Success Stories

The Highlands’ Tough Love

Austin had a difficult childhood. He was adopted as a toddler by his foster parents, who later divorced. There were allegations of physical abuse to Austin and his adoptive brother by his mother’s boyfriend. Austin and his adoptive brother were sent out of state to live with their father. Austin’s father became physically abusive and introduced Austin and his brother to drugs. When Austin and his brother began to exhibit aggressive behavior towards their father, he could not control them and requested help from the state. By the time Austin was a teen, he had spent several years in group home. He was later sent back to Florida to live with a family friend.

Parental rights were terminated for Austin’s adoptive parents which led to Austin exhibiting rebellious behaviors. He had a difficult time adjusting. Austin once again resorted to violence and drugs, becoming involved with DJJ and the Teen Court. Austin acknowledged that he had a problem with drugs and volunteered to enter a residential rehabilitation program for teens. Over the course of five months, Austin struggled to overcome his addictions. He graduated the program successfully and became a role model for other teens at the facility.

Following his discharge from the rehabilitation facility, Austin wanted a place to call home but was adamant that adoption was not the path for him. He finally agreed to meet the Highland family because they were the biological parents of three teenage children and his desire to be free from the foster care system. Both Steve and Jennifer Highland were determined to help Austin achieve permanency and to adjust to living in a family again. They solicited the help of his brother, who had aged out of foster care, and together they helped Austin work through additional DJJ requirements and school issues. Although Austin tested Steve and Jennifer’s stamina, they continued to be loving and firm parents to him.

The Highlands’ consistent tough love approach and holding Austin accountable for his actions as a member of the family slowly warmed his heart. Austin agreed to adoption with the family and finalization occurred on his 17th birthday. In the year since finalization Austin has made even more strides. He completed his GED and is now enrolled at Withlacoochee Technical Institute in the Auto Mechanics program. Austin has a family who loves him and accepts him for who he is, at the same time, encourages and helps him to become all he can be.