“They didn’t just listen to him. They actually took notes and heard my child.”

Brittney Combs – with the help of the St. Joe’s team – learned how to restore the family she thought she had lost.

When the state placed her 12-year-old son Hunter in foster care in October of 2020, Brittney Combs vowed to keep her family together – and create a home where he could feel safe. Cortney Emberson, director of clinical services at St. Joe’s and the therapy team worked with Brittney to make it happen. She supervises the therapists who work in their foster and residential treatment program and their outpatient Behavioral Health Services Organization program. Also, Cortney helps oversee the therapeutic treatment of the kids who reside at St. Joe’s.

For 2.5 years, Brittney was separated from her son and feared she wouldn’t see him again. The road to rebuilding her family took some time. While in foster care, Hunter had six different social workers and struggled with talking openly about his feelings. But the attentiveness of the St. Joe’s staff, Brittney says, saved her son’s life. “If it wasn’t for Cortney, I don’t think I would have had Hunter back now, because she put in all the legwork. Hunter would say, ‘I want to go home. I miss my mom. Nobody wants to hear me. I need for someone to hear me,’ and Cortney and Megan [a previous therapist] sat down and they heard him. They didn’t just listen to him. They actually took notes and heard my child.”



Brittney understood that getting her son back started with learning how they could have a healthier relationship with each other. They had regularly scheduled phone conversations twice weekly and participated in family therapy, which became an important part of their healing process. “During family therapy with Cortney and Hunter, I learned a lot. I learned how to catch certain things you might ordinarily let slide by…I learned that you have to say, ‘hey let’s talk about it instead of brushing it off and allowing them to go on with their day. They held Hunter accountable for his actions but we would always go back and look at why he was being held accountable. We had to peel back the layers like an orange to get back to Hunter.”

Eventually, she and Hunter began having in-person visits which turned into overnight stays on the weekend. Then Brittney received the news she had been waiting for last summer when she learned that her son would be returning home. “I cried, because I was so excited. I had to keep it a secret, because I wanted to surprise him. He moved back in, and it was like he never left. He said, ‘Mom, we did it. I can go to a real school with other kids again. I can play Xbox again.’” Cortney says hearing the success stories of kids who have been discharged from their residential treatment program reaffirms the value of the work they do. “Seeing them meet their goals, grow, and heal from difficult life circumstances has been super rewarding.”



Since their reunion in July of 2022, Brittney says Hunter, who receives therapy twice a month, has gained confidence. “He is more vocal. He isn’t the quiet, shy child he used to be. He has grown into his own individual unique self.”

Being separated from Hunter, she explains, prompted her to learn more about child mental health issues, the judicial system, and become active in volunteerism. The two volunteer at Hope Village, an organization that provides resources for those who are homeless. “Hunter loves going to the shelters around Christmas and Thanksgiving. He likes serving plates and donating toys to the Salvation Army.” She adds, “When he came home, he was able to go to the St. Joe’s Picnic, and we did this for many years as a family before he was placed there.” “To be in the outside world and come back and play the games and donate a little money to St. Joe’s made Hunter feel wonderful. He said, ‘Mom, we are doing what we used to do when I was little’, and I said, ‘yeah, it’s never stopped with me.’

Thanks for sharing Brittney!



P.S. Making a difference in the lives of our SJ families and kids is simple: donate, become a respite provider, or a foster parent.

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St. Joseph Children’s Home
2823 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville, KY 40206
(502) 893-0241
(877) 893-0241