My First Father's Day with My Dad - Three Years Later
This Sunday, a 3-year-old little boy and his Father will be celebrating their first Father's Day together. Once separated by over 2,400 miles, today they share the same home. They are a family.
Who would have thought a selfie with a DCF worker, a Father, and his son in an airport would serve to represent what reunification at the Department of Children and Families looks like today!
"Engagement," Social Worker Paul Franco enthusiastically stated when asked about his approach to serving children and families. "Build a good rapport," he said. It is in those moments of trust the critical work of supporting and empowering families can be accomplished. Words which come alive when hearing the story of a boy and his distant father.
Paul has been with the Agency for 18 months. After spending time working with former inmates in a halfway house, he saw firsthand the plight of men who did not receive the right assistance in timely fashion and who were labeled as not contributing to society. Little did he know how valuable these experiences would be in the near future.
In one of his first cases as a new trainee, Paul was assigned to the family of a young child placed into foster care. The boy's mother was at an unidentified address in New York, after leaving her son in an unsafe situation. The exact whereabouts of his Father were not clear. It would have been easy to establish a belief about a man who has a young child but is not involved in his life. It is workers like Paul who put those judgements aside. They put in the effort to do what is right - always from the child's perspective.
By use of the LexisNexis search engine, a phone number was obtained for a man who potentially could be the Father.
One phone call. The Father was located. The complication? He lived on the other side of the country.
It takes unique skills to work at the Department. Balancing visits and court work, provider meetings and collateral contacts. When engagement between families and the Department works well, children can safely remain at home or have their permanency expedited. With Paul, that initial discussion with this Father turned positive.
They engaged over the phone. Paul stated, "I am one of the youngest staff in the office." The Father himself was young which Paul believes was a point they both had in common and used in their work together. They talked about the Father's current situation, where he was, the strained relationship with the child's Mother and his need for supports. They also discussed being a Father and navigating the multiple systems which come with parenting a child. Paul focused on moving forward, the Father agreed. A plan was made.
Quickly, the Father came to Connecticut to visit a child he had not seen in years. He took parenting classes in his home state and confirmed he had stable income. One barrier was the uncertainty the Father felt when the local CPS agency wanted to visit and confirm the conditions for DCF. He was apprehensive.
According to Paul, men interacting in the system may tend to be more skeptical of an Agency's efforts. Feeling as if they are scrutinized more tightly by staff who hold onto past perceptions of the role a man can play in the life of a child.
It was Paul who explained the process, mentored the Father in his interactions and showed patience in answering his questions. They discussed supports and services. Phone call after phone call, they formed a bond.
Meanwhile, a little boy waited to be reunited with his Father. The wait was finally over.
The selfie of Paul was taken at the airport right before the Father and son boarded a plane. Permanently together.
That was on Valentine's Day, a day before Paul's one-year anniversary with the Department. It was his first reunification. Already not his last.
What is the message here?
For an agency that fundamentally believes in the strength of individuals and families, understanding someone's full potential takes time with mindset of what someone can do versus what they cannot. It starts with engagement - regardless of whether or not the Agency is working with a Mother or a Father.
History has shown relationships between Fathers and the child welfare system have been strained. The Agency has made great strides in the inclusive nature of our work with Fathers. More work to be done with them and Paternal relatives.
Ironically, Paul Franco is supervised by Rodney Moore. Sound familiar? Rodney was also featured in this "Spotlight" for his reunification work as well with a Father who resides in another state. An example of how the policy and procedure of an Agency, embedded within the culture and reinforced in supervision, lead to positive outcomes.
Happy Father's Day to a Father who embraced the system and is now providing a permanent home to his son.