Success Stories

Below are a number of Family Finding success stories from our CPYP counties:

 

 

Humboldt County

Louisa, now sixteen, entered care for the first time when she was twelve. She experienced nine placements and was in Juvenile Hall when she entered the CPYP project. Her case worker credits the CPYP project and the use of WRAP services (including in-home therapy) for resulting in a recent successful reunification with Louisa's mother. The WRAP worker thought it was important for Louisa to also develop a relationship with her father. According to the primary case worker, without the project, this young lady probably never would have met her father's side of the family. Her mother was "extremely resistant to any connection with the paternal family." However, after the connection was made (and the relationship nurtured with WRAP services) the worker reported that "it was a good thing for all of them."

September 2007

 

Kern County

Ben is currently 14 years old. At age three, both of his parents tragically died. Since their death, he had moved around to different family members from California to Wyoming to Minnesota. After many moves, he and his two sisters went to live with and eventually were adopted by his maternal second cousin. After living with her for many years, she decided she didn't want him (but kept his two sisters) and sent him to live with other family members. From there he lived with a grandfather in Las Vegas, an uncle in Bakersfield, and his other grandfather in Los Angeles.

Ben was reported to be a "problem child" and to have caused much distress to his family (according to his adoptive mother), and she sent him to a boys' facility in Los Angeles at age 12 for behavior modification treatment. After a year in treatment and in preparation for his release, his adoptive mother was contacted to arrange for his return home. She refused to have him return because she didn't want him and (according to her) couldn't handle him. Sadly at that point, Ben came into foster care.

Approximately two and a half months ago he was referred to the Family Finding Program. There was very minimal information in the records; little was known about his life prior to being adopted and who family members were. In addition, Ben had inconsistent contact with his sisters and adoptive mother.

The first contact made was with his adoptive mother; she stated, "None of the other family members want him, he burned his bridges with the family and nobody wants anything to do with him." Prior to ending the call, she did provide information about his maternal and paternal grandfathers and an address for an older brother.

The family finding social worker contacted both of his grandfathers and wrote a letter to his brother. The grandfather, Bob, was in Las Vegas. He stated he had not heard from or seen Ben for three years and that he (Ben) had once lived with him because Bob has been raising Ben's 17-year old brother, Joe, since the children were orphaned. Bob stated he remembered Ben getting into trouble and having a lot of problems; however, he felt that going to the boys' facility helped him and that he was better now. Bob instantly expressed a desire for visits and was eager for Joe and Ben to have sibling contact.

The social worker also spoke with the other grandfather, Pete in Los Angeles, and he, too, had the same impression of Ben. He discussed past information and the troubles Ben had at one time; however he expressed desire to reconnect with him.

At the beginning of July 2009, after receiving background clearances, the social worker took Ben to Las Vegas to spend the weekend with his grandparents and brother. Ben spent four days with his family reconnecting and visiting. During and after the visit, Bob stated things went well and they "could not wait to see Ben again." Since this visit, they are having regular phone contact and making plans for upcoming holiday visits.

In the last two weeks, Ben's other grandfather, Pete, traveled from Los Angeles to visit with Ben in Bakersfield. The visit with Pete went really well. Pete took him out for pizza and shopping. Pete bought him some shoes, pants, a banner for his room, and a skateboard, among other things. Pete was completely unaware that Ben's adoptive mother didn't want him anymore. Once he found that out, Pete showed much more interest in Ben. The social worker spoke with Pete and was able to get information about Ben's brothers in Temecula. She contacted his older brother, Tommy; he had no idea what had been going on with Ben and is interested in having contact with him. Pete, Bob, Joe, and Tommy have all shown an eagerness to work with the social worker and reconnect with Ben. They are still at the beginning stages of these connections; however more is known about the family than ever before, Ben is less lonely and isolated and is able to feel support and love that he has needed for so long.

July 2009

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Suzy and her three younger siblings came into care in 2002 as a result of unstable housing and their mother failing to provide adequate care and leaving them alone for long periods of time. Their maternal grandmother died right before they were placed in custody; it was at her funeral when they met some of their maternal relatives for the first and only time in their lives.

Suzy and her three siblings have been a part of the Older Youth Adoptions (OYA) Program. As part of the OYA program, the children were hoping to be placed together in an adoptive home. So far, they have not been able to work towards an adoptive placement. Suzy has lived in a foster family agency (FFA) home for the past three years; her younger sister, Tammy, has lived in the same home for approximately six years. Their brothers, Billy and John, are currently placed in a group home.

Suzy and her siblings have not had any contact with their mother in approximately six years. There is limited information about their father as he and his family have been reported to be in Mexico. County staff have been unable to verify whether or not he is alive.

Prior to family finding work, the children didn't know of any other relatives besides their mother, their grandmother who is deceased, and their step-grandfather who lives in Arkansas. For the majority of their time in care, they have only had sibling visits.

Recently, their mother was located in prison. Through letters, county staff were able to find out she will be released this month [August 2009], is returning to Bakersfield, and is planning on reconnecting with them. Suzy is very nervous about seeing her mother again after all these years and she wants to take things slowly. We are planning to have phone contact first between them upon the mother's release from prison.

Through family finding efforts, county workers discovered the children have many relatives living in Texas. This information was first discovered when they were able to obtain the obituary records of the maternal grandmother. The children have over 67 relatives that they never knew they had.

The primary people that were located are a maternal great uncle and aunt in Texas. The family was surprised and couldn't believe the children were in foster care. Suzie and her siblings are currently having regular phone contact with their uncle and aunt.

