Emily’s Story: A Year in the Life of a Foster Child

PART 6: Progress

READ: PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7 | PART 8 | PArt 9 | Part 10 | PART 11 | PART 12

Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:

Good news! Emily just moved in with her grandma and grandpa. I’m hopeful that this will be her last move until she’s reunified with her mother.

I really do think placing Emily with them is for the best. But I remember how hard she took her first move, and a huge reason for that was how sudden it all was – so this time, I wanted to make sure we were all as intentional as possible with planning the move, communication and easing her transition.

A couple of days after the Family Group Conference, I followed up with Emily’s grandparents to check that they were still onboard. It was important for me to have the chance to speak with them one-on-one – tour their home, catch them up on how Emily’s been doing so far, and make sure that they fully understood the requirements for caring for her. I also wanted to be sure they were aware that as of now, Emily is still not to have contact with her father, 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 imperative that they follow this rule.

I’ve also been in communication with the two schools. The timing of the move actually worked out well, since she’s on her summer break. Now she’ll be able to start back at her original school in August without having to worry about tests or unfinished classes at the other school. I’m working with the foster care liaisons for both districts to ensure her records are transferred, she receives credit for her classes, and her transition back goes as smoothly as possible. 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 and official. Once grandma and grandpa’s background checks cleared and their home assessment was approved, her foster parents, her caseworker, her grandparents and I sat down with her to explain what was going to happen. We knew that she would be glad to be back in a familiar home, closer to mom and at her old school, but we wanted to make sure that this time, she had the chance to say a proper goodbye to her foster parents and ask any questions she might have.

She’s all settled now, and adjusting well – she’s especially excited to be back with her old 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 in the last six months. I’ll recommend family therapy, and I think I’ll also bring up the idea of giving mom visits at the grandparents’ house, supervised by grandma and grandpa, rather than at the CPS office. A more normal family setting will be good for both of them.

Emily:

I’ve always liked visiting my grandma and grandpa. Sometimes, before everything happened, I’d stay with them, and we’d go to their house for holidays like Thanksgiving. Dad was always 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, but I’ll miss my foster parents. They were always nice to me… at least I got to say goodbye this time, and it didn’t feel like it was my fault.

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. After that, Maria and I got to talk to the judge in the other room again. Everything was a little less scary than last time. He asked me the same sort of things he asked me before, like how I was feeling about living with my grandparents and going back to my old school.

I keep telling Maria, the judge and everybody else that all I really want is to go home. I’m not home yet… but 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.


WHAT’S HAPPENING?

Emily has moved to a kinship placement.

When a child is removed from their home, rather than the child being placed in foster care, a relative or family friend will sometimes step forward to care for them – this is called “kinship care.” CPS is required to prioritize placement with kinship caregivers when possible.

You’ll recall that in Part 5, Emily’s grandparents expressed that they would have cared for Emily when she was initially removed from her home if they had been able – but now that grandma has recovered from surgery, they want her to live with them. Emily’s caseworker was required to complete a home assessment and a risk assessment, tools to ensure she will be safe in their care, within 15 days. As part of the process, Emily’s grandparents completed a CPS background check and a criminal history check. The caseworker then had to receive approval from their supervisor before officially placing Emily in the home. For more information, see the CPS Handbook.

Everyone involved in Emily’s case, Maria included, 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, or school of origin, 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.

Like the status hearing, the judge again hears from all parties involved in the case, such as the caseworker, attorneys, CASA volunteer, parent(s), and child if in attendance. 10 days prior to the hearing, DFPS is required to submit the Permanency Plan and Progress Report, in which the caseworker updates 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.

Remember, Emily’s permanency plan is currently reunification with her mother pending completion of her ordered services, with a concurrent plan of adoption by a relative. Now that Emily is living with her grandparents, she is back 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 care, the stronger their relationship will be, making a reunification more likely to be successful. So in addition to the other updates outlined in her court report, Maria has recommended to the judge that mom’s visitation plan be modified so that her visits can take place at grandma and grandpa’s house, supervised by them – a more natural setting than the CPS office. She has also recommended that they start attending family therapy together.

For more detailed information about what takes place at the initial permanency hearing, refer to the Texas Family Code.

Finally, the judge orders the next permanency hearing to take place within the next 120 days. Tune in next month for more of Emily’s story.*

*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.

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