Emily's StoryWhat happens when a family becomes involved in the child welfare system?
A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF A CHILD IN FOSTER CARE
This is a fictional story based on real-life situations that many children in the Texas foster care system face. No confidential information about any real children or families has been disclosed.
Part 1: Emily's Removal from Home
A dragon lives in my house.
Dragons sleep most of the time, but when dragons wake up, they’re angry. They want to hurt. Sometimes it leaves a mark, but sometimes it’s a hurt you can’t see, that you don’t even have words for… those are the worst of all.
I don’t remember much of what the caseworkers said when they came and took me away. I know that they showed up to my school one day and asked me about the bruises on my arm. Whatever I told them, I guess they didn’t like it… because the next day, they came to my house, packed up some of my clothes, and took me away, just like that. At least they let me bring my sword.
They told me that they had to take me away to keep me safe. But people who have never fought a dragon don’t understand. You can’t just leave. You can’t just run. A dragon will always find you.
My mom was really upset when they came. She argued with them a lot. But it happened so fast. I couldn’t stop it. I told them it wasn’t her fault. Nothing that Dad did was her fault! Why didn’t they listen to her? Why couldn’t she come with me? When will I get to see her again? Did I do this? Did I say the wrong thing? I didn’t even get to tell her goodbye…
Sometimes, I wish I was a dragon! I’d let out all the things that hurt. All the things that don’t make sense!
But I’m not a dragon. I’m a little girl. And I’m all alone. I’m in a new house, far away, in a new place, with people I don’t know and who don’t know me. I have to go to a new school on Monday with kids I don’t know. What are they going to think of me? I miss my mom and my friends.
The dragon is gone, but everywhere I go, there are new dragons to watch out for.
I’m so scared.
Emily has been removed from her home and placed in the Texas foster care system.
It all started when Emily’s teacher called the Texas Abuse Hotline after noticing what appeared to be large bruises on her arm. Teachers, doctors and other professionals are legally required to report suspected abuse or neglect within 48 hours.
After a report is made, an investigator interviews the child, the parents and other people. If they determine that the child is not safe, a hearing is held, and the judge can grant the investigator permission to temporarily remove the child from their home.
In Emily’s case, the investigator determined that domestic violence was taking place in her home, and that her father had injured her.
When a child is removed from home, they are assigned a caseworker and taken to a temporary placement. This may be:
- the home of an approved relative (kinship care),
- a foster home,
- a cottage home,
- an emergency shelter, or
- a residential treatment center if they need more specialized care.
The ideal situation is one that will cause the least disruption possible in the child’s life, which most often means kinship care. In Emily’s case, she has been placed in a foster home because her caseworker was not able to locate a relative who was prepared to take her in.
It is a common misconception that children in foster care like Emily have been “saved,” and now no longer need any more help – this could not be further from the truth. Each of these children has experienced trauma, and is now suffering additional trauma and feelings of grief, loss and confusion after being suddenly uprooted from their family and home community. The judge found that Emily’s home was unsafe, but to her, it’s still her home, and the only one she has ever known.
Foster care is not the solution for children like Emily. It is a temporary solution, and the less time children must spend in foster care, the better. By law, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has up to one year to develop and execute a plan to get Emily out of foster care and into a safe, permanent living situation where she can begin to heal. The ideal outcome is reunification with her family if her parents complete the needed services and demonstrate that they can provide a safe environment. If this is not safe or possible, the next-best option is for her to live with other relatives or family friends. If neither of these options prove possible, a non-relative could adopt Emily.
Or, the state could take permanent custody and she could remain in foster care – which is not what we want for Emily or any kid.
“The dragon is gone, but everywhere I go, there are new dragons to watch out for.”
Part 2: Meeting Maria
Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:
After my first case as a CASA volunteer ended, I couldn’t wait to start my next one. The kid on my new case is named Emily, and she’s 11 years old. She was pretty shy when we met – but if I were in her position, I probably would be, too. None of this is easy on her. We didn’t get to talk long, but I’m hopeful that she will start to open up as we get to know each other better. I just have to show her I’m not going anywhere.
I also went to court for the first hearing in Emily’s case. I let the judge know that her foster home seems safe, and that she is starting to adjust to her new school. Her caseworker spoke too, and recommended that Emily remain in her current foster home for the time being. I also met Emily’s attorney, and invited her to come with me to our next visit.
It was a pretty short hearing, but all of it was clearly upsetting for Emily’s mother… having a judge tell you that your child isn’t safe in your home has to be devastating. But I can tell she loves Emily very much, and the good news is that she says she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get Emily back home, so we’ll be working with her caseworker and others to develop a plan. I hope we get the chance to speak with her father soon. For Emily’s sake, it’ll be important to see what we can do to repair their relationship.
We have a long road ahead of us, but I’m going to do everything I can to help get Emily back home safe.
I got to see my mom a couple of days ago! I didn’t get to go home, though – I had to sit with her in a tiny office with my caseworker. I hugged her and told her I missed her and asked when I’d get to come home. She said she didn’t know. I cried and told her I was really sorry, but she said I didn’t have anything to be sorry for.
Dad wasn’t there. I didn’t ask where he was.
Last week, a woman came to visit me at my foster home. She told me her name was Maria, and that she was my CASA volunteer. We talked for a little bit about school, and how I felt about my foster home. She asked me about my sword and I showed her how strong I look with it, but I didn’t tell her about the dragons. She said she’d be back to visit again soon.
But after that, something bad must have happened… because yesterday, my caseworker told me to pack up my things because I had to leave and go to another foster home. This one is in a different neighborhood. The foster parents are older, and there’s other kids. I still don’t really understand what’s going on, why I had to move again, and why I can’t just go home – and nobody wants to explain it to me. I’m tired of new places, new dragons, and new people asking me questions and telling me what to do. If it’s not all my fault, then why does this keep happening to me? Why won’t anybody tell me what’s going on?
I just want everything to stop changing.
When we last saw Emily, she had just been removed from her home and placed in the foster care system. Since then, a lot has happened very quickly.
1. Emily has been appointed an attorney and a CASA volunteer.
When a family is in crisis and becomes involved in the foster care system, a CASA volunteer may be appointed by a judge to advocate for the child. CASA volunteers are everyday community members who are specially trained to advocate for children and their families. Their first priority is to reunite the child with their family of origin. If that is not safe or possible, they advocate for the child to live with other relatives or family friends. After this, they work towards non-relative adoption.
Whatever the circumstances, CASA volunteers stay by the child and family’s side throughout the duration of the case, working to ensure their needs are met while they’re involved in the foster care system and that they are safe and supported. You can visit www.BecomeACASA.org for more information about what CASA volunteers do.