The same aunt and uncle recently sent a huge picture album with pictures of the family in Texas. They also included pictures they had of the children when they were younger. The children were so excited to see what they looked like when they were younger. In addition, they received pictures of their grandmother, their mother, and many other relatives they have never met.

The goal of county staff is to help the children meet their relatives face-to-face. The family is looking at a family reunion possibly in September 2009; however they have already scheduled their annual Christmas gathering for the second week in December. We hope the children will be able to meet their relatives at one of those occasions.

Thoughts from the Family Finding Social Worker:
So far the children are happy with the results of our efforts. We are going to continue to work on this and help them achieve permanency. This case has made me realize that our work is very important and we can have a positive impact in the lives of these children. One letter, one call, one picture, can make the world of a difference in the lives of our foster youth.

August 2009

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Chett is a very artistic 14 year-old. He wants to learn to play guitar, act, and sing. He has said he wants to write a novel about his experiences in foster care.

Along with his sisters, Chett was placed in foster care at age two. He came into the system because his older sisters were sexually abused by their birth father. His dad remains incarcerated and his mother's mental health has deteriorated since that time. Their mother has been mentally unstable and sometimes homeless. Chett has never known what it's like to have a real family. Since he came into care, he has been in 14 placements and remains in long-term foster care.

Chett wanted to know all he could about his relatives. In a few short weeks, Kern County permanency social workers were able to locate extensive information about his paternal relatives. He found out that he has an aunt living in northern California and relatives in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. He met his aunt Kris and her teenage sons for the first time in July, 2008. They all hugged, took pictures, and marveled about how Chett looked like his cousins. Kris told him what his house looked like when he was a baby, that they owned a horse, and lived on a ranch. She was able to give Chett pictures of him when he was a baby (before he came into care.) There was one picture when he was about 18 months old, chubby, with red overalls, in a small wagon - he couldn't believe it was himself. Chett also got pictures of his sisters and many aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Since that visit, he has received emails from his family in Idaho and Oregon wanting to encourage and support him. Most of these relatives thought Chett and his sisters were adopted. Kris continues to help out with a family tree. County staff are now working on giving Chett all the information about his paternal relatives going back to the 1800s.

Through family finding, Chett reconnected with his sister, Sophia. who lives in Nevada. He hasn't seen her in two years, and started talking to her again by phone. Chett has a strong attachment to his sisters, but while in foster care they were separated into different foster homes. Upon emancipation, Sophia had moved out of state, and only recently started talking to Chett again. Sophia applied for relative placement; through Older Youth Adoption funding, Chett visited with his sister at the end of the August 2008 to hopefully prepare for his placement with her. Chett seems to have hope, even in the midst of many setbacks this year for him, that he'll finally have a family and a place to call home.

Thoughts from Chett's social worker:
The family finding process has taught me to focus on relationships instead of placements. If we work on building ties, the rest will follow. Given the very traumatic story of his family, he knew a lot and had very insightful opinions about what landed him in foster care. Here I was, hesitant about bringing up this stuff and it was almost as if he was just waiting for the chance to talk about it.

Comments made by Chett included that he was very clear he didn't want any family members sending a picture to his birth dad, who had sexually abused his sisters. But that didn't stop Chett from wanting to know everything he could about his family tree. The comments he made included he was awed by the number of family members he has and how far back the information goes (1800s).

Further, Chett is also humble and thankful about getting a chance to visit his sister. Chett and his sister have been so thankful about this visit together. It's a very humbling experience when you're being thanked profusely for something as basic as having family ties.

Some personal concerns included that we were going to open up a can of worms, and that maybe all of this trauma and sadness was better left in the past. I was fearful the youth would be overwhelmed by the information or somehow be impacted negatively by the experience.

What I have learned after conducting family finding is, now, I believe the opposite is true. Most of the youth, including Chett, have a version of the facts, such as why they came into foster care and why they aren't with family now. Family finding fills the missing gaps from the youths' lives. They are able to have a better picture of what happened. With Chett, he started to remember a lot of details about placements and relatives. He actually commented about how he was remembering his life. He wasn't damaged by the process. He was empowered by it. Most of all, it worked. His family really stepped up. He now knows the many relatives in his family that are capable and willing to support him.

For the other youth I'm working with, I'm hoping we give them some connections before they leave the system. If we find a permanent home, great, but at the very least they just need to know someone is out there they can turn to when they need it.

May 2009

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Greg is 16 years old. He has been in care for four years. He lived in a group home for three years and then moved into a foster home for one year. Greg has only had contact with his older sister who is now in legal guardianship.

Prior to CPYP family finding, other than monthly visits with his sister, Greg had no contact with his maternal or paternal family. His mother has not contacted the county department to request visits with her children for a year and a half; Greg's father has never visited with his children. When Greg requested family finding services, he knew of a half brother who had lived in Bakersfield, CA, but believed he had moved; he knew his mother had several sisters, but did not know their names or where they lived.

Through case mining the paternal grandfather's phone number and address were located. The grandfather was able to provide phone numbers and addresses for many family members including a maternal aunt living in North Dakota. The social worker contacted Greg's aunt in North Dakota who knew of him and his sister, but had never met them due to their mother being disconnected from the family.

As of August 2008, Greg now knows that he comes from a large close family. One of the maternal aunts has sent a scrapbook to him of pictures of the family and their family history dating back to the 1900s. Several maternal and paternal family members have stepped forward and want to know both Greg and his sister and are requesting to communicate through letter writing and phone calls. The paternal grandfather is also putting together a scrapbook and wishes to visit soon with his grandchildren.

