Jun 12 2019

CASA Staff Share Favorite Stories of Reunifying Families: Part 1

June is National Reunification Month. Family reunification, or family preservation, is the most common outcome we have for children. 63% of the children’s cases we helped close last year ended with them reunited with their family. When safe to do so, it is in children’s best interest to stay connected to their families. You can read more about why this is in children’s best interest in our 3-part blog series on Reunifying Families. This month we’re sharing some of our staff members’ favorite stories of helping families heal and reunify.

We often find that families entering the child welfare system have no network of support around them, whether that’s family, healthy friendships, or something else. That web of support is crucial to being able to heal and reunify families, and to ensure long-term stability.

Family Finding Specialist Elizabeth Throop’s favorite story is all about that web of support. The mother on the case got hooked on drugs because of her boyfriend, and her little boy entered the system. All of her family lived out of state, so she had no one but the boyfriend who was pushing her in the wrong direction, and at first it seemed like she wouldn’t be able to get things together. About 6 months into the case, the realization of potentially losing her son sunk in, and the mom decided to leave the boyfriend and reach out to an old friend whose mother lived in the Austin area. This woman became that crucial support system for the mom on our case. She offered her a stable place to stay rent free for awhile, helped her secure a job and gave her tons of encouragement. This allowed the mother to focus on her son, her recovery, and working through the requirements she needed to complete as part of her CPS case. This woman also served as a great role model and mentor to the mom once the little boy was placed back with her for monitoring their progress.

While family reunification often involves CASA providing a lot of support for parents, the most important work we do throughout these cases is ensuring that everything is going to be safe and in the child’s best interest.

On top of this support from a close friend, the CASA volunteer on the case had helped many other families reunify in the past and was able to provide a lot of support, encouragement and oversight to make sure everything was moving ahead positively for the little boy. While family reunification often involves CASA providing a lot of support for parents, the most important work we do throughout these cases is ensuring that everything is going to be safe and in the child’s best interest.

On the final day in court everyone clapped for the mom and was so proud of the work she did to help her child and heal her family. Elizabeth says one thing she learned from this case was “don’t ever give up hope in a parent. There are many cases where you can tell a mom is struggling with her own trauma, substance abuse or lack of support. As they work through those issues and start to build confidence in themselves and support for their family, you can see the change in their demeanor and sometimes you don't recognize them. That was the case here. She looked like a new person.” Elizabeth wishes every parent in the child welfare system could have this kind of support: a role model parent; a living situation where parents have time to focus on services and therapy instead of being stressed by paying bills; and the knowledge that they have a safe home to go to where people care about and will encourage them. This is one of the many reasons that Elizabeth feels it’s important to find and engage family members and fictive kin on every case at CASA, and encourages all volunteers and staff to learn more about family finding*. Not only can it create a support system for children during their time in care, it can also build or strengthen that support system for parents during and after their case, which makes a big difference.

Sometimes it’s all about a major life change for a parent. Senior Child Advocacy Specialist Fran Markowski‘s favorite story is about how CASA supported one of these big changes that helped a family heal. The mother on this case was also dealing with drug and alcohol addiction (ChildTrends reports that a third of children entering foster care nationwide in 2017 were due to parental drug abuse).

The mother decided she needed to leave Austin and move to Houston to get away from the drug and alcohol issues that surrounded her family and find a new set of friends and circumstances. CASA supported these efforts, helping her get her new home set up and checking in on how the family was doing. The oldest child had been involved in the juvenile justice system in Austin, and we saw that the mom was able to give her more attention and support to keep her out of trouble once they got a fresh start. In their new home and city they found a supportive landlord they could work with and a new church community to connect to. They loved it there as a family, and this major life change was just what they needed to heal and rebuild.

Whether it’s a web of support or a major life change, finding ways to help families heal and stay together is a huge part of our work at CASA.

Whether it’s a web of support or a major life change, finding ways to help families heal and stay together is a huge part of our work at CASA (when it’s in a child’s best interest of course). We’ll be back next week with a special “Father’s Day” installation of our favorite reunification stories.

*Our next Family Finding training is Monday, July 22 for volunteers who are interested in bringing family finding techniques onto their cases, or for those who want to take on this specialized volunteer role at CASA. You must have already completed our primary Volunteer Training to take the Family Finding training.

2019 Advocacy June

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