PART 11: Thanksgiving
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Thanksgiving may be my new favorite holiday! I had two this year. First it was just 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 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.
Later, 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 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. But 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 Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE), Emily and Mom are feeling much more supported 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.
In addition, since Emily’s father continues to take 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 – 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 Group Conference:
“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 and she runs the risk of falling back into destructive patterns, the Lifetime Network will be there to intervene and offer help in whatever way 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 CPS cases end this way. Sometimes, for example, the judge must make the difficult decision to terminate parents’ rights, which means the child must stay in the care of the state until they are adopted or age out of care at 18. But whatever happens – whether the case ends in reunification, adoption or the state taking permanent custody of the child – CASA volunteers help ensure the child is safe, supported, connected, and has the resources they need to thrive after their time in CPS care.
Stay tuned for the next part of Emily’s story – her final hearing!*
*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.