2. Emily saw her mother for the first time since she was removed from home.
According to current Texas law, parents must have the opportunity to visit their child no later than five days after the child enters state custody, as long as there are no significant safety issues or a court order prohibiting visitation. Generally, the first visit is supervised by a caseworker.
3. The first court hearing has taken place.
In all cases involving the removal of a child, the state files a suit affecting the parent-child relationship. This “adversary hearing” must be held within 14 days of the child being removed from the home, unless the court grants an extension of the removal. The purpose of this hearing is to:
- determine whether the removal was warranted,
- determine whether continued out-of-home placement is required, and
- obtain temporary orders for the protection of the child pending resolution of the lawsuit, if continued out-of-home placement is required.
After hearing the evidence and reviewing the circumstances of the case, the judge may decide to:
- Close the case and return the child home outright,
- Return the child home with monitored family reunification services, or
- Grant DFPS continued temporary custody over the child if the home is deemed too unsafe to return.
In Emily’s case, the judge ordered that DFPS retain temporary custody, and she stay in foster care for the time being.
4. Emily has moved to another foster home.
Just when Emily seemed to start adjusting to her foster home, the rug was pulled out from under her.
Typically, a foster family must give 30 days’ notice if they can no longer care for the child, but in Emily’s case, everything happened very suddenly due to an unexpected death in the family. Regardless of the reason for the disruption, and regardless of the amount of explanation given to the child, each placement move takes a negative toll.
Multiple moves are traumatic and can have a devastating impact on a child in foster care’s self-esteem, and their ability and willingness to attach to and build trust with the adults in their lives. Additionally, the more a child has to move, the more likely they are to fall behind in school.
We hope that Maria’s role as an advocate for Emily will start giving her some much-needed stability.
“If it’s not all my fault, then why does this keep happening to me? Why won’t anybody tell me what’s going on? I just want everything to stop changing.”
Part 3: Planning for Emily's Well-being
My new foster home is… okay. There’s another two kids here that are older than me and pretty noisy. Plus, I don’t like the food we eat. It’s really different from what I had at home. I’m just trying to keep to myself. I don’t wanna do anything that’ll make me have to move again.
There are so many other people that I miss besides my mom. I miss my grandma, my grandpa, my friends, even my neighbors. I don’t miss being around fighting and shouting… but I really wish I were home to help Mom. I always thought I could help keep the dragon calm if I just said the right things and had my sword with me, but I had trouble knowing what the right things to say were.
I’m trying to figure out how I should act in this foster home so I don’t get sent to another one. I don’t think I could handle it if I had to move again and start at another new school. It gives me a headache just thinking about it. Maybe Maria will know what I should do.
Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:
Emily and I had a good talk at her new foster home the other day. At first she was pretty quiet, like before. But when I asked how she felt about her new foster parents something in her demeanor changed – she got really sad. When I asked what was wrong, she asked me if the move was her fault.
My heart went out to her. I quickly reassured her that none of it was her fault, and it was nothing she did wrong. Sudden placement changes like this are so hard on kids – and to make things worse, no one told her why she had to move in the first place. I could tell that knowing the real reason she had to move made her feel a little better.
She misses home, naturally. She’s still hesitant to talk about her dad, and I don’t want to push her too much now that she’s just starting to really open up to me. Before I left, I reassured her that she could talk to me about anything, and that I’d be there for her every step of the way.
A few days later, we had a family meeting. Her mom, foster mom, caseworker, the meeting facilitator, and her grandma and grandpa on her father’s side were there, as was I. I’m really glad they were all able to make it on the weekend.
The biggest thing that came out of our discussion was agreeing on what we call Emily’s Biggest Unmet Needs Statement: “Emily needs, deserves and has the right to a stable, safe, unconditionally loving home, with family, forever.” This statement will inform all of our decision-making for Emily and her family, and keep us focused.
Emily’s mom has been pretty open and willing to work with us so far – I want to help grow a good support network around her. She needs to know she has people she can count on who are invested in her and Emily, love them, and want them to succeed.
Next time I see Emily, I’ll talk to her about going to court for her status hearing so that she knows what to expect. I’ll also talk to her about seeing her grandparents, and if she’s up for it, I’ll check with her caseworker to schedule a visit.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks, but I believe we’ve all made good progress!
Emily’s relationship with Maria is starting to grow. At the same time, the professionals and family members in her life are kicking into high gear.
Emily’s caseworker is tasked with creating a service plan for the family, a visitation plan, and setting up a meeting for all the professionals and advocates to create a service plan for Emily.
A family’s service plan describes the changes the parents need to make, and what services they need to participate in, to demonstrate that they can offer a safe environment for the child. When possible, the parents work together to complete a service plan – but because Emily’s mother is a survivor of domestic violence, she and the caseworker made the decision to do her service plan separately from Emily’s dad.
The child’s service plan details what services and supports will be provided while they are in foster care to ensure their social, educational, physical and emotional needs are met. The child’s service plan is informed by conversations with everyone involved, as well as three assessments the child must undergo within 30 days of entering foster care. The first is an emergency medical exam that must take place within the first three days. The second is the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) Assessment – an evaluation that gives professionals on the case a better idea of the trauma the child has experienced, services that may help, and existing strengths they can build on. The third is a thorough checkup with lab work, called the Texas Health Steps Medical Checkup.
The parents are given the option of inviting relatives and other people close to the family (known as fictive kin) to participate in their service planning. If they want to, the caseworker sets up a family meeting.
At this meeting, parents, relatives, friends, CASA, attorneys and others involved come together to discuss needs and strengths of the family, and ways they can offer support. In Emily’s case, her mother, her paternal grandparents, her CASA volunteer Maria, her foster mom and her caseworker attended her family meeting. Emily’s father was not invited to participate due to safety concerns.
After the family meeting, Emily’s mother and the caseworker decided that, in order to ensure a safe environment for Emily, her mom would:
- Undergo a psychological assessment,
- Participate in individual therapy, and
- Maintain safe, stable housing separate from Emily’s father and give proof of employment.
It was also decided that the caseworker would recommend to the judge that they continue a supervised visitation schedule between Emily and her mother – and that is not currently in Emily’s best interest to have visits with her father.
In a separate meeting, it was decided that, in order to be considered for further involvement in Emily’s life, Emily’s father would be required to:
- Undergo a psychological assessment,
- Submit to a drug and alcohol assessment and regular screenings, and
- Participate in individual therapy, as well as a batterer intervention program.
“Emily needs, deserves and has the right to a stable, safe, unconditionally loving home, with family, forever.”
Part 4: Emily Goes to Court
Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:
Emily’s caseworker and I paid her a visit the other day to see how she’s doing. First, we checked in on how she’s feeling about her foster parents. It’s not home, of course – but she’s starting to feel a little more comfortable with them. She mentioned that they often play board games together, and they like putting her drawings up on the fridge.