Greg is now residing in the same home with his sister's legal guardian and has family who wants to know him and is reaching out to him. Although Greg has been resistant to communicate with family, he seems to be comfortable and more at ease for the first time in many years. Pieces of his life that were unknown are now coming together and he's learning who he is and how he fits into this family he never even knew he had.

September 2008

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Felicia is a very strong willed 16-year old. She has been in foster care since age 11. Prior to coming into care, Felicia's mother gave her to a family who pretended to be her paternal grandparents (they were not related at all). When they did not want her anymore, they dropped her off at the county Human Services Department. Her mother would not respond to county efforts towards reunification; her father's information was inaccurate.

Felicia has seven siblings, both older and younger than she; however, she is the only one in Kern County. Her three older siblings, maternal grandparents, and other relatives reside in Ohio. She has never met her grandparents. Her mother is homeless in San Francisco and suffers from severe mental illness. Her father's information is still being explored.

In June 2008, Felicia met her youngest sibling, who resides in Vallejo, CA. He is in a pre-adoptive home. His foster mother, Dee Dee, welcomed the opportunity for Felicia to spend time with him and get to know them. Regular phone contact takes place and more visits are being planned. Dee Dee will be a resource for Felicia when she is in college, as she plans on attending UC Berkeley. Felicia was excited to take pictures and reflects often on their similarities.

Two of Felicia's younger siblings reside with their father, Louis, who was just located in early August 2008. Felicia has not seen them since age five or six. Her last recollection was when her brother was being carted in a stroller. Felicia has many memories of Louis and says that he was "a good dad." She remembers living in Oakland and picking fruit in their neighbor's yard.

On August 11, 2008, Felicia was able to speak with Louis and her brother and sister for the first time in many, many years. She asked them questions about their height, school, etc. They had never forgotten her and had asked about her throughout the years. A visit was scheduled for later in the month. This is the reunion she has been wanting for over 10 years.

Felicia desires to see her mom again. The county is working with various homeless shelters and mission staff in San Francisco to try to locate her. She is concerned about meeting her father and "imposing on him." Recent information was provided to her about who her actual father may be; work is still being done on this family member.

Felicia has suffered many years of isolation and loneliness. For once, she has cried tears of joy. Each day county staff are working on securing more and more viable connections for her.

September 2008

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Randy, a sixteen-year-old boy, entered care when he was eleven and spent the last three years in group homes. His mother, whom he had not seen for two to three years, was not considered a viable placement; his father passed away ten years ago. By contacting the funeral home listed on the father's death certificate, the case worker was able to locate Randy's father's companion's ex-daughter-in-law, who eventually led the worker to the father's companion. It turns out that Randy's father's companion lives only an hour away and Randy has a half brother and half sister he never knew about. He now visits with his half siblings regularly. The case worker also re-connected Randy to his maternal cousins who had moved out of state a couple years ago and had fallen out of contact. As of April 2007 Randy was scheduled to be placed with his maternal relatives at the conclusion of this school year. The case worker stated that Randy has ìcome out of his depression . . . and is now reaching out to friends and the community. (He) has waited a long time to find his family; even family he never knew he had.

September 2007

 

Los Angeles Metro North Region

Sammy, a twelve-year-old boy, was originally detained at age two due to maternal neglect. After failed Voluntary Family Maintenance services, he entered foster care where he has remained over the last ten years with no plans for permanence. Visits between Sammy and his family ended abruptly when he was four years old. He had experienced six placements when Family Finding efforts by the county Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Hollygrove began. After locating his mother, stepfather, and two brothers, Sammy experienced another six placements. He was originally rejecting and hostile toward his mother and brothers. However, through the diligence and collaboration between his social worker, his mentors, his family, and Hollygrove services, Sammy is currently stable in a group home and visiting with his mother.

His mother, who was a teenager at the time of his detention, has pledged to make amends to her son for disappearing from his life and has complied with everything that has been asked of her. She is performing maternal tasks that she has been unable to do over the last eight years - calling him, writing him notes, cleaning his room, doing his laundry, and cooking special meals for him. Although this has not been a smooth, easy process, through the concerted effort of all parties, Sammy has been able to start to develop a relationship with his family and hopefully reunify with his mother. Most recently when his mother was transported to the group home by the Wraparound Parent Partner she found a note written by her son that read, "Dear Mom, can you please make me sloppy joe's? Love, your son."

August 2008

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Two brothers were legally freed several years ago but they were never adopted and they have been living in a group home for several years. The brothers have luckily been placed together, but group home placement was very difficult for them. They had a possible relative placement in Missouri. However, after displaying behavior problems during a visit in Missouri, the relative stated she no longer wished to be considered for placement.

Meanwhile, these two brothers, one of whom is quite a basketball star and getting very good grades, have two older siblings with whom they had lost contact - that is, until a group home employee recognized a woman whom she soon identified as the sister of the two boys placed in her group home. Quickly but mindfully, visits began between the two brothers and their sister, as well as their older brother. The older brother and sister live together along with the sister's young daughter. With the assistance of county services, the social worker is currently in the placement planning stages. The sister has stated, "I always made a promise to them and to myself that I would get them. I knew I would get them. And I finally did." One of the boys is getting rides to and from school by his older brother and it is hoped he will be a positive role model for the youngest child who still demonstrates behavior problems. Still, the older siblings have demonstrated wonderfully predictable and steadfast support of their two younger brothers.

August 2008

 

Orange County

Julie, a seventeen-year-old girl, entered the system when she was twelve. She experienced nine placements. Her mother died in 2005, and according to her case worker, her relationship with her father (prior to the project) was "non-existent." By using funds that her agency had set aside for "CPYP trips," the case worker was able to arrange for Julie to visit her father and stepmother (who live on the east coast) over Thanksgiving and Christmas, 2006. The father/daughter relationship blossomed. According to the worker "(Julie) has gone from not having any relationship with her father and stepmother to . . . speaking to them several times per week on the phone, as well as e-mailing." Approval has been obtained for Julie to live with her father and stepmother.

September 2007

 

Sacramento County

Beth entered care two years ago when she was ten years old. Reunification efforts with her mother proved unsuccessful. Beth had not talked to her father for seven years and his whereabouts were unknown. By using US Search, her father was located on the east coast and she flew to meet him and her siblings in October 2006. Over the subsequent three months she visited her father and siblings several times and their relationship strengthened. Beth voiced a strong desire to reside with her father and in late 2006 she was placed with her father and her dependency was terminated.

September 2007

 

Solano County

Chris entered care at the age of nine. His mother died as the result of a car accident - she was a passenger in the car her inebriated boyfriend was driving. She was believed to be pregnant at the time. Chris's maternal aunt and maternal grandfather attempted to provide care for Chris but after three months decided that his behaviors and needs exceeded their abilities as caretakers. Chris was dropped off at Solano County Child Welfare by his maternal aunt and placed in foster care. His father's identity has not been confirmed but his mother provided the name of an individual whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Chris is the oldest in a sibling group of three. Chris has a half-sister two years younger who lived with the mother and Chris initially but later went to live with her father and then paternal grandparents. Chris has another half-sister four years younger who lived with the family briefly, then was raised by her father and paternal relatives.

In the spring of 2009, Chris shared with his newly assigned social worker that he had lost contact with all of his family members and wanted to locate them and reestablish contact. He was most interested in reestablishing contact with his half-sister two years younger than he. He had no idea where she could be and was not hopeful of finding her. His social worker discussed the concept of a permanency team meeting. Chris was excited and willing and offered suggestions as to who should participate.

First Meeting: In June 2009, Chris's team convened. The participants (all approved by Chris) included his Solano County social worker and supervisor, the foster family agency social worker, a representative from his attorney's office, the permanency project supervisor and a team decision making meeting (TDM) facilitator. Following introductions, the assigned social worker informed Chris that she had located his half-sibling who had been made a dependent in a neighboring county; however, his half-sibling did not desire contact at this time. Chris's response was illuminating. Rather than being angry, he said, "Thank you for trying and for letting me know the truth."

During the meeting, the team charted a family tree and Chris shared all he could recall about his relatives. He had vivid memories about places, schools, and a love for flying but there were gaps for which he had questions. He wanted to locate his maternal relatives (grandfather and aunt). He mentioned again his younger half-sister of whom he had only vague recollection and her name. Regarding his father, he had a couple of names but nothing definitive and wanted to know who his father was. The team brainstormed about how to proceed with locating these individuals and developed a list of action steps. Everyone took an assignment. Chris's assignment was to write a letter to the half-sibling who was not ready for contact to re-introduce himself. The team listened to Chris tell how since he could remember he planned to become a pilot in the Air Force. A second team meeting was scheduled in one month.

Second Meeting: Additional team members joined, including the Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and Solano's search specialist. So much had been accomplished! The search specialist had located Chris's youngest half-sibling and her family in the following way: the mother's former roommate, identified in the file, was also mother of a child who was a cousin to Chris's half-sibling. When the search specialist called, she found that the former roommate had the family's contact information. Her family knew Chris well, even had a holiday photo of him with their family, which they then emailed to Chris The town Chris is originally from is fairly small....everyone knows everyone. The family had searched for Chris and was excited to hear from the county. Chris's younger half-sister had recently decided she wanted to discover more about her mother, half-siblings, and maternal family. The call from the search specialist could not have come at a better time. One of Chris's former foster mothers was contacted and she told about a past day trip she had completed with Chris to visit the memorial site where his mother died. She said that she heard that there is still a memorial to his mother at the site of the accident. The foster parent knew schools Chris had attended and neighborhoods where he had lived. Another foster mother contacted didn't have more information but wanted Chris to know they wanted to hear from him if he desired contact. Later that same day, the search specialist located and contacted Chris's maternal aunt who lives locally. Chris's aunt in turn put the department in contact with the maternal grandfather and county staff learned the maternal grandfather was a retired pilot of the Air Force, the career Chris always knew he wanted.

Outcome: As of now, Chris has located and made contact with all of the family members he had identified, except his father whose identity remains in question. The maternal family tree which was begun two months ago is now complete. Chris has contact with his younger half-sibling and her family on an almost daily basis. With his CASA, he is planning a weekend visit to meet that family, visit the town in which he grew up, and visit his mother's memorial. The experience has served to solidify Chris's identity and clarify his personal history. Although the half-sibling with whom he most wanted to reestablish a relationship has yet to respond, Chris has reached out to her. Chris's relationship with his younger half-sibling teaches him that relationships are developed, not forced, and require mutual participation. For Chris, these are first steps to emotional permanency.

Reflections from the Social Worker
This is an example of a success story in which the youth wanted one outcome and we tried to help him achieve it but, instead, achieved a different outcome. It shows you don't know where the process will take you and that a different outcome isn't necessarily a failure. In this case, it was a success because the youth has a new understanding of the people in his life and how to work with them.

