"I'm Real Protective of My Kids"
Jeffrey Pinckney was serving breakfast to his 1.5-year-old son, Noah, when he answered the phone. It was time to tell his story.
In between setting the table and quickly stopping his son from running out the door, Jeffrey described his life journey of a difficult childhood, resilience, and support from relatives as well as community providers.
Most of all, Jeffrey's story is about a father determined to care for his own children.
"They need me. They really need me," Jeffrey stated while thinking of the life ahead for Noah and his 6.5-year-old son, Joshua, who has complex needs. "I hope they don't fail," he added, while stressing he wants his children to have the best education. "A big challenge," is the way he describes parenting.
Parenting Jeffrey when he was a child was no easy task. With his father incarcerated and Jeffrey living with a single mother in Hartford, he started down the path towards juvenile delinquency. "I was a follower and not a leader," he stated. At 14 years of age came the car thefts, missing school and not listening to his mother.
"My father changed me around," Jeffrey was clear to emphasize. Upon his release from prison, Jeffrey's father came to get him and moved him to New York. The cycle of violence and crime needed to be broken.
The father and son team grew in their relationship. "My father taught me to be a good man," Jeffrey stated.
Jeffrey began reaching his potential. Going to high school each day, staying out of trouble, and excelling in sports. He was fortunate to have a father come into his life at the right time. This is unlike many adolescent boys in the inner cities that Jeffrey sees each day. "They need fathers in their lives," Jeffrey stated.
Jeffrey's path to fatherhood started shortly after he completed high school. He gave up a full scholarship to play running back at Syracuse after his first child was born. He was eventually married and had two additional children. They are grown now and with great pride he described how his oldest children are hard working. "They are here for me," he stated.
Life then took a couple of negative turns. In 2015, Joshua was born and unknown to Jeffrey, was living in very serious conditions. Incarcerated at the time, Jeffrey found out through a relative that Joshua was placed in foster care. "I've got your son," a woman called and said to him one day. "What about me and my family?" Jeffrey would ask himself. He did not understand why he was not allowed to have a voice or be part of the planning process.
Jeffrey described his interactions with the Department and service providers during that time as reflective of judgements made against fathers, especially those who had experienced a troubled past. "I'm his dad," Jeffrey would tell others when talking about Joshua. If asked, he would have presented his own mother as a resource.
Joshua was eventually reunified with his mother. Years later, Jeffrey received a call at work. "I hope everything is okay," he remembered thinking. Joshua again came to the attention of the Department. "I'm taking him," Jeffrey said to himself. Now, Jeffrey engaged with Social Workers, and actively took part in meetings and expressed his desires to the Department. It was determined Jeffrey would now raise Joshua - preventing him from entering foster care.
Three months later, Jeffrey's phone rang again. He was surprised to learn that his friend gave birth to a child named Noah. Jeffrey had already been working with the Department and the supports they provided as he cared for Joshua. Given the family circumstances, it was determined that Jeffrey should take Noah home directly from the hospital.
A single father with two little boys.
Jeffrey accepted community-based services. He engaged with Norman Goldstein, Family Support Specialist, from Catholic Charities. He realized that no father is perfect and was assisted in navigating the delicate balance of protecting his boys while ensuring they had a relationship with their mothers. He was always open to feedback. "The classes soothed you," he later stated. In particular, he enjoyed the father groups.
Jeffrey spoke so highly of his DCF Social Worker, Amanda Beane. "I love Amanda. She gives me the credit I really need." As their relationship grew, he gained confidence. "She gave me the will power I needed."
"Amanda is a good person, down to earth."
Jeffrey was also referred to Christina Avino, Parent Educator with Parenting Support Services from Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center. "They get into stuff," Jeffrey related. He enjoyed using videos to increase his skills and quickly realized he wanted to pay forward what he learned to others who are in a similar situation. Jeffrey began volunteering at a food banks and clothing closets for the disenfranchised.
Both his abilities and confidence grew as a father.
What message does Jeffrey have for other fathers who are involved with the Department? "It's never over," he would tell them while encouraging other fathers to feel empowered and speak up.
Jeffrey stated he felt blessed on Thanksgiving to have his boys and extended family with him. Norman even stopped by. Christmas will be equally as special.
Jeffrey quit his job at the United Parcel Service to be a full-time father to his boys. He lives with his mother, who is his main support.
Jeffrey recognizes parenting brings with it new challenges each day, but he his is ready. "I'm real protective of my kids."