She’s having a little bit of a harder time with school, though. A group of kids has been picking on her and making fun of her cardboard sword. None of those kids have any idea what Emily has been through, but that doesn’t make their behavior okay. I’m going to mention the problem next time I speak with her teacher and see if she will keep an eye on things.
The last thing we talked to Emily about was attending her next court hearing. Court is a scary process even for grownups sometimes, so I wanted to make sure that she knew what to expect, especially since her dad will be there. She’s nervous about seeing him, and being in front of a judge. We reassured her that we’d both be there, as well as her mom, and that everyone else there, including the judge, only wants to keep her safe and do what’s best for her.
Her caseworker had to leave soon after that to work on her other cases, but I stayed to make sure Emily was feeling better about everything. I reassured her that it was okay to be nervous, and that going to court and talking in front of a judge was scary even for me. I told her that if she wanted, she could bring her sword if it would make her feel better.
After our visit, I finalized my court report in preparation for Emily’s hearing. I wrote that some sort of art or play therapy might be a good fit for her. I also made sure to mention my concerns about the bullying at school, and that I’d like to explore getting her grandparents more involved.
I’m so proud of Emily and how brave she’s been through all of this. She’s already faced too many dragons, and she’s going to face more. I’m going to be there for her every step of the way so that she doesn’t have to fight them alone. I also have a little surprise for her…
I went to court today. It was the first time I’d seen Dad since everything happened. I brought my sword and it helped me feel okay. Because everybody was there, facing Dad wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.
And Maria even made her own sword, just like mine! She wore it in her belt loop and it made me so happy.
Maybe the most important thing in fighting dragons is not doing it all by yourself.
The hardest thing was being in the same room while everybody was talking to the judge about me and my parents. It went on for a long time, and there were parts I didn’t understand. After a while, the judge took me into another room to talk in private. Maria came, too, so at least I didn’t have to go alone.
He asked me questions about my foster home, how I’m doing in school, about Mom and Dad. He said that they were both going to get help while I was in foster care. I told him I miss my mom, I miss my bedroom, I miss my old friends and my old school… I just want to go home.
I hope this is all over soon.
Children in foster care are generally required to attend their court hearings to ensure their voice is heard. Maria knows that this will be scary for Emily. That’s why she does everything she can to make her feel safe, even going so far as to craft a cardboard sword of her own.
The status hearing is held within 60 days of DFPS assuming temporary custody of the child. The purpose of this hearing is to review the details of the case, the child and family service and visitation plans, and the permanency plan (the plan for safely getting the child out of foster care).
After hearing from the legal advocates on the case, the judge speaks with the child. Emily decided that she wanted to speak with the judge privately, with Maria there.
The judge also speaks to each parent, ensuring they are aware of their service plans, and gives them the chance to ask questions and comment. Emily’s parents have both agreed and signed on to their service plans. As of now, Emily’s father is still not permitted visits with Emily. He will be considered for further involvement as long as he follows his plan.
After hearing from all parties involved in the case, the judge:
- Approves DFPS continuing with temporary custody of the child (or if it is determined that the child can safely return home, orders the child be returned home).
- May make orders related to the services either the child or the family are receiving, or may make modifications to and/or approve the visitation plan.
- Formally asks all parties present whether the child or the child’s family has a Native American heritage – these children are subject to different legal requirements under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
- Reviews and approves the permanency plan for the child, which is the plan for moving the child out of temporary care and into a safe and permanent living situation.
In Emily’s case, the plan is reunification with her mother pending completion of her ordered services, with a concurrent plan of adoption by a relative in the case reunification is not safe or possible.
“Maybe the most important thing in fighting dragons is not doing it all by yourself.”
Part 5: Emily Gets to be a Kid
I don’t really fit in at my new school. Sometimes, kids whisper about me. They figured out I’m not living with my mom and dad, and they spread rumors about it. They say I live with a “fake family.”
I miss my old school. I fit in there, and got invited to birthday parties and sleepovers, and played soccer… just like everybody else. I guess I’m just gonna have to get used to it. This new way that everybody looks at me, and treats me.
Because it’s not just at school – it’s different with my family, too. I get to see Mom pretty often, and Grandma and Grandpa every couple of weeks, but it’s just not the same as it used to be before they took me away. Everyone seems sad and worried a lot of the time. They try to hide it from me, but I can tell. All I want is for us to be happy again.
My foster parents take me to a therapist to talk about my family, and school, and the dragons. Sometimes talking about it makes me feel better, but sometimes it makes me feel sadder. Sometimes I don’t feel like talking at all. I’m always having to answer the same questions and tell the same stories over and over again to grown-ups. I know they are trying to help, but it seems like all they do is remind me of everything that’s bad.
Maria is different, though. I mean, we still talk about what’s going on, but it’s more than that. The best times are the times when we don’t talk about Mom and Dad, or bullies at school, or anything at all. We get to have fun – draw pictures, play board games, go out to the park… She talks to me about my favorite movies, and books, and remembers what kind of music I like. Sometimes she takes me out to ice cream, or pizza.
Right now, Maria is the only one who doesn’t make me feel different, or like I have to be serious all the time.
Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:
I’ve started to realize how important having fun time and taking breaks can be for me and Emily.
It started when I took her out for ice cream after her status hearing. That was a hard day for her, so I wanted to give her a little “mental health break.” We didn’t talk about what went on at the hearing at all. Instead, we tried to make each other laugh. I think it was good for her. She’s just a kid, even though she’s going through things that no kid should have to.
Ever since then, I’ve started scheduling “fun time” every other Sunday, and it’s been amazing to see her transformation. She’s starting to open up to me more about her fears, too, without me having to ask.
We also had some exciting developments at the second family meeting! First off, Emily’s aunt was able to join us. I could tell that having her there made her mom feel more encouraged and comfortable. She even agreed to attend a domestic violence support group, and the aunt offered to drive her there since transportation can be an issue. It was a big step for Mom, and we’re all so proud of her.
We also started discussing the possibility of Emily going to live with her grandparents for the remainder of her time in foster care. They would have taken her in at the beginning, but her grandmother had just gone through surgery. Now that she’s recovered, they’re very open to it. It’s a little complicated since they’re her grandparents on her father’s side, but I’m hopeful. Not only would this mean Emily was back with family, but they live in her old school district – so she could go back to her old school, which would do wonders for her.
We took big steps in the right direction at this meeting. We all agreed that Emily deserves nothing less than a safe, loving and permanent home where she can heal and grow. I truly believe she can have that back home with her mother when all of this is done – so finding ways to address the trauma they’ve both experienced, and getting a good support system in place, will be super important.
Maria is continuing to advocate for Emily in various areas of her life, including by keeping an eye on her emotional and social needs and helping to create a support system for her and her family.