September 2009

 

Sonoma County

Thirteen-year old Norman had been in foster care since he was eight years old. He had experienced abuse and neglect at his mother's and grandmother's homes, and his mom sent him to live with his dad and step-mother. At his dad's, Norman had problems including behavior problems at school. When Norman became suicidal at school, he went to one group home, then to another group home. Active reunification was done with his dad but one day, his dad disappeared. Shortly after, the group home site closed. Norman had been at a third group home for a year when the Sonoma County family finding specialist social worker began to work with him.

The group home and case-carrying social worker believed Norman would have to stay in a group home until he was 18. He acted up, was destructive, talked back, ran, and was unmotivated. In fact, Norman never got to Level 1, in all the time he was there. Staff at the group home told Karen, the family finding specialist, they couldn't even think of moving him until he got to Level 1. When Karen first met Norman, his only connections were a former therapist at St. Vincent's and a CASA. These two people were his lifeline. He told Karen he wanted to find "anybody." He had always wanted a family.

Through the agency search person, Norman's dad was found through MEDS. When Karen sent a letter, the dad called her. He had experienced a psychiatric relapse, in fact, a psychotic break, and had been institutionalized for a year. He had wanted to find his son but didn't know where to look for him. Thrilled to hear from Karen, he said, "Can I talk to my son?" Karen was skeptical: "He knew Norman was in foster care, he'd had a social worker with whom he'd been talking as he worked on reunification. I was too quick to judge. It wasn't until I talked to his therapist that I understood." The therapist said that Norman's father told her he wanted to try to find his son, but "he was so disabled mentally that he had no ability to even know where he was, much less know how to search for his son."

Karen told Norman what she had found out and asked Norman's therapist and the dad's therapist to talk on the phone, and to moderate phone contact between Norman and his dad. Norman wanted to call his dad at once. The professionals slowed things down, but in the end, it probably went too fast for the professionals and too slow for Norman. Karen said that Norman had a history of hallucinations. When he found out his dad was mentally ill, he worried whether he was going to be crazy, saying, "Am I going to get it?" This fear was addressed in therapy. We knew it was better for Norman to meet his dad with support, rather than after he left foster care when he wouldn't have anyone to help him process the experience. "I'm starting to expect that kids get worse when family finding begins," Karen said. "The behavior declines, there is fallout and then they get better."

Once Norman had phone contact, he wanted to see his dad right away, so Norman's CASA flew to Los Angeles with him for the day; Norman's group home therapist was also in Los Angeles for personal reasons. Norman, his dad, the CASA, and the therapist spent the day together and took pictures. This was a turning point for Norman: 1) he realized that his fear that his dad had abandoned him and was living with a new family somewhere wasn't true; 2) he realized that he was more functional than his dad and in better emotional shape; and 3) he realized that his dad could not parent him. Getting to that point took a lot of work between Norman and his therapist. Since then, Norman and his dad have maintained phone contact and continue to have a relationship.

During this time, the group home was irritated with the family finding specialist because she started working on family finding during the Christmas holidays. "He always gets upset then," the group home said. "We don't want you to start with this work until January." Karen said, "I learned that I had to check with everyone ahead of time to coordinate and get their buy-in."

Next the search specialist found two younger brothers on Norman's mother's side who lived with their dad, the mom's ex-husband. He was a reformed biker who had found religion and wanted to be there for Norman. Phone talks began and, eventually, Sonoma County flew out the mom's ex-husband and sons to meet Norman with the hope he would become a good connection. Norman thought he wanted to live with them, but just before they came, he ran away for two days. Everyone was upset with the family finding specialist, but Norman returned. When the ex-husband arrived, they had a nice visit. However, Norman decided he didn't want to live with them but has maintained contact with them.

Next the county found his mother, together with his maternal grandmother and older brother who lived with her. Norman talked to his older brother on MySpace but didn't want to talk to his mom. She had since cleaned up, was off drugs, and become religious. She began to write Norman wonderful letters every week and sent $5 in every letter. She wrote, "I'm sorry for hurting you, you never deserved it, I've changed my life, I'll love you forever, I hope one day you'll forgive me." Norman never responded but he told Karen to tell his mom that he wanted her to keep writing the letters.

Next, through the father, they found Miranda, Norman's sister on his father's side. The dad said that Miranda and her mom, who had remarried, lived in Montana. Even though he didn't have contact with his ex-wife, the father knew her new married name. The search specialist found them through Accurint and contacted them. Initially they were upset with Karen and worried about how she had found the phone number. "It's unlisted, we don't give this out, how did you find it?" (Since then, the family finding specialist has changed how she tells the family where she got the information. She doesn't say, "We found it on the Internet." Instead, to not alarm the family, she says, "We have special access.")

The family agreed to supervised phone contact with Norman and his sister. As they talked, Miranda told her parents, "We need to get my brother out of foster care." The family is religious and Miranda's words prompted a process that culminated in the family's decision to do so. The mom had been into drugs years ago but had cleaned up. One day they called and, although they hadn't even met Norman, said, "We want to adopt Norman." They felt he was part of their family. It wasn't that they wanted to rescue him but that it was the right thing to do.

During this time, the county found a paternal uncle who didn't want anything to do with Norman because he thought he was a sexual perpetrator. He said Karen should send him something that said he had been cured before he or his family would have anything to do with Norman. Karen told Norman she had reached the uncle but he wasn't a resource. Also, the paternal grandmother wrote Norman a letter, to which he responded but nothing came of the relationship.

Miranda's family came out from Montana to meet Norman. A few months later, they invited him to Montana, saying they wanted to adopt him. (Karen asked them not to tell him they were thinking about adopting him for the present.) Norman wanted to go and wanted the therapist at the group home to go with him, which she did, staying in the house with the family, which presented its own set of problems, including conversations about Norman.

