OKLAHOMA CITY - A local teen's suicide is sparking a national conversation about the foster care system and the effects of childhood trauma.

Nathan Smith's adoptive mother wrote a powerful obituary last month about her family's efforts to help him, but she says Nate came to them too late.

When Amy and Jeremy Smith took in Nate just shy of his 13th birthday, he had already spent more than six years bouncing between foster families and group homes. 

Amy says the unstable living environment kept Nate from overcoming the effects of his trauma, and OU Child Study Center professor Dr. Carisa Wilsie says his story is all too common. 

“It’ll break your heart to talk to them and to hear what it’s like for them to experience that many moves and to have that feeling of rejection, even though it’s not,” Wilsie says.

Despite his new family's efforts, Nate's mental health continued to decline until he took his life at the age of 19. 

His mother Amy, a licensed therapist herself, shared his struggles in an obituary that has now gone viral, calling Nate "a beautiful boy who could outrun us all but could not escape the trauma he experienced."

Amy believes if he had gotten behavioral therapy sooner, Nate may still be alive.

“It’s teaching them those emotional words and what to do when you feel that way,” Wilsie explains.

A lack of therapeutic care is something the OU team is working with DHS to address. 

Wilsie says more providers are now training in behavioral therapy, and caseworkers are evaluating foster kids during each visit to connect them to care. 

She says, “As a child is identified as in need of services, the caseworkers are supposed to be making those referrals immediately.

OU and DHS are also working to reduce the number of placements for kids in the system, something else Amy believes would have helped Nate. She hopes his legacy raises awareness about these critical needs for traumatized children and sparks permanent solutions for the future.

To learn more about behavioral therapy services available in Oklahoma, click on the following links: