While Emily and the ProKids team portray themselves in the video version of this story, community actors are used in other roles to protect the confidentiality of the family ProKids served. The names of the children are also changed in both this written version and in the video.
Thea and Mitchell met their ProKids CASA Volunteer, Emily, in a foster home in a rural area, 90-minutes from where they had been living.
Emily couldn’t help but be concerned from the beginning. Though the children were 5 and 4 at the time, the foster parent wanted elaborate diagnosis for the children’s behavior. She didn’t seem to understand that the children were reacting not only to the trauma of being separated from their parents, but also from years of abuse and neglect that were starting to reveal themselves.
Click on the picture to open the video.
The children had been removed from the home of their grandmother when their mother and the boy’s father came to stay after being forced to leave a homeless shelter. The mother – as well as the grandmother – had histories of drug abuse. Shortly after they arrived, a fight erupted and the police had been called. A Hamilton County Job & Family Services caseworker was called to investigate and immediately removed the children, still sticky with chocolate donut on their faces.
Emily spent time with the children, made sure they caught up with their immunizations at the doctor after moving around so much, and made sure the children went to therapy. She talked to their preschool and kindergarten teachers and talked with their mother when she made it to visits with the children. Emily told Kathleen, the CASA Manager, that the placement was not in the children’s best interest as the months ticked by. The mother wasn’t getting her substance abuse treatment or moving forward in getting housing or a job. The father of the little girl wasn’t showing up at all and the father of the little boy was now in jail on drug charges.
The children would clearly need foster care for a while longer. So Kathleen and Emily advocated for the children to move to another home. But there, the foster parents didn’t take them to school. They kept them isolated and didn’t provide much to do. Things were not much better than they had been before. ProKids advocated for the rights of the parents to be terminated in court to free the children for adoption, just as the grandfather of Mitchell came forward and expressed interest in giving both children a home.
He and his wife, who was not related to the children, were able to provide stability. They got the children to school, to therapy and provided lots of support. They started talking about adoption. But as the children went back to school that year, and Mitchell started kindergarten, he was suspended five times. Once, when he physically hurt a teacher, he went to a hospital for psychiatric care.
Emily was deeply troubled as he told her that he was having all sorts of feelings at the same time. What was behind his behavior?
His grandfather’s wife then began to share what was going on. The grandfather had lost his job. He’d been drinking again. He’d passed out when he was home alone with the children. He’d hit her and threatened the dog in front of the children. Now she’d ordered him out of the house and when she went to the bank, she found he’d emptied the accounts.
She told Emily she still wanted to give the children a home. Emily told Kathleen what was going on. They were not so sure this was going to work out anymore. They began to advocate with JFS another possible placement. And if there was going to be another placement, could it be in a home that was ready to deal with all the trauma these children had faced in just a few short years? And a home that was ready to offer a forever family?
Emily got another phone call. The children were to be picked up from school that day. The woman they had been called “Grandma” did not want them to come home to say goodbye.
The children moved in with a couple which had always wanted to adopt. Through several placements, they had seen it all but none of the children ended up being eligible for adoption. From the beginning, they felt like Thea and Mitchell were a different situation.
“The more we worked through things with the two of them, even when they tried every trick in the book to test us, the more we sensed that this could be forever. One of the big reasons it felt different to us was because of ProKids,” one of the foster parents said, looking back.
When Emily visited, they saw the value of her consistency. She could help them understand what was going on in school, in therapy and with their sometimes challenging behavior.
“She gave us the nerve to take these children on,” he added.
Several months later, at the children’s favorite restaurant, they asked Thea and Mitchell if they’d like to be in a forever family with them.
Thea leapt out of her chair, hair flying, and started jumping up and down, shouting, “yes, yes, yes!”
But Mitchell didn’t move. “He looked at us with his big eyes and said: ‘where else would we go?,’” the soon-to-be dad recalled.
A month later, they were officially proclaimed a forever family in the formal adoption proceedings.
Emily says she knew this was the right place for Thea and Mitchell. “They always had so much potential,” she said. “They just needed support, stability and understanding.”
Emily is a ProKids volunteer because “I believe we can take the time to understand the child and what they are going through. No matter what challenges we face in our lives, they are nothing compared to what these children are experiencing.”