Norman returned to Santa Rosa, then returned to Montana on his own when school got out for two weeks. It was clear the family wanted him. Norman's goal had always been that he wanted a family, so Sonoma started the ICPC process.

During this time, Sonoma found his dad's other ex-wife. Norman had said, "I'm sure she wants nothing to do with me because I did bad things when I was there," but Karen contacted her. She said she couldn't get involved, but Karen could tell how bad she felt about what had happened to Norman. "It was so terrible for Norman," the ex-wife said, "and it wasn't his fault. He had so many problems from before with his mom. Is there anything I can do for him?" Karen started with asking her to send photos. The step-mother had photos of Norman's dad as a child and sent them. Karen then suggested that she write him a letter. The ex-wife wrote: "Whenever your dad and I would fight, your dad would say to you, 'Look at you, you're wrecking my marriage.' You had to listen to that." She told Norman it wasn't his fault and wrote positive stories, funny stories, gave words of wisdom about going forward, said she knew and believed in him, and didn't blame him for anything that had happened. This was a huge turning point for Norman He had been given absolution.

The CASA worker helped through the whole process. When the family first came to visit Norman, she spent time with them in Santa Rosa, bonded with the family and developed a friendship. In fact, the CASA became an active advocate for the family. She called the social worker when things weren't happening fast enough and insisted on action. The family also wanted things right now! If the social worker didn't call back in an hour, they called the family finding specialist. As a result, the social workers at the county became frustrated with the family. Staff believed the family was naive about Norman's problem and thought love would cure him, whereas staff knew it wouldn't.

Norman has now moved to Montana to live with the family. He attends public school and is getting Bs. In Santa Rosa he was a skateboarder kid. Now he has cut his hair short to fit in with the Montana culture. Norman has a psychiatrist and a therapist in Montana to work with. His father often told Norman to tell his sister (the dad's daughter) to call him, but although Norman wanted contact with his dad, his sister didn't want anything to do with him, and it's been hard for the dad to have Norman there with his sister. Setting boundaries with his dad was hard for Norman but the therapist worked with him on how to tell his father that he didn't want to hear about what he (the father) wanted with his sister. At one point, Norman told Karen, "Families are really hard."

Thoughts from the County: Logistical Nightmares in Norman's Case:
Sonoma County made a financial and time commitment to making this connection work, despite many obstacles.

In Sonoma County
• Group Home School: Group home schools are paid by the number of days a child is in the group home school. Because Norman was in a six person on-site group home school, when he was visiting Montana, the school wasn't paid for the time he was in Montana. If a plan was not able to be worked out, the group home couldn't save his spot when he was getting to know his connections in Montana. Eventually the group home and Sonoma County agreed to share the cost of the days Norman missed when he was visiting Montana.

In Montana
• School: At first, the school couldn't take Norman because they didn't think they could meet his needs. His future guardian thought she would home school him, but the Sonoma County social worker told her it probably wasn't a good idea. Norman ended up in a regular school in Montana and so far it is working out, with Norman getting Bs.
• Supervision of placement: Montana Child Welfare Services wouldn't supervise and monitor the placement so Sonoma contracted with a Montana foster family agency(FFA) to supervise the placement. In addition, Sonoma sends a social worker to Montana once a month to visit because they have been informed that the contracted FFA visits do not meet California regulations for social worker contact.
• Health Care: Norman couldn't get Medicaid because he wasn't federally eligible. Therefore, the Sonoma County Juvenile Court awarded legal guardianship to the caregivers in Montana so he could get medical coverage. Although legal guardianship had been awarded to the caregivers, Norman wasn't eligible for Medicaid coverage in Montana until he had established residency for six months. At that point, the family finding specialist tried to get private health care, calling one health care provider after another, all of whom turned her down. Finally, Sonoma County purchased a short-term policy for Norman. Shortly thereafter he was, after all, able to obtain Medicaid and now has coverage.

September 2009

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Seventeen-year-old Shara was referred to the Lifelong Connections Program with the hopes of strengthening her connections with relatives in Washington State. Shara came to the attention of Sonoma County Child Protective Services (CPS) due to allegations related to sexual abuse at the hands of her birth father. Shara has an unfortunate history riddled with multiple moves and poor attachments. The only fortunate part of the many changes was that they were within her family.

Unlike the journeys of many foster youth who move through an array of foster homes, Shara moved through an array of family homes. She spent her early childhood years in the home of her mother and stepfather. They eventually separated. At age 11 Shara was removed from her mother's care due to the mother's untreated addiction, mental health issues, and domestic violence. Together with her sister, Shara was then placed with her stepfather. When that didn't work out she was placed with her birth father in Sonoma County at age 12. Shara was unaware that the man she was going to live with was her birth father until just before she moved.

Shara was separated from her birth sister, who remained in Washington state because they had different birth fathers. She struggled to fit in with her birth father and step-mother's family. She was removed following being abused by her birth father. She refused to recant her disclosure and was shunned by her family in California.

Shara found her own NREFM (Non-Relative-Extended-Family-Member) placement with a former teacher. Although the NREFM caretaker appeared very committed to her and said she would never give up on her, Shara just couldn't trust that commitment. After all, no one else had kept their commitments to her in the past.

Lifelong Connections Social Worker Karen McClure contacted Shara's mother, aunt, sister, and grandfather in Washington while Shara was living with her NREFM caretaker. Initially, the family members seemed reluctant to commit to keeping in regular contact. Shara abruptly and unexpectedly ran away from her NREFM placement in June 2008 after having been in the home for eight months.

