Saturday, November 25th, 2017

One family’s journey

DSC04646Danielle was a thirty year old mother who was working long, ten hour days, in order to provide for her children. Danielle believed in disciplining her children and raising children who would not conform to the stereotypes. Danielle, herself, grew up as a child “in the system” and believed that she was doing everything she could to ensure that her children did not have the same experience. However, on February 22nd, 2013, Danielle’s three children were removed due to verified findings of inadequate supervision and physical injury.  At the time of their removal from her care, Danielle verbalized feeling hurt, hopeless and lost, as she expressed “my children are my life.” Danielle was adamant that she did not hurt her children and was committed to her belief that her children were safe in the home and that all she did was discipline her children. She was determined to go through the trial process because she could not understand that the things that she was doing as a loving mother could also be deemed harmful to her children. The courts determined that Danielle’s disciplining methods had crossed the line into physical abuse.

At the time of removal, Danielle’s three children (Aidan, age 2; Clinesha, age 10; and Dequan age 11), were separated and placed in different foster homes. Danielle continued to provide clothing and hygiene products for her children at every visit, even though they were court ordered to be supervised at the Children’s Justice Center. Danielle ensured to never miss a visit with her children.  Even when Clinesha decided that she did not want to visit with her mother, Danielle would write letters her daughter, indicating “how much she loved her”. Danielle did not want her children to be separated and wanted them to get back to a “normal” life.  She was the greatest advocate for her children to be placed together with a relative in their family home, even if she was not allowed to live there.  Danielle was determined for her children to have some sense of security, and she continued to pay all the bills for her family, without residing in the home.  However, she was presented with new challenges when the designated caregiver was unable to continue providing care. Aside from foster care, the only remaining option presenting itself was the maternal grandmother who had disqualifying background history which would typically prevent the agency from the placing children in her custody. Nonetheless, Danielle continued to advocate in court and from outside supports to keep the children out of foster care, which she did.

Danielle had two different case managers in two short months and continued to feel helpless.  With her second case manager, Danielle was finally able to begin to establish “trust” that the agency could help her.  She demonstrated that she was able to understand and gain perspective on her situation.  It was at this time that Danielle became fully “engaged” with the agency and a partnership was developed to work toward reunification with her children.  Danielle gained new skills through parenting and anger management classes, and showed her case manager that she was able to put these new skills into practice.   She and her children engaged in family therapy, all while Danielle maintained her housing and income.  Danielle completed her court ordered case plan tasks by the time she attended her first judicial review, only five months after the removal of her children. Danielle, Dequan, Clinesha and Aidan were reunified on August 19th, 2013.

In June of this year, Danielle and her family were honored in Hillsborough County at Eckerd Community Alternative’s annual “Reunification Day” as case management staff, community members and other families gathered to celebrate their successes.  If you were to ask Clinesha and Dequan today, they would tell you how much of a difference they have seen in their mother.  All of the children describe their family life today as “happier” than they were before.  Although Danielle has her challenges ahead with two almost teenagers, she has shown that she can manage her family in a safe and loving manner. Danielle no longer turns to corporal punishment as a disciplining technique.  She has learned to utilize the giving of rewards and the withdrawal of privileges for her older children and has a rewards and time outs for her youngest son.  One of the most significant changes in Danielle is that she is no longer afraid to ask for help.  She understands that it is “okay” to count on others and use her support system (which is now stronger than ever).

Danielle would tell you today that she has no need to, nor will she ever, repeat this experience. Danielle’s case is now successfully closed.  Her home is filled with love and three children who are always laughing!  Danielle and her family are a true example of those deserving of a second chance.

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