SAN ANTONIO — There's no place like home for the holidays and that is exactly where Ellie, Daisy and J.P. Seastrunk will be spending Christmas this year with their newly adoptive family.
The 6-year-old twin sisters and their 10-year-old brother were adopted in October after spending three years in the foster care system.
"I pretty much fell in love from the moment the idea was put in front of me and we made a commitment to go ahead and say yes. We became licensed foster parents and then, eventually the children were placed into our home," said Katherine Seastrunk, the adoptive mother.
Seastrunk and her husband Brian began fostering the children in November 2019. The couple described their journey to finalizing the adoption different than their first adopted son, Isaac. The Seastrunks adopted the 6-year-old immediately after the boy's biological mother gave birth to him.
"I was just so happy to have this gift and have a new life," Seastrunk said.
She said welcoming three new children home felt just as amazing, but there were some challenges.
"The behaviors weren't quite what we expected them to be, in that, they seemed to struggle more. Things like a normal bed time routine and sitting still at dinner time or using good manners. Some of the behaviors were typical for them but not for a child in their age range. Basically, I noticed behaviors that I would have expected in a much younger child," she said.
Seastrunk said the pandemic also created greater stress and left her unable to tap into some typical resources she would for help. Feeling overwhelmed and unprepared to address the behavioral and social issues they were seeing led the family to a breaking point.
"I made a really tearful late night phone call to my case manager and told her I wasn't sure if I could do this. The adoption had been delayed and I was almost just relieved because I was so unsure," said Seastrunk.
The case manager suggested she reached out to the Texas-based nonprofit called Chosen. The organization equips parents with life-changing tools to help children heal from abuse and neglect.
"Parent coaching involves trauma-informed techniques, tips, counsel, accountability and encouragement to parent in a way a parent has never seen before. To also act as an agent of healing for their child to overcome the adversity and losses they have experience in the past," said Jenni Lord, CEO of Chosen.
Lord said the Seastrunks aren't the only ones faced with this challenge. In 2020, the organization helped families across 20 states touched by the welfare system through telehealth.
"Foster care is isolating and then add a pandemic on top of that and it becomes even more isolating. The mental and behavioral health needs of these children are essential to address and if you don't help them heal from the hurt they've experienced those behaviors are going to be exasperated," Lord said.
A troubling trend she wants to diminish as Texas is ranked high in the nation for having children in foster care. Lord said there are about 30,000 Texan children in the system, with about 5,000 in Bexar County.
"There is a foster crisis," she said.
However, seeing the transformation the Seastrunks have made gives her hope. A feeling that is mutual as well for the family.
"I knew right then that this was going to be okay," said Seastrunk.