Then one of the miracles of Lifelong Connections happened. On July 28, 2008, after driving from Washington, Shara's maternal aunt, her two teenagers, and Shara's younger sister surprised Shara at work. In an instant, Shara made the decision to go back with her family to WA. Her younger sister is currently living with her aunt due to their mother's continued drug and mental health issues.

When the social worker and Shara's attorney met with the family, the social worker asked Shara why she was adamant about returning with her family when in the past just discussing the possibility did not seem to appeal to her. Shara answered, "Because they were actually here and I could see them". It was an honor for this social worker to witness the unsurpassable connection that Shara has with her aunt, sister, and cousins. In the nine months that the social worker had been working with Shara, never had she witnessed Shara so comfortable, at ease, and "at home."

Shara is now living with her aunt, cousins and sister in Washington. The social worker officially started the process of transferring her case to Washington so that Shara can live with her family, finish school, and get a job. The road will most likely have its challenges, but hopefully being surrounded by her family's unconditional love can give Shara the peace of mind she will need to survive the transition to adulthood.

May 2009

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Steve, age 17, and Johnny, age 16, were brothers who had been through the trenches of formal and informal placements beginning at the age of about four and three respectively. Their mother, who has severe, untreated mental illness, left the young Steve and Johnny on the doorstep of their absent father's house when they were about five and four years old. Their father, who is a chronic, physically and verbally abusive alcoholic, cared for them until a year later when their mother showed up at the house and took the boys. She kept them for approximately six months before leaving Steve and Johnny in the care of their maternal great aunt. This pattern of chaos existed through their lives so it is no wonder that both boys have their own long-standing issues related to drugs and alcohol, which they used in part to self-medicate depression and anxiety.

 

At age 17 and 16, respectively, Steve and Johnny were both in long-term foster care, with Steve placed in the Transitional Housing Placement Program and Johnny placed in a foster home. Steve had successfully completed his GED; Johnny was many credits behind and attended a local community school. Steve did not have plans to attend college (although his GED scores demonstrated his potential), did not have a job, was not looking for a job, and was essentially waiting for his Child Protective Services case to be dismissed so that he could "handle my own." Johnny was being expelled from a school district, defying his foster parents, and denying he needed any sort of supportive services to help him get his life on track. It seemed like a dismal state of being for these two brothers who, despite all of their street-wise attitude and nonchalant airs, are at heart two genuinely sweet, respectful, and frightened children.

Initially when discussions began regarding Life Long Connections, both Steve and Johnny were hesitant to search for relatives. They both made it clear that their family didn't want them and thought of them as "thugs." After a little time of slowly talking about their fears, Steve agreed to at least search for family and he would decide if he wanted to talk with any of them. Johnny at this time did not want to have anything to do with searching for relatives because he said both their father and mother would be angry because neither of their parents wanted them involved with their family members. Once Steve learned that his family in southern California wanted to see him, he became excited and started sharing memories he had of living with some of them as a young boy.

In July 2008 several family members from the Southern California area drove through the night to attend a visit with Steve and Johnny. On the day of the visit, Johnny decided not to attend because he still did not want to make his parents angry. Steve met his great aunt who was his caretaker throughout his early childhood, another great aunt, a second and a first cousin. It was a very joyous occasion filled with affectionate hugs. The family invited both Steve and Johnny for a visit to their homes in southern California and the matriarch of the family, the great aunt who was their caregiver, offered them both permanent housing and assistance with higher education. After the formal visit with his family, Steve took them to Johnny's placement and eventually Johnny met with the family for dinner and shared the joy of the reunion.

In August 2008 both boys went for a visit to southern California and at the end of the visit, only Johnny returned. Johnny shared that he enjoyed the visit but that he was not yet ready to have a close relationship with his family. Steve was offered permanent housing living with his first cousin, his family helped him obtain employment working for a cable company, and they supported his attendance at AA meetings and helped him stop smoking marijuana and drinking heavily. The day after Steve's dependency case was dismissed he called and shared that he enjoyed going to work everyday and earning money, that he had been clean and sober for almost one month, and that he was considering taking at least one college course with one of his cousins.

May 2009

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Sara is a ten-year old girl who was discharged from residential treatment in the summer of 2008. When Sara was an infant she was removed from an unsafe environment after being severely abused and neglected. When Sara was two years old, she was adopted. When Sara was six, her adoptive mother unexpectedly died. Sara's adoptive father attempted to care for her for several years, but because of his own grief and depression could not meet Sara's needs. Subsequently, he turned Sara back in to the county.

Not surprisingly, Sara had extreme behavioral and emotional issues, due to grief, loss, and abandonment. Sara was further isolated by having lost all traces of her biological family. No one came to visit her and her behaviors and mood continued to spiral downward. It appeared that Sara would not be a candidate for a foster home and it was also unlikely, given her extreme behaviors. Nevertheless, the Department was determined to find Sara another adoptive home.

Sara was referred to the Lifelong Connections (LLC) program. The social worker dedicated to LLC was able to spend the time to "mine" Sara's large case file. The LLC social worker found information on paternal relatives in the case file, and with the help of LLC clerical support, was able to do computer searching to locate these relatives, almost 20 of them. The LLC social worker initiated contacts with these relatives and was able to obtain a wealth of information for Sara about her biological family.

Most of the relatives had not seen or heard of Sara since she was an infant, but all were committed to maintaining some sort of contact with her, and one aunt, in particular, promised to visit Sara regularly at the treatment center.