Emily expressed that she’s been struggling with being treated differently now, something that many children in her situation deal with. Because they tend to move from foster home to foster home, these children constantly have to be “the new kid.” As if this weren’t exhausting enough, Emily’s frequently having deeply personal conversations with the professionals in her life. And, though she gets to see her family, she’s still not home, and the removal process has been taking a toll on her family as well.
As the advocate who has spent the most time with Emily and has the most in-depth understanding of her unique needs, Maria knows that none of this is fair to her, and she’s doing what she can to help her cope. By taking Emily out on fun outings, she’s taking her mind off of the situation, even just for a short time. As a bigger-picture solution, she’s advocating for Emily to go to live with her grandparents where, not only would she be back in a familiar home with family, but she’d also get to go back to her original school.
The Lifetime Network
A second family meeting has taken place in advance of the next hearing in Emily’s case.
Right now, the permanency plan for Emily is still reunification with her mother, as long as her mom continues to follow her service plan and demonstrates that she can provide a safe environment. The reality, however, is that children who are reunified or adopted face a risk of re-entering foster care if their family does not have enough support and the resources they need.
To address this, the family meeting was also centered on creating a lifetime network for Emily and her mother – a dedicated team of committed family and other adults who will work collaboratively to ensure that the permanency plan (reunification) is supported and successful. A lifetime network, just like its name implies, is meant to last a lifetime – even after CASA and DFPS involvement ends. The ultimate goal is to create such a network for the child and family; or if one is already in place, to strengthen it.
Emily’s mother is grappling with trauma from her abusive relationship. So right now, Emily’s lifetime network is focused on ensuring her mother has supportive, reliable people in her life and access to the help she needs to heal. The group has agreed that they will all check in with her regularly to see how she’s doing, and ensure that she’s keeping up with everything promised in her service plan.
Now that Emily and her mother are surrounded by family and other adults who care about them and are willing to offer support, it is much more likely that the plan for reunification will be successful.
“Right now, Maria is the only one who doesn’t make me feel different, or like I have to be serious all the time.”
Part 6: Back with Family
Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:
Good news! Emily just moved in with her grandma and grandpa. She said goodbye to her foster family and she’s just so glad to be back somewhere familiar. She is glowing. She even skipped when we went to the playground! I’m hopeful that this will be her last move until she’s reunified with her mother.
I remember how hard she took her first move, and a huge reason for that was how sudden it all was. This time, I wanted to make sure we were as intentional as possible with planning, communication and easing her transition. So, a couple of days after the family meeting, I followed up with Emily’s grandparents. It was important for me to have the chance to speak with them in person, one-on-one – visit their home, and make sure that they fully understood the requirements for caring for her. I also wanted to be sure they were aware that Emily is still not to have contact with her father for now, which means he would not be allowed to visit while Emily was staying there. It’s difficult for them, I’m sure, since he’s their son – but it’s crucial.
I’ve also been in phone communication with the two schools. The timing of the move worked out well, since she’s on summer break. She’ll be able to start back at her original school in August without having to worry about tests or unfinished classes. I’m talking with the foster care liaisons for both school districts to ensure her records are transferred, she receives credit for her classes, and her transition goes smoothly. She’ll have to change therapists, too. Since she’ll be back closer to her mom, her old therapist thought that they both might benefit from attending sessions together.
We didn’t bring the move up to Emily until all of these pieces were sorted out.
She’s all settled now, and adjusting well – she’s especially excited to be back with her friends in August. I’m looking forward to updating the judge at the permanency hearing. I feel really good about the progress Emily and her mom have made. I’ll recommend family therapy, and the idea of giving Mom visits at the grandparents’ house, supervised by them, rather than at the caseworker’s office.
I always loved visiting my grandma and grandpa. Their house is full of cool old things, like cuckoo clocks, and fancy dishes, and pillows Grandma embroidered. Sometimes, before everything happened, I’d stay with them, and we’d go to their house for Thanksgiving and Easter. Dad was always acting better when they were around, too.
So when they asked me if I wanted to move in with them for a while, I said yes. We had a long talk about it – me, and Maria, and Grandma and Grandpa, and my foster parents and caseworker. They said I’d get to see Mom more, and that I’d get to go back to my old school! I’m excited to be back closer to home and back with my friends. I’ll miss my foster parents, though. They were nice to me… at least I got to say goodbye this time, and it didn’t feel like I had done anything wrong.
I went to court again, too. It was a lot like last time, with everyone talking about my parents, and me moving in with Grandma and Grandpa. I still don’t like that everyone talks about me. But Maria always tells me we have to do court in order to make sure everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to do. After that, Maria and I talked to the judge in the other room again. Everything was a little less scary than last time.
I keep telling everybody that all I really want is to go home. Now that I get to spend more time with Mom and I’m gonna be back with my friends, it feels like things are finally getting better.
Emily has moved to a kinship placement.
When a child is removed from their home, a relative or family friend will sometimes step forward to care for them – this is called “kinship care.” DFPS is required to prioritize placement with kinship caregivers when possible.
Emily’s grandparents expressed that they would have cared for Emily when she was initially removed from her home if they had been able – and now that Grandma has recovered from surgery, they want her to live with them. Emily’s caseworker completed a home assessment and a risk assessment, tools to ensure she will be safe in their care, within 15 days. Emily’s grandparents completed background checks and criminal history checks.
Everyone involved in Emily’s case believes this move is in her best interest, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. After all, placement changes – regardless of the reason – always take a toll on children, so Maria is doing what she can within her role as a CASA to help Emily and her grandparents with the move. She’s also getting ahead of the transition by working with Emily’s therapist to develop a plan, and to ensure her transfer back to her original school goes as smoothly as possible.
The initial permanency hearing has taken place.
The initial permanency hearing is held within 180 days of DFPS assuming temporary custody of the child. At this hearing, the court reviews the status of the child, reviews the permanency plan and schedules the case for a final hearing. This is to ensure that a final court order consistent with the permanency plan can be rendered before the case is dismissed.
The judge again hears from all parties involved in the case. 10 days prior to the hearing, the caseworker is required to submit the Permanency Plan and Progress Report, in which they update the court on various areas of the child’s case, such as:
- Whether all relevant individuals involved in the child’s case have been located, contacted and served;
- Whether the child’s physical, emotional, social and educational needs are being met;
- The suitability and safety of the child’s placement;
- Progress towards the child’s permanency plan; and other significant events, issues and recommendations.
Emily’s permanency is reunification with her mother pending completion of her ordered services, with a concurrent plan of adoption by a relative in the case reunification is not safe or possible. Now that Emily is living with her grandparents, she is back with family in her home community, closer to her mother. Maria and the other advocates on the case know that the more quality time Emily and her mother can spend together while she is in foster care, the stronger their relationship will be, making a reunification more likely to be successful.
The next permanency hearing will take place within the next 120 days.
