Together We Rise – The Joy of Reunification

One SCJFS foster family, originally planning to adopt, discovers the importance of supporting a mother’s journey to reunify with her daughter and the joy of creating a lifelong bond with one special little girl.

This week’s Together We Rise article is brought to you in partnership with Stark JFS.

At times, it becomes necessary for a children to be removed from their home to protect their safety and well-being. SCJFS strives to place children with family members or friends prior to searching for a foster home. However, when this is not possible, placement in a foster home is needed. Foster care agencies, like SCJFS, work alongside foster families with the key goal of reunifying children with their birth families. Foster families provide a loving, safe environment for children until the reunification process can occur. Two foster parents, Christy and Michael, not only provided this type of home for a child in need, but through foster care, have gained two additional members to their family.

Christy and Michael have been foster parents for the past six years through SCJFS. They have four biological sons and chose to become foster parents to help children within their community. When they first began fostering, Christy and Michael were fostering a group of siblings and had seven children under one roof. Christy admits this was overwhelming at times, but she knew the good would outweigh the challenges. She states that fostering is a group effort, and she feels parents need fostered as much a children do. She says, “The whole family needs to know you are on their side, supporting them, and giving them a chance.” She has learned that there is a need for the influence of extended family members and friends in these situations. She believes it is “the entire unit’s responsibility to help the birth family.”

Christy and Michael are a prime example of how important it is for birth parents to feel supported while they are overcoming the obstacles required to regain custody of their children. Christy and Michael say they have always been open to reunification with birth families and have openly reached out to birth parents in the hopes of developing a relationship with them. She wanted those parents to know that her family wanted to see them succeed. Christy and Michael would talk to the parents and ask them questions about their children. Christy said she “put herself in the birth parent’s shoes, and thought if my children were removed, what would I want the family to know?”  So, she would ask questions about the child’s favorite foods and toys, and she would ask for advice on handling certain behavioral situations. She wanted to make the child feel secure in her home, and she wanted the birth parents to feel like they were still a part of the child’s life.

When Christy and Michael were then placed with a baby girl, Mollie, their hopes were to adopt her as they had always wanted a daughter, but Christy admits they did not truly understand the foster care system at that time. Christy reminisces about her first night with Mollie, holding her as a then five-pound infant. Christy’s heart broke for the both of them as she knew that her mother was at home, without her, not able to hold her daughter during the night. She then realized that this was not about her – it was so much bigger. She understood that children deserve to be with their parents, that Mollie deserved to be with her mom. That night, Christy wrote a letter to Mollie’s mother, Arista, letting her know she was being prayed for. Christy and Michael wanted her to know that they were in it for the long haul, and they wanted nothing more than for her to get her baby back. The family found themselves cheering on Arista and her goal of welcoming her baby home.

All families need and deserve support. And the families working through the process of regaining custody of their child simply need a bit extra. Christy, Michael, and Arista exchanged phone numbers and began communicating, which was the start of their relationship. Christy and Michael made sure to share stories of Mollie with her mother. Christy encouraged Arista through sending her pictures of Mollie to ensure she did not miss the important milestones. The foster parents talked with the mother about teething and bed time routines. Arista was able to connect with her baby through her foster mother. Arista said the pictures were what kept her going in her journey to get her daughter back. On her hardest days, these pictures inspired her to keep moving forward. Arista battled, overcame, and rose up for her daughter, and she states those pictures were her saving grace.

Although the Hall family was extremely supportive of the reunification of Arista and Mollie, Christy and Michael still had fears and doubts as they quickly fell in love with Mollie. The family knew it was their job to love and protect Mollie while she was in their care, but they weren’t sure how they were going to deal with the heartbreak of seeing her leave. The family had grown to love Mollie as their own, and they wanted to see her grow up. They wanted to continue being a part of her life even after the reunification process.

Then, they heard the words they had been waiting for. Arista told Christy and Michael, “You are her family, too. “Arista  did not want to end the relationship that had been built between Mollie, Christy, Michael, and their four sons.

On the day of reunification, Christy’s entire family was there to celebrate the reconnection of mother and baby. They are now a family unit raising Mollie together. Christy and Michael’s boys consider Mollie their little sister, and they love her dearly. The two families celebrate birthdays and holidays together. Christy and Michael babysit Mollie, and the family has never missed an opportunity to see Mollie. Christy feels Mollie wins in this situation because she gets the best of both worlds.

Christy and Michael feel the process of fostering has given them the opportunity to teach their sons many lessons. They have been able to teach them to be accepting of other people and their experiences. The parents want their sons to understand that families look different, and their family is no exception. They want them to see that love can go further than the walls of their own home.

Christy is pro-reunification because through her experience with Arista and Mollie, she has come to understand how important it is for children to remain in-touch with their families, when at all possible. Children do best when raised in a stable family setting, which can support positive effects on their cognitive, behavioral, and health outcomes. Christy realized she didn’t have to be Mollie’s mom; She just needed to be in her life in some way. Christy has seen families adopt, and the children still long for their birth family. She feels these connections with biological families are vital. Children are better able to understand who they are and where they come from when they are connected to their own bloodline, and she hopes that through hearing her family’s story, other foster families will become open to relationships with birth parents.

A child’s well-being is put at the forefront when everyone works together. Arista, being traumatized and apprehensive at the beginning, admits it took some time for her to become comfortable receiving help from the SCJFS agency. At that time, she wanted her baby back in her arms, and she had to learn to trust the process. SCJFS engages parents to help ensure they receive the services and supports they need while also maintaining the parent-child relationship and increasing the likelihood of reunification. Once Arista acknowledged that all parties were invested in her success, she could move forward and take the steps to regain custody of Mollie. As Arista got to know the the foster family, she felt she was able to open up. She talks about how Christy and Michael made her feel comfortable, and she soon realized that all the people involved cared for her child’s well-being. Arista says that the family was always there for her, and she could see right away how well they were taking care of her daughter.  She knew the family was in her corner. Arista states, “when you have that relationship with the foster family, there is a tremendous difference on how you get through the case plan.”

Mollie calls Christy and Michael “mom” and “dad.” Arista states that Mollie does not have a father figure, so she is happy she has Michael as a Christian role model in her life. And as for Christy, Arista feels it’s great for Mollie to have multiple moms. Christy states that she and Michael get to have a special relationship with Mollie as her godparents, and Mollie gets to have four big brothers to protect her. Love is what makes a family, and love is one thing Mollie will never go without.

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