After about 12 months of her aunt's participation in her treatment, as well as reconnection with her other paternal family, Sara made immense progress at the treatment center and was recently successfully discharged. Instead of going to a foster home or a group home, Sara has gone home with her aunt, who is committed to adopting Sara. An unexpected bonus of this arrangement is that the aunt had, some time ago, already adopted Sara's half-brother.

August 2008

 

Step Up Project

The following stories have been excerpted from Group Home Step Up Project Final Report from Alameda County. These stories illustrate just a few of the many ways that foster youth grow and flourish when more effort is put into forging permanent connections for and with them.

Robert's Story
Robert was removed at birth from substance-abusing parents and subsequently removed from his adoptive mother who, for the first five years of his life, abused him by hitting him with a cane and locking him in a dog cage in the basement.

Between the ages of six and fourteen, Robert was placed in at least two foster homes and four group homes. He finally settled down at his seventh placement, a group home where he’s been for four years. He lives on a ranch and developed a strong passion and talent for horsemanship. Over the past few years, he has gained enough knowledge of management and care of horses that he became a master horseman this past year at the age of seventeen.

Robert was referred to the StepUp project because he was going to emancipate within the year with very few adult connections. While he is definitely one of the motivated teens who will emancipate with specialized skills, he didn’t have the mentorship and familial connection every child needs and deserves.

When StepUp Child Welfare Worker (CWW) Ann first met Robert, he seemed so lonely. During their first meeting, he said "I've got nobody, nobody who's kin to me." He especially wanted to find his birth mother. The project staff found out that she was deceased as of last summer. Robert was sad and also relieved to have an answer about her whereabouts.

In addition to the information about his birth mother, Ann also found his birth father (who has been clean and sober and gainfully employed for many years) along with about 36 other relatives, most of whom expressed a strong interest in getting to know their newfound family member.

On his father's side of the family, he has so far met all five older siblings including a brother who recently was in the Bay Area on military leave from his station in Iraq. His older sister and her children have driven down from Reno on several occasions to visit.

Most of his maternal relatives live in the south. Robert sent some pictures of himself with his siblings to a couple of aunts. He received a letter in response from his maternal Aunt Shellie from Mississippi with details about his birth mother and several maternal relatives who are currently living in the south. Aunt Shellie wrote "I know the family would love to get together and meet all of you ... It's okay we are strangers now but we can start now trying to make up for lost time." Robert is now making plans to go to the south with his older sister Natasha to meet his mother's relatives and get to know his four younger brothers and sisters there.

His father's family has given him a photo album with several photos. He now has photos of himself together with his biological family. According to group home staff, Robert "walks on clouds these days." One of them told Ann that seeing the change in Robert is like "watching a miracle unfold."

August 2005

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Monika was 17 years old and four months pregnant when she was referred to the StepUp project. She was in a group home that specializes in emancipating youth and doing well there, however, she would be unable to stay after her baby was born. She was referred to the StepUp project in an effort to prevent Monika from moving to another group home. Additionally, she needed assistance in developing a support system to rely on after the birth of her child.

Monika had been visiting an older sister and her young niece on the weekends. The primary CWW wanted the StepUp staff to assess the sister as a source of support and possible placement. When the StepUp CWW visited the home, she quickly recognized that Monika had already discussed placement with her sister.

Neither Monika nor her older sister had approached the primary CWW about placement because nothing seemed to ever work out for Monika. She didn’t believe that moving out of a group home setting, especially now that she was pregnant, would be possible. Like so many teenagers who have been disappointed by countless adults in their lives, she had a hard time accepting assistance from project staff who wanted to facilitate a relative placement. In fact, when a staff member arrived at the scheduled time to pick up Monika and take her to her sister’s house after the home was approved, she hadn't packed any of her clothing because she didn't believe that she was really moving!

Monika has now been placed with her older sister and young niece for four months. Her baby was born one month premature. However, the baby seems to be in good health now. Monika's sister helps her with parenting and encourages her to continue her high school education. Her sister is currently a student at Chabot College and they take BART together in the morning so that Monika can attend the Burke Academy for parenting teens. She plans to graduate in 2006 and has an open invitation to stay with her sister.

August 2005

Other Stories in Brief

• A lesbian adolescent, inveterately running away from placements, with more than casual drug use and truancy, has found in her new relationship with her biological father, whose whereabouts had been unknown for years, a sense of belonging. The security and hope that came with connection enabled her to get back into school and resulted in cessation of the cutting behavior that previously characterized her most difficult feelings. This young woman has shown signs of hope and a sense of future orientation for the first time.

• A silent, depressed teen, was found to have been secretly visiting with her father and step-mother, often when suspended from school. She was able to reunify with her father who was found to be living a stable life with a new wife and home. He presumed he could not bring his daughter home because of a near-decade old petition for neglect.

• A young adolescent, in group home care and day treatment for years, longed to be returned to his previous foster parents with whom he continued to spend most holidays. When we found that this foster family's circumstances had changed, and when a family search found only an alleged father living in Florida, we pursued placement with a staff member at his high quality group home. The staff member was licensed through San Francisco County and our client was placed with her and her family, after a successful trial visit.

• A 16 year-old youth with a placement history that showed him moving to more and more restrictive residential treatment programs that prescribed several psychotropic medications to address his angry behaviors and emotional lability, was placed closer to an adult sister to facilitate family contact. Within weeks, relatives heard of his re-entry into the family circle and came forward to be a part of his life. An uncle who had provided respite care for our client as a toddler proved to share a strong connection with the youth. Our client is now placed with the uncle, his wife and 3 cousins. His medication needs have all but disappeared and it seems incredible that he is the same person who appeared to be moving towards an RCL 14 treatment facility just 6 months ago.

August 2005

 

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