“I keep telling everybody that all I really want is to go home. Now that I get to spend more time with Mom and I’m gonna be back with my friends, it feels like things are finally getting better.”
Part 7: Starting to Feel Normal Again
Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:
It’s been a great few weeks for Emily! She’s thriving at her grandparents, and getting to see her mom more often in a comfortable setting is helping her a lot. Her caseworker and I went to observe their first visit. It went super well, so Mom can now visit as much as she wants as long as it’s supervised by Emily’s grandparents.
I’d suggested family therapy last month, and that seems to be going well for them. It’s more time for Emily and her mom to spend together while also talking about the past and future. I know Emily still carries some guilt and pain, so I’m hopeful that these sessions will help her realize that none of this was her fault.
At my visit, I asked Emily if she was excited about school starting soon. She opened up that while she was excited to see her friends again, she didn’t want them asking her a bunch of questions. We talked through some scenarios and responses, and that she could simply say, “We moved, and now we’re back.”
Then I brought up her concerns in the third family meeting. We all brainstormed and thought it would be a good idea for Emily to spend time with her friends before school started. I suggested a sleepover at her best friend’s house since she had mentioned before that she missed having sleepovers. Her grandparents loved the idea, and they’re going to call the friend’s parents right away!
At the meeting we also talked about how to engage the lifetime network and move them to continue to support Emily and her mom once the case closes. We wrote out a calendar of upcoming activities and discussed how everyone can stay involved.
I made a note to follow up with Emily’s school next month before classes start to make sure her records transferred correctly. Overall it’s been a positive few weeks for Emily, and I am feeling really good about how her case is going.
I love living with Grandma and Grandpa. It’s almost like being at home. Grandma always remembers my favorite snacks, and we all play board games and read a book before bed. The best part is that Mom gets to visit every week!
The first time Mom came over, Maria and my caseworker came too. But after that it’s been just the four of us – me, Mom, Grandma and Grandpa. Mom and I also went to a new counselor together – she said seeing her is called doing family therapy. I like getting to spend more time with Mom and doing anything called “family.”
But now school is starting soon, and I’m nervous to see my friends again. I was excited at first, but what if they ask a lot of questions? What do I tell them? I told Maria I was scared. She said I don’t have to talk about it with them if I don’t want to. She also gave me some ideas on how to answer just in case. She must have talked to Grandma and Grandpa too, because they scheduled a sleepover at my best friend’s house. I missed our sleepovers while I was away.
It was so much fun! It felt just like it used to before everything got turned upside down. The best part was she didn’t even ask questions!
I still miss home, but I feel so much more hopeful.
Emily’s mom has been approved for supervised visits at the grandparents’ home instead of the caseworker’s office. They can happen as regularly as every day to once a week as long as they are supervised.
Emily and her mom have also started family therapy, as recommended by her CASA volunteer Maria and approved in the initial permanency hearing by the judge. The counselor first met with Emily and her mom together, and agreed that it’s best for them to continue to have joint sessions.
Strengthening the Lifetime Network
Emily’s team has come together for a third family meeting to continue to discuss progress towards meeting her biggest unmet need: “Emily needs, deserves and has the right to a stable, safe, unconditionally loving home, with family, forever.”
In this meeting specifically, the team focused on strengthening the lifetime network for Emily and her mother. Because Emily’s mom has been successfully meeting all of the steps of her service plan, reunification is very likely. This meeting was to ensure that the network understands their role in supporting Emily and her mom after the case closes and all of the professionals are out of their lives.
Together, the team created a Calendar of Support that lists upcoming activities like birthdays, school functions and outings. They then discussed questions like: Who is invited to these celebrations? Who is there to watch Emily if she is sick and her mom has to work? Who will help out to give Mom a break? Emily’s grandparents and aunt discussed how they will play a role in her life moving forward.
Maria also used the meeting to bring up Emily’s concerns about seeing her old friends again. The team decided to set up time for Emily to visit with her friends before school started. This way they could talk more privately if Emily wanted to, and she wouldn’t have to continue to worry about potential confrontations leading up to school starting next month.
It was also suggested that Emily have a sleepover at her best friend’s house. Under past laws, any sleepovers would have to be approved by the DFPS supervisor, and all adults in the home where the child would be staying would have to have a background check. However, thanks to legislation supported by Texas CASA and passed during the 84th Legislative Session, Emily’s caregivers – her grandparents – are able to approve normal childhood activities, like sleepovers, without additional steps.
Seemingly simple experiences, such as having friends and spending time with them, can vastly improve a young person’s disposition and development. Friendship and socialization are essential in maintaining health and psychological well-being. Emily is now better able to experience normal childhood activities, helping her continue to develop emotionally during this difficult time.
“I still miss home, but I feel so much more hopeful.”
Part 8: Back to School
Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:
Emily started school again and was so happy to be back at her old school with her friends! It’s great seeing her life starting to return to normal. Being surrounded by people she knows and trusts makes a big difference.
The week before school started, I checked in with her teacher and the administration staff to make sure her records had transferred over and she was in the right classes. Everything looked great! Assuming she keeps up with her classes this year, we don’t have to worry about her being held back. I had a long conversation with her teacher and caught her up on the basics of Emily’s situation. I also gave her a heads up about the bullying at her previous school. The teacher seems very supportive, and I’ll continue to check in regularly for updates.
The best part of school starting was that Emily’s mom got to take her on her first day. Mom’s supervised visits were going so well that we started unsupervised outings. When I last saw Emily, she couldn’t stop talking about the fun things she’s been doing with her mom, including back-to-school shopping. These visits and the continuation of family therapy have been successful, and we all feel confident that the next step should be weekend overnights with Mom.
During my visit with Emily, we did start having tougher conversations about her dad. His substance abuse treatment program provider has been in communication with Emily’s caseworker, and he seems to be making a lot of good steps forward. He also plans to be at the next hearing and is interested in talking with Emily. I started by telling her she may see him soon at the hearing and asked how she felt about that. She’s still very confused and conflicted about her feelings for him. I’ll continue to talk with her about him here and there, and update her therapist on the situation so that she can also work on preparing Emily for the next hearing.
I’ve never been this excited to go back to school before! I couldn’t wait to see my friends again, and my mom got to take me on my first day. It was almost like before everything happened. I saw my old teacher and hugged her, and she said she had been thinking about me the whole time I was gone.
I’ve gotten to see Mom a lot more lately, and we get to go out for dinner together and swing at the park and get ice cream. She even took me shopping to get my school supplies and new clothes. I love it when it’s just the two of us. As good as things are with Grandma and Grandpa, I just wish I could go home already. My caseworker said I’ll get to spend the night at home soon. I guess that’s a start.
Maria also talked to me more about Dad. I don’t really like talking about him. When I think about Dad, I just see the times he got angry… the times when the dragon woke up. I know I have to see him soon, but Maria promised to stay with me the whole time. That makes me feel better.
