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

PART 9: Returning

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

Emily:

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 to our house at first… I thought I would be happy, but it didn’t really feel like home anymore. 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 got to pick out a new paint color for my room! Now my room feels like mine again.

Maria took me to the 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 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 were in agreement 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 was the best part. A few weeks of monitored return, and hopefully we will be able to close the case before the holidays!


WHAT’S HAPPENING:

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. The same requirements as for the initial permanency hearing apply. Permanency hearings must take place a minimum of every 120 days while the child is in CPS conservatorship. In Emily’s case, since she is in the Temporary Managing Conservatorship (TMC) of the state with plans for family reunification, this will likely be the last permanency hearing before her final merits hearing, which will take place within the one-year anniversary of her time in DFPS custody. More on that later.

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 that, since Emily has indicated that she’s ready, she should have a visit with her father, monitored by her therapist at her therapist’s office.

After hearing from them and the other parties involved, the judge ordered the monitored return – this means Emily can return home to live, full time, with her mother, with DFPS maintaining temporary conservatorship 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 Mom.

Emily continues to process her relationship with her father.

Emily’s father has continued to take steps in a positive direction. Make no mistake – there is no excuse for his past actions toward Emily and her mother. However, if he continues to acknowledge his past abusive behavior, demonstrate progress and maintain sobriety, there is a good chance that visits with Emily will continue.

That is why Maria and Emily’s therapist are continuing to have discussions 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 abusive 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 unforgivable behavior, she still loves him. If the first visit goes well, CPS 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.

Emily is home with her mother!

Coming home and being with 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 that she didn’t expect – leftover feelings of transience, and a lack of a sense of place 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 ownership of her home and her personal space.

Though Emily is now home with Mom full time, she remains in the legal custody of the state until the judge dismisses her case. For her, with the way things are going, 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 Managing Conservatorship (PMC) is transferred to someone besides the state, or
  • the child is adopted, or
  • the child ages out of care.

Tune in next month for the next part 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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