma accepted the challenge, grateful that Boys Town didn't give up on her. After months of intense therapy and skill teaching, Emma earned back all her prized possessions. She even became a role model to others in the program.   

With her behaviors in check, staff turned their attention to improving Emma's academic performance.

Emma was below her grade level and failing her classes when Boys Town contacted a local academy that offers specialized instruction to students with speech and language challenges. Emma was accepted into the school and thrived in its single-classroom environment, earning straight A's and advancing multiple grade levels.

While Emma progressed socially and academically, her caregivers developed a plan to have her cleft palate repaired. Fortunately, Boys Town National Research Hospital® in Omaha, Nebraska, helps thousands of children who are deaf, hard of hearing or, like Emma, have speech and communication problems.

After multiple trips to "Omahoma," as Emma called it, a team of craniofacial specialists designed a treatment plan to correct her condition and successfully performed reconstructive surgery.

Now, the volatile, emotionally damaged girl who came to Boys Town two years earlier had blossomed into a poised young lady who laughed easily, shared generously and loved unconditionally.  

As Emma's journey of personal growth and physical healing continued, fate intervened in the most heartwarming way.

During a review of Emma's case file, a letter from one of her previous foster parents, Janice and Ervin Slater, was discovered. It described the heartache they felt over not being able to provide the level of care Emma needed, along with the hope that she might someday return.    

"In Emma's therapy sessions, she often talked about the couple and described them as very kind. She felt a lot of remorse for how she acted in their home," Tonia said. 

Boys Town reached out to the Slaters. Without hesitation, the couple made the five-hour drive from their home in Dade City the very next day.     

The emotional reunion was such a success that the Slaters, with Boys Town's consent, began the adoption process. Six months later, Emma had finally found what had so painfully eluded her… a forever family. And this time, forever means forever.