She also said that I don’t have to talk to him if I don’t want to. I’m not ready to talk to him yet.
In Emily’s case, this includes information like:
- The fact that Emily is currently in foster care and living with her grandparents,
- Her mom has visitation rights and will be dropping her off and picking her up on occasion, and
- Emily’s caseworker’s contact information.
One of the many roles of the CASA volunteer is that of “education advocate.” The fact is, the odds are stacked against children in foster care, including when it comes to educational success. Foster placement changes tend to lead to school changes, causing many children to fall behind. This reality, paired with the fact that these children are expected to keep up their grades and behavior while processing multiple traumatic experiences, means that they need a dedicated advocate by their side who will provide caring support, explain their situation to school personnel and fight for their rights when needed.
Emily’s mom has been approved for unsupervised visits for two hours per week. During these visits, she is allowed to take Emily on outings without her grandparents or anyone else on the case. After a couple of weeks of these visits, the natural progression will be to graduate to overnight visits – her mom will be allowed to take Emily for the weekend, assuming she continues following her service plan. This is a typical scenario for cases like Emily’s, where the permanency plan is reunification.
These visits will be reported back to the judge at the upcoming permanency review hearing. At this hearing, Emily’s caseworker, Maria, Mom’s attorney and Dad’s attorney will provide updates on the case, and each will make recommendations for next steps. Emily’s father will also be in attendance. He has not been on the same pace as Emily’s mom but does seem to be making steps forward.
With that in mind, Maria has started prepping Emily and gauging her response to her dad. She plans to include Emily’s therapist so that both of them can prepare her for next month’s hearing.
“When I think about Dad, I just see the times he got angry… the times when the dragon woke up. I know I have to see him soon, but Maria promised to stay with me the whole time. That makes me feel better.”
Part 9: Going Home
It’s finally happening! I get to go home with Mom! I’ve been staying on the weekends, and it’s been the best.
At the same time, it was kind of hard going back at first. I thought I would be happy, but somehow, it didn’t really feel like home anymore… too many bad memories. But then Maria took me to the CASA office, and they had a big room of toys and blankets and other stuff. I got to pick out a new comforter for my bed. Then Mom and I went to the store, and I got to pick out a new paint color for my room! Now my room feels like mine again.
Maria took me to my hearing. We talked about me seeing Dad, just like I’ve been talking to my therapist about. I was nervous, but she made me feel comfortable and told me I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to. When we got to the courthouse, I saw him talking with Grandma and Grandpa.
All the bad memories are still there. But the good memories are there, too. Like when we’d watch cartoons on the couch together, and how he used to make me laugh when I was sad.
Before the hearing, I got to talk to the judge in his chambers. I told him about weekends with Mom and how school was going. I had to wait a while after that, and then Maria, my caseworker and Mom came to tell me that I was finally going home! And he said I’d be seeing Dad soon at the therapist’s office. It’ll be hard, but I’m not so scared the way I was. I think I’m ready to talk to him.
Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:
Emily’s second permanency hearing went great! I reported to the judge that she was still keeping up with school, and that the unsupervised overnight visits with her mom were also going well. Her attorney, caseworker and therapist agreed that a full monitored return should be the next step.
Emily’s dad was also at the hearing. Her therapist and I have been talking with her more about seeing him, to make sure she’s ready. We’ve been going at Emily’s pace as much as possible, and helping her process things. He’s been making more progress in completing his services and will likely get to visit her soon. I know she’s still conflicted, but when we saw him at the hearing, she didn’t seem scared or anything – more just sad. I think a monitored visit with Dad at her therapist’s office will be the best place to start.
At the end of the hearing, after I gave my statement, the judge ordered the visit with Dad and announced that Emily would be returning home with her mom! Her mom was so happy, and being there when she told Emily she was coming home was the best part. Everyone had tears in their eyes. A few weeks of monitored return, and hopefully we will be able to close the case before the holidays!
The second permanency hearing for Emily’s case has taken place.
This hearing occurs within 10 months of an open case – 120 days after the initial permanency hearing. Permanency hearings must take place a minimum of every 120 days while the child is in state custody. In Emily’s case, since there are plans for family reunification, this will likely be the last permanency hearing before her final hearing, which will take place within the one-year anniversary of her time in DFPS custody.
At this hearing, Emily’s attorney, caseworker, CASA volunteer and therapist were all in agreement for a full monitored return home with her mother, and presented this information to the judge. They also proposed to the judge that, since Emily has indicated that she’s ready, she should have a visit with her father, at her therapist’s office.
The judge ordered the monitored return. This means Emily can return home to live, full time, with her mother, with DFPS maintaining temporary custody and her caseworker checking in from time to time. He also ordered Emily’s first visit with her dad at the therapist’s office and reiterated that he cannot have contact with her mom.
Emily continues to process her relationship with her father.
Emily’s father has taken steps in a positive direction by attending Batterer’s Intervention and Prevention class, and counseling. Make no mistake – there is no excuse for his past actions. However, if he continues to acknowledge his abusive behavior, demonstrate progress and maintain sobriety, there is a good chance that visits with Emily can continue.
Maria and Emily’s therapist are continuing to talk with her about her dad – they want to be as open with her as possible, gauge her feelings toward him and be on the lookout for any changes in those feelings.
Now that she has worked intensely with her therapist, Emily has started to reflect on the good memories with her father rather than just the bad. After all, just like the fact that Emily’s home was the only home she had ever known when she was removed; her father is the only father she’s ever known – and despite his damaging behavior, she still has a connection with him. If the first visit goes well, DFPS and CASA will work with Emily and her therapist to develop an ongoing supervised visitation schedule (likely supervised by Emily’s grandparents) so that Emily’s mother does not have to have contact with him, but Emily can build a new, healthy relationship with him, if possible.
Emily is home with her mother!
Though Emily is now home with her mom full time, she remains in the legal custody of the state until the judge dismisses her case. Dismissal will likely happen when the judge decides reunification has been achieved and her mother has been granted custody. Other reasons a case can be dismissed are:
- Permanent custody is transferred to someone besides the state,
- the child is adopted, or
- the child ages out of foster care at age 18.
Coming home and being with her mom is all Emily has wanted! But at the same time, she is having to grapple with some trauma from her time in foster care – leftover feelings of transience, and a lack of a sense of place, control and ownership. Her mother picked up on this and talked with Maria about what to do, and Maria proposed that they get her some new things for her room and let her repaint it. This, both literally and symbolically, gives Emily a fresh start – as well as a renewed sense of belonging in her home and her personal space.
“Her mom was so happy, and being there when she told Emily she was coming home was the best part. Everyone had tears in their eyes.”
