“My Best Self - For Him and For Me”
Those words were spoken by Caroline, a 21-year-old mom, whose road to recovery from substance use was not easy. This is the story of Caroline's journey and how the collaboration between the Department of Children and Families and Community Health Resources led to the right services at the right time for her family.
A few kinds words instilled hope in this young woman.
“I haven’t read your file, but getting to know you, I think you are really cool.” These words resonated with Caroline. She recalls with gratitude, those words of a case aide who was supervising a visit between her and her son.
Caroline felt valued and respected for her humanity. For so many years, those case notes seemed to define who she was, and those words told a story of a tumultuous past. As a young child, Caroline experienced neglect that led her to a life of drug addiction and transience. She spent many years in and out of foster care, residential treatment facilities and psychiatric hospitals due to suicidal ideation.
Caroline’s story began in 1998. She was born to a 15-year-old mom, and due to a number of life circumstances, she was raised by her maternal grandparents. Caroline had a child of her own when she too was 15 years old. She was sent to the St. Agnes Home, where she made the selfless decision to give her daughter up for adoption. Caroline said, “She needed more than I could give her." Her daughter was adopted through foster care, and although it was a closed adoption, the adoptive mom contacted Caroline on Christmas Day, 2019, and invited her to her home to have a relationship with her daughter. That relationship exists through this day.
Caroline had her second child, a son named Carter, who was born late summer of 2019 - an event that Caroline explained with profound joy and deep loss. Caroline reported she had been actively using drugs during her pregnancy. Her long history with the Department and concerns over her current ability to parent Carter resulted in his removal from her care. “I never felt that type of pain in my entire life,” Caroline said. “I was absolutely determined to get my baby back."
Reunification is the Department's primary goal upon removal of a child. So despite Carter's entry into foster care, a plan quickly was made with Caroline to return Carter once appropriate services were put into place. One of the many community service providers the Department contracts with, Community Health Resources (CHR), offers a substance use treatment program known as Family Based Recovery Program (FBR), an intensive in-home program for families who have a caregiving parent with a current or recent substance abuse history and is caring for a young child at risk of removal from the home. It seemed like the best service to meet Caroline's unique needs.
“She (Caroline) dug into therapy and began to unpack her trauma history and demonstrated insight to how it shaped who she was," Marlanda said. "With that, she worked through deciding how she wanted to grow from those experiences and did the work towards her goal.” Caroline got her son back by supporting all of his medical and developmental needs, maintaining full-time employment, starting to pursue nursing school, maintaining sobriety, and stable housing.
Caroline was determined to show the Department that she was able to be a good mom to Carter. She stated that despite the “red flags that DCF said would stop me from having my son back, he was returned to my care 6 weeks after placement."
Minerva Johnson, a DCF program supervisor, managed Caroline's case. “She had great questions and I was immediately impressed with her presentation and eagerness to work with services and the Department to get her child back in her care," Minerva stated. Sarah Austin, Caroline’s DCF social worker said, “She was able to show that your past doesn't define who you are, and that if you're willing to put the work in and accept help from others, you can create a brighter future.” Caroline did just that.
This is also an intergenerational story of healing and sobriety. Anne K., who Caroline tenderly refers to as “Granny,” believes that she helped to change the trajectory of Caroline’s life when she committed to her own sobriety. At the age of 64, after many years as an alcoholic, Anne showed her granddaughter that it is never too late to change. Anne found her strength after hitting rock bottom. She recalls waking one morning and realizing that she had lost nearly everything in her life. Her husband of 35 years had recently passed away and back then, Caroline was making poor choices, running with the wrong crowd, using drugs and battling mental illness. After a three-day detox, a partial hospitalization program and daily AA meetings, Anne is celebrating nearly 8 years of sobriety. She learned many lessons through her steps to recovery. The most difficult was her inability to rescue Caroline from her own dependency to drugs. She knew that Caroline would need to make that difficult decision on her own.
Anne and her husband raised Caroline and their involvement with DCF occurred as a result of issues of neglect due to their alcohol dependency coupled with Caroline’s struggles as a child and adolescent. One can only imagine how their lives could have been different if the Department had access to the same services as it does now.
Anne recalls the most difficult moments surrounded Caroline’s pregnancy, when she gave birth at age 15. Those next five years were a downward spiral for Caroline until she gave birth to Carter in August of 2019. Anne explained that when Caroline lost Carter to the foster care system, “It was an enormous blow”. She had never seen Caroline more emotional or more determined to make a life change.
Anne understood the Department's concerns about Caroline. Today, Anne stated she is in absolute “awe by how Caroline has grown and matured” over this past year. With a depth of profound emotion and holding back tears, Anne said Caroline had a “wonderful mother -- just amazing -- and the sun rises and sets on Carter," who is now 1 year old. Anne said her daughter's level of “maturity and ability to make really good decisions is just wonderful to see.”
Anne expressed gratitude to the Department, explaining that Caroline used every support and every resource available to her. “I cannot be prouder or, more relieved to know that Caroline is OK”.
Caroline completed the FBR program, which provided her with therapy, case management, three-times a week drug screening and parenting support. She worked on issues of domestic violence, the importance of boundaries, anger management, baby cues. Most important, she learned self-worth.
This is a story of strength and empowerment, a story of kinship care, permanency, reunification and, recovery. Caroline’s journey is a testament to how the collaborative efforts of DCF and CHR can help a family in need.
“Carter needed me to be my best self, and I became just that, for him and for me”. Caroline said.