"I Love Knowing They Feel Safe with Me"
"Go get your daughter." For Joseph, those words will forever be etched in his memory. The day he received a call that his young child was living in an unsafe environment, Joseph knew he had to act quickly. For seven months, the children's mother prevented him from seeing them, only allowing a handful of phone calls with his daughter and minimal contact with his son facilitated by a relative.
"I was hearing bad things," he shared. During this time, he also admits he was struggling with substance use issues and other stressors, including housing instability. "That was a very low time in my life."
Joseph was finally able to gain an address for his daughter by speaking to the mother's partner. As he turned down the street, there was his little girl, with her belongings, standing on the side of the road with an unrelated male. Joseph picked her up and brought both his children to live with him in the home of a relative, Ken Szniavel, who graciously opened his home to the family and who has been a constant support.
"It was time for me to step up more for them," Joseph stated. He felt good about himself.
The following day Joseph received a call from the Department as allegations of child maltreatment had been made. "I started crying," Joseph stated. "I always heard bad stories about DCF," he shared, including children being removed from their parents, conflicts with Social Workers and an unwavering bureaucratic state agency.
He found the opposite.
Joseph initially worked with Investigator Theresa Fitol from the Milford Office. His opinion of the Agency immediately started to change. "She was understanding and listened. Heard my story," Joseph affirmed. "She did not judge me."
He realized that in order to be the best father he could be, he needed to accept the supports offered. Shortly after DCF knocked on the door, Joseph embraced help and is now proud to say he is 18 months sober. "It all happened right at the right time," Joseph stated. "The children needed me."
Joseph was honest with the Agency and felt a camaraderie with Theresa. "Being 100% truthful to her meant a lot," he explained. The decision was made to keep the case open and continuing supporting Joseph and his children.
Social Work Supervisory Jennifer Carey-Walker agrees with Joseph's assessment of Theresa, stating, "Theresa is an extremely passionate social worker. She approaches each case with a new lens without judgement. She recognizes that every person has strengths and weaknesses and builds upon their strengths. Theresa ensures that everyone has a voice and deserves to be respected no matter what the situation. As a result of all of this, Theresa has been able to make a profound impact on the families that she serves."
Jillian Robichaud of the Bridgeport Office then began supporting the family. Joseph describes her as "awesome" and a "real nice lady." He felt she took his lead on the supports that he wanted, without judgment. If Joseph would call or text, Jillian would quickly get back to him.
They made a great team as referrals for parenting classes, medical appointments, therapists for his daughter and enrollment in schools were made. During the holidays, Jillian delivered Christmas presents.
"Joseph had not always lived with his children but stepped up immediately to care for them when we became involved. He was always honest about the challenges he was facing and willing to accept help, and this helped so much in our work together to provide him the right supports and services. It was very rewarding to work with a father that had such a strong commitment to his children and willingness to better himself for them," stated Social Worker Jillian Robichaud.Again, Joseph experienced Agency Social Workers who listened to his story, were judgement free and simply wanted to help.
Given Joseph's past struggles, he is acutely aware of how others perceive him. "People judge me without knowing me." That was not the experience he had with DCF.
Joseph describes benefitting greatly from community-based services. Three days a week he attended parenting classes and enhanced his knowledge of childhood development, grief and how each child needs individualized attention. Joseph admits that initially he was scared to parent his children alone.
Now, he is more confident. "I love being there for them," he stated.
"I've stepped up a lot," Joseph affirmed. He is now putting in 100% of his effort into his children. "You can't just be the fun guy." Parenting is hard work. In fact, he actually gave up a job he loved at UPS, as it took too much time away from his parenting, and the job responsibilities conflicted with childcare.
What would Joseph tell other parents who are involved with DCF? "Be honest. Don't be scared. Don't think that DCF is only in this to take the children."
In speaking of his children, Joseph is clear what he wants for their future. "I want my son and daughter to live a happy and comfortable life."
"I love knowing they feel safe with me."