Part 10: Healing Relationships
Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:
I just got off the phone with Emily’s therapist. Today was Emily’s first visit with her dad since being removed from home. The therapist said the visitation went well overall. Her dad has continued to make a lot of progress – he is acknowledging his past and still working to maintain sobriety. They talked about what had happened, and he showed understanding of Emily’s experiences. Based on this visit and the therapist’s opinion, Emily’s caseworker and I are recommending a bi-monthly visit with her dad at her grandparents’ house.
I had talked with Emily yesterday in preparation for the visit with her dad. I think the buildup and uncertainty of what could happen was causing extra stress for her. We went over how her therapist and grandparents would be there by her side the entire time. That helped give her some comfort.
We also talked about how she was feeling being back with her mom. She is so happy and relieved to be home! I can hear the difference in her voice and see some of the brightness back in her eyes, and know that she is exactly where she needs to be to grow and thrive. She also couldn’t stop talking about Halloween coming up. She picked the perfect costume for herself – a dragon-slaying knight!
I talked with my dad for the first time since everything happened and I was taken away from home. I thought I would be mad at him, and I was… but it also felt nice to see him smile, and have him call me “Em” and make his old faces at me. I guess I did miss that a little. He showed me pictures of his new apartment and his new dog.
He looked different. Better. Not so angry. He said he was sorry for everything and that none of it was my fault. He said he’s trying hard to be a better dad for me and hasn’t gotten drunk or even had anything to drink in months. I was glad Grandma and Grandpa were there with my therapist to make sure I felt okay.
Grandma and Grandpa have been around a lot more at home, too. They help Mom a lot, and it’s fun getting to spend more time with them. Grandma helped make my Halloween costume and showed me how to sew on her sewing machine! When she asked me what I wanted to be for Halloween, I told her I wanted to be a knight. I always feel safer with my sword. She is even helping me make a helmet out of construction paper.
Mom and my aunt are taking me trick-or-treating with my friends, and I’m going to get so much candy! I’m so happy being home with Mom and at my old school. Now that I’m seeing Dad, too, it’s really starting to feel like normal again. No, not normal… better. More like it used to be, but without the problems. Without having to worry about the dragon.
First Visitation with Dad
While Emily’s dad was originally slow to start making progress with his service plan, he is now actively engaged in taking steps in a positive direction. He is midway through his course, called a Batterer’s Intervention and Prevention program, offered by the local domestic violence center and required of him by the judge. In that class, he meets with a group of other men and a therapist for two hours every week. The program focuses on accountability and understanding that his actions were about the use of fear and violence to control others. He is learning different ways to manage his feelings and how to take responsibility for what he has done. He’s also learned about the impacts of trauma on children, and is motivated not to injure Emily any further.
After months of therapy, and support from Maria, Emily was finally ready to see her dad.
All parties felt the visit went well and have started to develop an ongoing supervised visitation schedule for Emily to see her dad. The visits will now take place bi-monthly and will be supervised by her grandparents. He will continue to have no contact with her mother.
Network of Support
Emily has been back at home with her mother for the past month. At Emily’s second permanency hearing, the judge ordered a full monitored return home. The monitored return has been going well, and the family support network has played a large role in this. Both Emily’s grandparents and aunt have continued to help support Emily and her mom during this transition. The aptly named lifetime network means all people involved are actively working toward one goal: “Emily needs, deserves and has the right to a stable, safe, unconditionally loving home, with family, forever.”
One fun and useful thing that the team did a few months ago was create a calendar of support that lists upcoming activities like Halloween, birthdays, school functions and outings, and who is invited to these celebrations. Everyone put the events in their own personal calendars, and Emily’s mom put a big calendar on the kitchen wall so Emily can see what is coming up, too. By supporting Emily, the team is supporting her mother and creating a lasting network that will continue to help Emily and her mother after DFPS and CASA’s involvement ends.
“I’m so happy being home with Mom and at my old school. Now that I’m seeing Dad, too, it’s really starting to feel like normal again. No, not normal… better. More like it used to be, but without the problems. Without having to worry about the dragon.”
Part 11: Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving may be my new favorite holiday! I had two this year. First it was Mom, my aunt and me. Mom made my favorite mac and cheese and mashed potatoes. She said she wasn’t sure how she was going to be able to make all the food, and I could tell she was sad about it. I told her it didn’t matter to me what we ate… I was just happy to be home with her.
But then some of the people from our church came over and gave us some turkey and stuffing. Then Maria surprised us with a pumpkin pie! It made Mom cry, and when I asked her why, she said we were lucky to have people who care about us.
The next day, Grandpa picked me up, and I had my second thanksgiving at Grandma and Grandpa’s with my dad. I’ve seen him twice since that time at my therapist’s office. It’s been pretty good… it’s a lot better seeing him at Grandma and Grandpa’s house because it’s just family, and we can play games and stuff. He also helped me with my math homework like he used to. Grandma and Grandpa did most of the cooking, but they put Dad and me in charge of dessert. We made Funfetti cake!
Sometimes, though, I still think about everything that Dad did that hurt us. I can tell he does too… but he’s trying to be better. He is better. I believe in him.
I think things are going to be okay.
Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:
I can’t believe Thanksgiving is already over! Emily’s case is moving fast. The final hearing is coming up next month… sometimes it feels like I was assigned to her case yesterday. She’s grown so, so much during our time together. Being at home with her mom has been going amazingly. She’s more relaxed… more smiley… back to just being a kid.
At the beginning of the case, Emily felt like she had no one. Seeing her now, happy and surrounded by people who love her, reminds me why I do what I do.
After my visit with her a few weeks ago, I talked to her mom about the holidays. She expressed some concern about how expensive all the food can be. Plus, she wasn’t sure she should cook so much just for her, Emily and her sister. I reminded her about what we talked about in her family meetings – about how it’s okay to ask for help, and the benefits of taking advantage of community resources. I encouraged her to talk to friends from their church. The community cares so much about them, and I knew they would be more than happy to help in any way they could. I also asked her if it would be okay if I dropped by with a special surprise… pumpkin pie, Emily’s favorite!
Emily’s visits with her dad have been going pretty well, too. She seems to be enjoying them more and more. He’s still staying sober and making great progress. His drug and alcohol screens are coming back negative, and he got an apartment closer to Emily’s grandparents so they can continue to work on their relationship. It’s pretty small, but it’ll be enough room for Emily to visit when that time comes.
For now, though, Emily is doing great. I’m happy the case is wrapping up, things are feeling more normal for her, and she’s back home for the holidays.
Emily and her mother are feeling safe, connected, loved and supported.
Thanks in no small part to the help of their extended family, Emily and Mom are feeling much more stable than they did when she was removed from home 11 months ago. At first, Emily’s mom was a little worried about Thanksgiving – since it was Emily’s first holiday back home, she wanted to make it special, but she was unsure whether she’d be able to afford it. But Maria reminded her that she’s not alone: she’s surrounded by people who love her and Emily, and want to support them. Her mom expressed the money worries to the family and her church, and they decided to make it a potluck.
