By Emily Witt
At CASA, we’re passionate in our belief that children thrive when they’re surrounded by family members and feel connected to their heritage. We are proud to directly support reunification through our Family Finding and Early Family Engagement programs, as well as through our unique volunteer model.
Today, we want to share our conversation with two CASA Program Managers, Jen Cosman and Jessica Chihuahua, who provided insight as to why CASA’s commitment to reunification is in the best interest of the children we serve.
Why is reunification in the best interest of children when safe and possible?
Jen C.: “We all have connections to our family of origin, and these connections go beyond just the parent/child relationship. Reunification allows kids to maintain ties with their culture, history, and extended family. Kids love their parents, even if their parents may have flaws or need extra support. Most importantly, children tend to do better in life when they can maintain ties with their family.”
Jessica C.: “This is their family—the people who know them best. These are connections they’ve had since birth and they’re the people who are going to be able to support them and really know where they’re coming from for the rest of their lives.”
What are some misconceptions or concerns you’ve heard about reunification?
Jen C.: “I tend to hear parents being demonized when a child is removed from a home. There’s not always an understanding that when children are removed, it’s typically due to parents having a lack of support. Providing support and education can mitigate the concerns in the first place. There’s an assumption that if a parent is facing addiction or has mental health issues, that that will always be the case. That’s very much not true.”
What are some common barriers to reunification?
Jessica C.: “Usually, it’s access to services, especially when there’s also a language barrier. For example, there are not very many Spanish-speaking service providers in Travis County. So, for our parents who are only Spanish speaking, they often experience long waiting lists, and that can be an obstacle in reunification. Sometimes, it’s lack of transportation, or lack of support from other people in their lives like family or friends.”
Jen C.: “Support is a big one, specifically family support and extended family support. There are financial barriers. There’s a lot of support provided to foster families, and if there were the same level of support given to biological families, removal of a child and placement in foster care might not even be the first step. Lack of accessible services is also an issue. Especially in more rural areas, there’s a lack of service providers that can give parents what they need to learn how to be safe and protective caregivers for their children.”
How does the CASA model help to support reunification?
Jessica C.: “I think specifically with our volunteer model, and particularly at CASA of Travis County, our Early Family Engagement program allows us to have conversations about healthy connections and support from the very beginning of a case. Our volunteers express to families that CASA values family, and because we’re a volunteer-based organization, our volunteers have the capacity to really dedicate themselves to family finding.
We work to identify a family’s strengths from the beginning, and by letting parents know that we value family connections, we’re empowering them to work alongside us to help identify healthy connections for the children we’re serving.”
In closing, both Jen and Jessica have reunification stories they’d love to share with you in honor of National Reunification Month:
Recently, two children were reunified with their biological father, and soon after, he was also able to take in their half-sibling who he had raised as his own child. This dedicated father jumped through so many hoops, and originally, the state wasn’t going to let him adopt the children because of his past record. He worked very hard to gather friends, family, and other community members who knew him well to write character reference letters, and eventually, he was awarded supervision, which then resulted in the family's adoption journey beginning. There's another very touching part of this story: He and his children have remained close to the foster family that the children stayed with while in care. The foster parents even act as respite care for the children while the father works a second job to support the household. They’re like one big extended family now! The dad has said many times that he loves CASA, and our support created a village that allowed him to overcome many obstacles and become a safe parent.
We served a Spanish-speaking family, and the parents were separated. We had concerns for both parents, and the father became very dedicated to engaging in services. He acknowledged the concerns we had, especially with alcohol use. He was able to work with a Spanish-speaking team at CASA, and after he’d completed his services, we were proud to advocate for his children be placed with him, including the oldest child who was not his biological daughter, but he saw as his own. In court, he did an amazing job explaining how he engaged in services, what he was learning, and how we could apply those resources to be the best father he could be. CASA worked as a team to make sure he had that support, and we closed the case with all three children being placed with him. This joyous outcome wouldn’t have been possible without constant communication with the family and continuous support from various family members!
You can be there for a child who needs you by getting involved with CASA! Join our growing community of dedicated advocates today.
2021 July Advocacy