During the month of June, we recognize the achievements of parents and communities who work tirelessly to reunify families. Click here to read our blog about National Reunification Month and why reunification matters. Hear about reunification from an attorney’s perspective at this link.
Sing the song of Reunification: ‘A Mother and Child Reunion’
Families don’t like being separated. For any reason. However, there are times when it is in the best interest of children to be relocated while the parents work to improve the family environment and offer a healthy, stable home.
Since Family Support Services became the lead agency for Pasco and Pinellas counties in 2022, there has been a 28% reduction in child removals from the prior year and in fact, more children exited out-of-home care than who entered. Children reunified with their parents was 48% overall and an increase from the prior year.†
Each family situation is unique and involves a team of determined, passionate people to make reunification happen. The road to reunification can sometimes be long and winding.
Sherri* and her daughter Caitlyn* have gone down this road. After several years of being apart from her daughter. Sherri was passionately dedicated to create a home where Caitlyn could return to. She worked tirelessly to meet goals that were set to show she was a loving parent who could provide a safe and stable home environment for her teen daughter. Sherri expressed softly, “It’s a long story filled with hurt and heartbreak…” But with the help of a team that believed in her, the course of her life was about to change.
Sherri thinks back on how it all started. “I take full accountability and responsibility for everything that led up to the point of losing my daughter,” she says. Sherri’s story of grit and goals was highly praised by her attorney, Patricia Alten, her adoption case manager, Barbara and a former case manager. Sherri had their full support and they helped her get to the point where she could be reunified with her daughter. She ran up that hill with gusto.
Caitlyn also had her own hill to climb: She experienced a foster home that wasn’t a fit, facility care and eventually night-to-night housing. This chapter of her life did take away her confidence for a time. “I didn’t know one day to the next where I was going, where I was going to shower, when I was going to eat, Caitlyn says. Shifts in environments can make anyone feel this way.
Without their realizing, forces were at work in the system to bring this family back together. “At the time that I found out what was happening to Caitlyn, within days Patricia contacted me.”
Once Sherri and Patricia joined forces, a motion was filed for Sherri to have her daughter back with her. The judge, attorney and case managers reviewed the case and determined it was in the best interest of Caitlyn to be with her mother. While the first goal in any case is reunification, that was no longer an option for Sherri because her parental rights had been terminated. Only because of a new statute allowing for the reinstatement of parental rights under narrow circumstances, and because Caitlyn had not yet achieved permanency, was there now hope and opportunity for a new outcome.
Sherri thinks about the people who helped her become reunified with Caitlyn. “My former case manager is solely responsible for keeping me together during this process of getting Caitlyn coming home and that woman has literally carried my family, even after the fact that she is no longer a case manager. She still stands by my family and supports us. A genuine case manager.”
“The sunny side is she’s home, she’s happy, she’s healthy and she’s thriving,” Sherri joyfully proclaims. “And she got a puppy!”
For Caitlyn, her goal is “…to be the best version of herself” and to “…work as many hours as possible during the summer.” A young woman who can’t be stopped, highly motivated to make her own income and loves that paycheck. Who doesn’t?
For Sherri and Caitlyn, their vision going forward is unified. “Our goal for the future is to continue bonding more every single day, and to work on growing on being the best mother and daughter we can be,” says Sherri.
*Names have been changed for privacy purposes.
FSS offers and oversee services that help families get back on track. Click here to find local supports.
Interested in being a foster parent? Click here to learn more.
References: Simon, P. 1972. A mother and child reunion. The Beatles. 1970. The long and winding road. Bush, K. 1985. Running up that hill. Sia. 2016. Unstoppable. Womack, L.A. 2000. I hope you dance. †FSS data on file