As long as Emily’s father continues to take positive steps forward both personally and in his relationship with Emily, and he has the support of her grandparents, supervised visits will continue. Although their relationship is improving, that doesn’t erase what he did to hurt Emily and her mother. Emily will always have to grapple with his past abuse; but new, positive memories like spending the holidays with him, Grandma and Grandpa will help her heal.
Emily is on track for her permanency plan – permanent reunification with her mother.
Let’s take a moment and revisit the Biggest Unmet Needs Statement that was created for Emily during her first family meeting:
“Emily needs, deserves and has the right to a stable, safe, unconditionally loving home, with family, forever.”
Now that she is surrounded by a committed, trusted community of friends and family, Emily’s mother will be able to meet these needs – and provide Emily the type of home environment that will enable her to heal and grow. And if times get tough, the lifetime network will be there to intervene and offer help in whatever ways needed.
CASA volunteers like Maria are trained to advocate first and foremost for reunification with a child’s family whenever possible. Maria sees how much Emily and her mother and father have grown over the course of these 11 months and is encouraged. She knows reunification with her mother is the best thing for Emily.
The reality, though, is that not all cases end this way. Sometimes, for example, the judge must make the difficult decision to end parents’ rights, which means the child must stay in the care of the state until they are adopted, or age out of foster care at age 18.
But whatever happens, CASA volunteers help ensure the child is safe, supported, connected and has the resources they need to thrive after their time in foster care.
“At the beginning of the case, Emily felt like she had no one. Seeing her now, happy and surrounded by people who love her, reminds me why I do what I do.”
Part 12: The Beginning
Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:
Emily is a different kiddo compared to a year ago. It’s been so wonderful to watch her grow, and to have the opportunity to play a part in her journey!
Her mom has grown, too, in so many ways. This year has been difficult for her, but now that she’s worked through things with the help of an amazing therapist, and she’s surrounded by supportive friends and family, I have no doubt that she’s committed to being the mother Emily deserves.
At the final hearing, Emily stood proudly by her mother the whole time. When the judge called on me, I reiterated the comments I made in my report on my home and school visits, and I recommended Emily remain with her mother and that primary custody be given to her. I also recommended for her father to have supervised monthly visits. My final recommendation was for the court to dismiss the case.
After commending her mom on her dedication to providing Emily with a safe and stable home, the judge asked Emily if she was “ready to go back home forever,” and her answer was a resounding “Yes!” She and Mom were absolutely glowing.
It’s been a privilege, and a life-changing experience, to advocate for Emily and her family. As I told her time and time again during our visits, this was just a difficult chapter in her life – not her whole story. She has a long, happy, exciting life ahead of her. It was hard to say goodbye… of course it was hard to say goodbye. But there are so many more children like Emily who are dealing with dragons of their own. Children who need to know that they don’t have to face them alone.
I will let my supervisor know that after the New Year, I’ll take a vacation, then I want to be assigned to another CASA case. I can’t wait to find out what wonderful kid and family I’ll get to walk alongside next.
I’m really home, for real this time. The judge said so. And I don’t have to go back to him, I don’t have to keep talking to a bunch of strangers anymore, don’t have to worry anymore… it’s all over. And just in time for the holidays!
The first thing Mom and I did to celebrate when we got home was bake cookies, just like we used to this time of year before everything happened. We made my favorite, chocolate chip (with extra chocolate!), and her favorite, peanut butter. We made way too many, but Mom said we could share them with my aunt, and Grandma and Grandpa. We put them in a box and tied a ribbon and bow on.
It feels so good to not have to worry anymore about getting taken away.
I’m gonna miss Maria, though. I could always trust her, when Mom couldn’t be around. She would listen to me; and, when I didn’t feel like talking, she would spend time with me anyway, and make me feel safe and wanted. She told me we have to say goodbye now, but I can always call on her by remembering her in my mind and heart. She said that she was going to be an advocate for another kid who needed help. I hope that kid is okay, and I bet that if Maria is with them as their CASA, they will be.
I know there are still dragons out there, and I haven’t seen the last of mine. But I’m not scared like I used to be. I’m not alone anymore.
Because there will always be dragons… but there will always be brave heroes, too.
Nearly a year to-date after Emily was removed from home, the final hearing in her case has taken place – and the judge has issued his final order. Emily is home!
In the final hearing, judges often hear from witnesses and review evidence to determine whether the parent(s) followed their service plan. Based on that evidence, they decide whether the child should be returned home and/or whether the parental rights should be restricted or terminated. In Emily’s case, all evidence and recommendations from CASA and the caseworker pointed to Emily’s mother being able and willing to provide her with a safe environment to grow and thrive.
So, after ensuring Emily’s voice was heard as well, the judge ordered a full return – reunification with Mom. And since visits with her father have been going relatively well, he also ordered continued monthly visitations between Emily and her dad, supervised by a responsible party chosen by her mom.
Though the case is now closed, Emily’s mother can, of course, choose to continue any combination of the services she has received (therapy, her domestic violence support group, etc.), and is encouraged to do so. The same goes for Emily.
In cases like Emily’s, DFPS is legally given a one-year timeline after a child is removed to get them out of the foster care system and into a permanent home, which, whenever safe and possible, should mean reunification with their family. Unfortunately, not all children’s cases are resolved within the one-year timeline. It is possible for a case to be extended by six months, but this only happens in special circumstances.
In addition, DFPS can be granted what’s called Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) – permanent custody – of the child if a permanent placement still has not been found. This is also known as long-term foster care. Children can be in long-term foster care with or without termination of their parents’ rights, depending on each unique situation. The state, however, is not meant to be a permanent parent – and children in its long-term care face an increased risk of negative outcomes like mental health issues, juvenile justice system involvement, unemployment and homelessness. The good news, though, is that CASA volunteers can also be appointed to these long-term cases. They can also remain a child’s advocate after PMC is granted to the state. A CASA can help keep these children safe, reignite the urgency for getting them out of foster care and into a permanent home, and ensure that they stay connected with their community and family in whatever ways possible.
Though this chapter of her life is complete, Emily’s Story is anything but over. The possibilities are endless! Maybe she’ll attend college. Maybe she will grow up to become an artist, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a social worker. Maybe she will have a family of her own, and maybe one day she’ll reflect on Maria’s role in her life and decide to become a CASA volunteer. Whatever Emily’s future has in store, she will grow up secure, connected and empowered – in a stable, safe, unconditionally loving home, with family, forever.
“I know there are still dragons out there, and I haven’t seen the last of mine. But I’m not scared like I used to be. I’m not alone anymore.
Because there will always be dragons… but there will always be brave heroes, too.”