May is Foster Care Awareness Month, so I wanted to take the opportunity to share the story of a wonderfully warm and caring Baton Rouge mom. Her name is Ashley, and several years ago, her children were removed from her care and placed in state custody. She refused to give up on her family, and fought to get her kids back. Here is her story, as told by Ashley:
At the time, I had my four oldest children. We didn’t have a place to live- we were in and out of shelters, and I couldn’t find a job. My youngest child’s grandmother called and made a report. I went into the office and told them all of the things that we didn’t have, and I asked for help. To the worker, telling them that I had so many needs said that I was neglecting my kids. I was asking for help, but the only way for me to get the help was to voluntarily put my kids into care. They went in, and I had to build a case plan.
I was only 21 at the time and needed support. The social worker is supposed to help you do everything on the case plan to help you reunify with your kids. Dealing with social workers is hard because they automatically look at you like you did something wrong, and they have to do everything for you. My first case worker helped me to get a job and to get a Section 8 voucher and eventually find housing. The case worker was overloaded and didn’t have the support to help all of the parents to take the necessary steps. I was calling my case worker every day, working to get everything together.
I went to every visit, spending an hour, unsupervised, with my kids. The kids were in a loving home, with foster parents who really cared about them. They were doing well in school, and the foster parents supported the kids and me through the process. They wanted me to get my kids back in 6 months, and I had everything I needed, but I knew that I just wasn’t ready yet.
One day, something changed. My case worker worked against me with the kids’ foster mom, trying to prove that I wasn’t progressing fast enough for them. In my case worker’s mind, the kids were in a great placement, where they were cared for and doing well. Even though I was smart, I still needed support. She would compare me to herself, and how she had it all together. She didn’t understand how I could voluntarily leave my kids in care, but she did understand that I didn’t want to get my kids back only to end up on the street again. I had to make the decision to walk by faith to make sure that my kids had what was best for them: that they were off the streets.
I worked with the supervisor because I wanted to work the case plan my way, not the way the foster parent and case worker wanted to. No one wanted to deal with the fact that I had complaints and concerns- since I was in this situation, they wanted me to just accept what they were offering. They refused to give me a new case worker, and my visits were moved to twice a month, supervised.
I now had to visit my kids in a room the size of a bathroom, all because my worker didn’t want to schedule my visits once a week. It was horrible. They pressed charges against me for abandonment and neglect. I finally had to go to a trial hearing in order to get a new case worker.
Once kids are in care for a year, they are moved to the adoption phase. The adoption case workers move toward adoption to get it over with. I could understand why they do that for the benefit of the child, but for parents in the system, there is no more help.
It wasn’t easy. The whole process lasted 18 months. I am happy to say that we are all back together now, and our family couldn’t be stronger. I am working and back in school. My kids are all on the Honor Roll, and they receive additional honors and awards each year. We have a house with a fenced-in yard for the kids to play in, and serve faithfully at the church that we attend.
The second case worker and the kids’ foster parents are still part of their lives. They support the kids, and spend time with them, even taking them to Disney World multiple times! Foster care wasn’t ideal, but my kids have benefited from lifelong relationships. It worked for us – we are back together, with a strong foundation, and the kids had the best experience that they could have.
I came out of it all with the an understanding of why so many people lose their kids to the system. If they were taken from you for something that you did wrong, you would definitely retreat from that. They hold things over your head, don’t return phone calls, but I did it because I just knew that I was going to get my kids back, no matter what it took.
Baton Rouge has very little crisis help. Shelters are often full, and the number of people who need help overwhelm the few resources available in the city. One of the things that I think would have been most helpful was support groups for the parents who were working to get their kids back. If we could come together with one another and the case workers, we might be able to see that we’re not alone.