ELIZABETHTOWN — Sometimes along the way as a Child Protective Services and Foster Program worker, there is an encounter with a case that truly touches the very fiber of your being. That was the case with Ava (her name has been changed to protect the privacy of the family).
Drucilla Wright, who oversees the foster car unit for Bladen County Department of Social Services, and DSS Director Vickie Smith, both said Ava’s case was successful and unique at the same time.
“Ava came into the system through Child Protective Services,” said Wright.
Ava had two sons and one older daughter.
“The oldest child came into our care, too but she didn’t stay long. She went with her grandmother and the two boys went to foster parents,” said Wright.
At the time Ava’s family began working with CPS and foster care, the multiple response system was not yet in place, but the concept of co-parenting was starting to be used.
Wright said that a case plan was developed and put into place to help Ava work through the issues of child neglect. Jill Sampson, Child Protection Services supervisor, said that a case plan is put into place for the children as well that would include such things as therapists for behavioral issues, counseling and so forth.
“Ava was successful at completing the case plan and the judge placed the children back into Ava’s home for a trial visit. Things were going well for a period and we don’t what triggered it, but the mom (Ava) relapsed in that she couldn’t provide a safe environment (for the children),” said Wright. “The children had to re-enter foster care. I called my supervisor and was advised to bring the children in.”
Wright said that, even with the trial placement in Ava’s home, the foster parents had still been involved with the children. Wright and Smith both said no one immediately noticed any problems until Wright’s visit on that fateful day during the trial placement.
Wright said that, upon her arrival, the children greeted her at the door, but it took Ava a while to appear. To this day, no one is really certain what happened to trigger the relapse, according to Wright.
Wright said as she was returning to the office with the children, she called the former foster family. Upon contacting the foster parents and explaining the situation, they enthusiastically agreed to take the children back into their home, said Wright. She added that eventually Ava relinquished her rights to the children to the foster parents which opened the door for an adoption to take place.
Smith added that Ava still co-parents with the foster family even though they have adopted her children.
“They (the foster family) open their home up to this family at holidays,” said Smith.
Both Smith and Wright said that Ava is very much involved in the lives of her children, though they no longer reside with her.
Wright said that it’s a hard struggle for the biological parents sometimes to work through and overcome their issues. Sometimes they are successful and sometimes they are not, she added.
“They know their child is getting a chance at life. Not going down the same path (the parents travelled),” said Wright.
Sampson said when they have to go and pick up the children and remove them from their biological home, it is a difficult ride and they often have questions and fears.
“It’s a hard ride back to the agency with the kids,” said Sampson.
All three said that foster care and reunification does not happen like it is depicted in movies and on television. There is a misconception that CPS just walks in the door and forcibly removes children. Sampson said that is a last resort. She said that the CPS worker will try to put services in place such as counseling, therapy, rehab, parenting classes and such as part of the case plan in the hopes the family can work through their issues without having the children removed from the home.
Some, like Ava, may suffer setbacks while others may not.
“We’ve seen many successes. Some come in and age out. We have had several who aged out and have gone to college,” said Smith.
Another success story
Nicholas entered the foster care program as a victim of child abuse.
“At first, his mom was not willing to accept what was happening to him. As things as were unveiled, she became very supportive of Nicholas,” said Wright.
Eventually, the father left the home and mom had a case plan developed for her, according to Wright. Some of the items in the case plan she had to complete were family counseling, gain stable employment, attend parenting classes, undergo individual counseling, and gain stable housing.
“Mom successfully completed her case plan. She created a job for herself. She did not miss any appointments. She got a car, she got a house …” said Wright.
She said that her visits with Nicholas were “very appropriate.” She brought things for him to do and brought snacks.
“She always asked how he was doing,” said Wright.
She added when she made unannounced home visits, mom would be right there and was always doing some type of activity with Nicholas.
“We placed the child back in the home. Three months afterwards, everyone felt comfortable,” said Wright.
She said the reunification for Nicholas went smoothly with no known relapse.
Wright, Smith and Sampson said there are numerous success stories out there regarding CPS and foster care programs. they all three said they had encountered different children who have traveled through their doors and are now back at home or have grown up and become parents themselves.
Sampson said when those children walk up and say “thank you,” it makes it all worth it.