Part 7: Normalcy
READ: PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | Part 7 | PART 8 | PArt 9 | Part 10 | PART 11 | PART 12
Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:
It’s been a great few weeks for Emily. She’s really thriving at her grandparents and getting to see her mom more often and in a normal setting is helping her a lot. The CPS caseworker and I went to observe their first visit. It went really well so Mom can now visit as much as she wants as long as it’s supervised by the grandparents.
I had 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 a lot of 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 confessed that she was scared to see her friends again and didn’t want them asking her a bunch of questions. We talked through some responses and that she could simply say “We moved and now we’re back.”
I brought up her concerns in our 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 friends since she had mentioned before that she missed having sleepovers. Her grandparents’ loved the idea and were going to call the friend’s parents right away. Luckily the process for sleepovers is a lot easier and caregivers don’t have to go through CPS.
At the meeting we also talked about how to engage the lifetime network and move them to action 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 also 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!
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 or read a book before bed. The best part is that Mom gets to visit every week! Sometimes she comes two or three times and it’s the best.
The first time Mom came over, Maria and my caseworker came too. But after that it’s been just the four of us. Mom and I also went to a new counselor. They called it family therapy. I like getting to spend more time with Mom and talking with the counselor.
But now school is starting soon and I’m scared to see my friends again. I was so 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 didn’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 and they all thought a sleepover at my best friend’s might help. We used to have sleepovers at her house all the time and I missed them while I was away.
They were right! The sleepover 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 know I’m not home yet and I still miss Mom but I feel so much happier.
Emily is thriving in her kinship placement.
In Part 6 of Emily’s Story, her paternal grandparents completed a CPS background check and were approved by a CPS supervisor so that Emily could officially be placed in their home. Since moving in, Emily’s mom has also been approved for supervised visits at the grandparents’ home instead of the CPS office. She and the grandparents are working together to create a schedule for these visits. They can happen as regularly as every day to once a week as long as they are supervised and both parties are able to make them work.
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 believes it is best for them to continue to have joint sessions.
Strengthening the Lifetime Network
We learned in Part 3 that Emily’s caseworker and the other CPS workers in her area have been trained to practice Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE). CFE is an innovative partnership between CASA and CPS that is built around the need to meaningfully engage with family and other important adults, with the goal of creating a network of support for the child and family that will last even after CASA and CPS involvement ends.
Emily’s team has come together for a third family meeting to continue to discuss her biggest unmet need: “Emily needs, deserves and has the right to a stable, safe, unconditionally loving home, with family, forever.”
Family Group Conferences (FGCs) in areas practicing CFE are designed to ensure a more inclusive environment, and thus a more authentic commitment from those at the meeting, through the use of strategies such as:
- A semicircle room setup with no tables to encourage sharing,
- A transparent agenda and note-taking process, and
- A goal of keeping a 70/30 ratio of families to professionals in the room.
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 the case.
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? This provides opportunities for the network to offer support and fill in any potential gaps. In Emily’s case, her 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. She is scared they will ask her about where she has been. 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 until school starts 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 CPS supervisor and all adults in the home where the child will be staying would have to have a background check. However, thanks to legislation passed during the 84th Legislative Session, Emily’s caregivers – her grandparents – are able to approve normal childhood activities, like sleepovers, without additional approval from CPS. This is known as the reasonable and prudent parent standard and shifts the decision-making role from the caseworker to the caregiver.
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, like having a sleepover, helping her continue to develop emotionally during this difficult time.
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.