Dequante "DQ" thomas couldn't have imagined as a single, 27-year-old man, he'd know all the words to "Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen.
But when his 4-year-old-niece, Ashton, asks to watch it just one more time, he can't say no. He sheepishly admits she has him wrapped around her little finger.
Thomas isn't like many of his peers. He's driven. He's hardworking. he's a family man. He's mature beyond his years, and his tough demeanor seems to fade when Ashton and his nephew Katavian, 8 walk into the room.
Thomas’ life was turned upside down a year and a half ago when he found out his sister’s two children were being taken into Child Protective Services custody. He immediately knew what he had to do – “man up.”
“If it were my kids, I would have wanted my brothers or sisters to do it for me.”
He called his local CPS office to find out what he needed to do to bring Ashton and Katavian home with him. They referred him to Buckner.
“We had literally just started this kinship care program here in Longview when he called, and he was one of my first cases,” shares Linda Womack, his Buckner home developer and case worker. “To see a single uncle – a single, 25-year-old uncle – who wanted to do what he was doing was something I didn’t expect.”
Kinship care is a type of foster care that supports relatives or fictive kin – unrelated individuals who have emotionally significant relationships – of children taken into CPS custody. Studies have shown that kinship care helps minimize the trauma experienced by children who are removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.
Kinship families have to meet the same requirements as any other foster family, such as attending trainings, passing a home study and receiving a license. But oftentimes, it can be financially difficult for these families quickly to meet all the rules and standards of the state. That’s where Buckner steps in – supporting families by providing case management, financial support and connections to needed resources.
“I have to be honest, when Linda came to me and said, ‘He’s 25 and wants to take in his niece and nephew,’ I thought, ‘I need to meet this man,’” Debbie Sceroler, director of foster care and adoption at Buckner in Longview, says. “You really don’t hear about this kind of thing happening in our day and time.”
Despite his willingness to jump right in and welcome his niece and nephew into his home, Thomas admits it hasn’t always been easy. “It’s kind of been like a roller coaster,” he says, as he looks over his shoulder to see Ashton and Katavian skipping into the backyard.
“I mean, it was difficult at first, because I really didn’t know anything about kids. Nothing at all. I’m just glad they didn’t come when they were in diapers,” he says with a grin.
But now, the family has settled into their routine. After the children came to live with him, Thomas found a new job as a maintenance worker for their school district, which allows him to take them to school, pick them up and be with them during the summer. They eat dinner, do homework and watch cartoons or play outside every night together.
Giggly, affectionate Ashton is energetic and talkative. Big brother Katavian is much quieter, and he’s excelling in school, where is favorite subject is math. “I’m ready to go back,” he says, smiling and looking up at his uncle. “I’ll be in second grade.”
“It means a lot to me to be able to be a father figure to them,” Thomas says, as Ashton wanders over and wraps herself around his leg. “Every child needs a father figure in their life. There’s some things a mother can’t do that a father can. They all need a mother and a father figure in their life.”
As their father figure, Thomas sets a great example of hard work and perseverance for Ashton and Katavian. After a long application and selection process, Thomas learned that their family was chosen to receive a new home from Habitat for Humanity.
“I was always told when I was young that if you’re going to pay for something, you gotta try to buy it,” he says, standing inside his new home, which is still under construction. Bible verses dot the beams near the front door. “I’m tired of living in an apartment and paying rent when I can pay a mortgage and own the place one day.”
Katavian runs in from outside, pointing out the bedroom that will be his. He looks at his uncle and smiles.
“And plus, they can have a backyard, and I can get a trampoline for them to jump on,” Thomas continues. “I worry about them. I want them to be supervised and not running the streets with other kids.”
Ashton gets excited talking about her new bedroom. What does she want it to look like? Her face lights up. “Pink with bunnies!”
“DQ is very laid back and goofy,” Womack shares, as he shifts his gaze to Ashton, who has once again wrapped herself around his leg. “He’s very go-with-the-flow. Really, whatever I ask him to do, he does it and he does it quickly. He’s incredibly dedicated to these children, and there’s not a hurdle he won’t jump. He’s shown that time and time again through the CPS process, the Buckner kinship care process and now through the Habitat for Humanity process. All he does is for the wellbeing of these children.”
“It means a lot to me to be able to care for them,” Thomas adds. “Even if I wasn’t their uncle, I would still have the heart to take them in. They’re good kids.”
“He’s such an inspirational role model, and I’m extremely proud of him,” Sceroler says. “From day one, it has amazed me to see how he has stepped up to do whatever it necessary. It’s like a breath of fresh air to see a young man step up and take that responsibility, and for these children to have that in their lives. As DQ says, all children need a father and a mother, and he’s stepped up to fill that role.”
Thomas has been granted permanent managing conservatorship, which means he will be Ashton and Katavian’s legal guardian, and they’ll no longer be in CPS custody.
“They’re spoiled rotten, honestly,” Womack says with a laugh. “Here with their uncle, they have everything they could ever want and more.” n