“My name is Courtney, I am 27 years old and I am about to be reunified with my two boys after they’ve been in foster care for almost 9 months. My children were removed due to allegations I was not taking care of my mental health. They showed up very suddenly, I wasn’t expecting it, I did not know my rights, and zero prevention services were offered to preserve my family. It was immediate removal.
Receiving A Case Plan
After removal, I didn’t receive the actual petition for taking the boys for a few weeks, however, when I did, it went much deeper than my mental illness. It stated I was a fentanyl addict and in April of 2021 I was arrested for possession and the sale of fentanyl and methamphetamine. I couldn’t believe it. As someone who’s never had legal trouble, not even a parking ticket, and never been an addict, this was extreme news to me. I still can’t wrap my head around it some days.
I contacted my court appointed attorney who, at the time, didn’t give me much help. She treated me as if I was just another addict who didn’t care about her kids, which was anything but the truth. She did look me up and confirm I had no criminal history, which I obviously knew, but she had to see for herself. She said the allegations were so strong there was nothing we could do.
A ‘preponderance of evidence’ they call it in family court, which means there’s a 51% chance something might be true. They do not need concrete proof. I immediately consented to drug screens because I knew I wasn’t a drug user. I’ve done more hair follicle tests and observed urine tests than I can count and yes, they have all been negative. However, even after providing all of the negative drug screens, they were still adamant I had a substance abuse problem. My case plan included parenting classes, therapy, a psychiatrist evaluation with medication management, a substance abuse evaluation as well as following any recommended treatment, and lastly, random drug screenings at any given time of any given day.
Working Through Case Requirements
Parenting classes were supposed to be a 10-week long course with an instructor that my husband and I had to do together. However, after our initial evaluation with her and our first class, she said she truly didn’t feel like we would benefit from 10 weeks of it. She was genuinely shocked our children were taken. The minimum amount a parent can do is 5 weeks, so she got us approved for that and we completed it in a little over 4 weeks.
Therapy is beneficial for anybody, so I was especially looking forward to it, given the drastic situation I was in. I had to attend four therapy sessions before I could be approved for a psychiatrist evaluation and medication management. My therapist only wanted to see me every two months, which would have meant it would have taken six months to be approved and move forward with my case plan. Thankfully, she allowed me to come in at quicker intervals to achieve that minimum.
It was like pulling teeth to get referrals approved and put into place so I could complete my case plan, the fight of my life to say the least. It truly feels like you’re the only one in your corner and the only one fighting to get things done. But these are my children, my sweet little boys, and I would do nothing short of fight with my life to get them home.
Finally, after a ton of following up, I was approved for medication management and a psychiatrist evaluation. Woo freakin hoo! I went to the office and saw the psychiatrist via telemedicine, which is so awkward, but that’s beside the point. She asked me questions about my mental health history, my past diagnosis, my past medications. I will never deny I struggle with mental illness; it’s something I’ve tried for so many years to advocate for normalcy. I have been on medication since January of 2019, following having my stillborn son in April of 2018. That’s when I truly noticed I was struggling. I needed more than a few moments to myself and some breathing exercises. I needed medication. I needed help. So, I got it.
Fast forward to 2020, I got pregnant with my youngest child and it was agreed upon that the medications I was on were not safe for pregnancy. I tapered off and learned to utilize my coping skills and grounding techniques to be okay unmedicated. During my pregnancy, my psychiatrist took me off his service, and following the birth of my son I had to re-establish a relationship with a new one. I definitely suffered from postpartum issues, and it was a dark time. I am diagnosed with anxiety and bipolar disorder. But, at the end of the psychiatric evaluation, the psychiatrist was also in disbelief that my children had been taken. However, she said she was happy to prescribe me medication so I could be in compliance with my case plan. Ok, great! Another thing down!
Now you’re probably wondering, when do you do your substance abuse evaluation and treatment for the substances you’re not addicted to? Well, we can get into that part now! I went in for the evaluation and had already provided at least ten negative hair follicle and urine drug screens. They had me provide another urine sample at the evaluation, asked me if I am a drug user, and when the test came back negative, again, they said there were no further recommendations and they did not need to see me. By this point, my court appointed attorney finally started to believe I was not a user and became my fierce advocate for myself and children, clearly wanting my kids home. She began to go to bat for me, I’m truly so thankful for her.
When my children went into care, I didn’t know where they were or who they were with for almost a month. My husband and I were finally allowed one 4-hour supervised visitation close to the end of the 3 week mark. It was the best day of my life. I had been beside myself without my children, yet still going to my full-time job daily and still forcing myself to function as a normal member of society. I did this so the department of child services couldn’t use anything further against me. Now, that was a dark time.
The visit went magically. I didn’t even pay two minds to the woman with her computer typing and recording these cherished moments with my children. I did not care. All that existed in those four hours were my children. At the end of the visit, they said the foster parents would like to meet me, if that was okay. I was thrilled! I finally got to get a look at who my kids were with and judge them how I was so sure they were judging me.
They walked in the door and I couldn’t create one negative thought; they looked like two people I could have been friends with. They introduced themselves, as did I, and wow, I thought they were incredible from the jump. It immediately eased so many of my fears. Following this visit, the foster mom and I began emailing. She would send me photos almost daily of activities my children were doing, when my oldest lost a tooth, them in their Halloween costumes, little moments I was missing that she did her absolute best to keep me involved with. She’ll never know how thankful I was for that, never.
We finally began our consistent visits at the visitation center at the very end of October. It was a rule at the visitation center that biological parents could not leave until the caregivers were gone. Meaning I would never have the chance to talk to them in person, at all. Well, that just didn’t work for me, and I guess I did something right to convince them to bend the rules because they allowed us to take the kiddos from the car and bring them out after visits. Those few minute exchanges are really what began to build the foundation of a beautiful relationship in the midst of a broken situation. We were able to talk, get to actually know each other, and it continued to put my heart at such ease.
Building A Friendship With The Foster Parents
After about a month or so of emailing, the foster mom said, ‘Here’s my number. I don’t know if you’re comfortable texting…’ But I was elated! It felt like I had won the lottery. She trusted me, and our relationship only continued to blossom from there. We began texting fairly often. I was able to send her messages and let my boys know I love them, and my oldest could call me if he wanted. Or if there was an issue, like my oldest stepping on an ant hill, she could text me directly and ask my permission to give him Benadryl. (Real story, he’s a clumsy kiddo! Haha)
We completed our case plans in full in the beginning of February and we were granted unsupervised visitation. I advocated for us to be able to transport my boys as well because it’s no fun sitting at one place for 2-4 hours, especially in this Florida heat. We were approved and things only went up from there. The courts had given us only 4 hours of unsupervised visitation a week, but again, foster mom and dad have been amazing. She said, ‘If you ever want them longer, we have no issues.’ Thus, a tiny bit of normalcy was born in our lives again. We would get them 5 or so hours Friday and sometimes 7 or more on Saturday. It was magical. It truly meant everything to me; every extra minute I got with my boys meant everything.
Mother’s Day was approaching and I knew I had to do something special for this woman who I considered so much more than my boy’s foster mother, I considered her a friend. We went from 2-3 minute small talk being rushed by the visitation center supervisors to 10-15 minute conversations being rushed by my oldest who was ready to leave and sick of our conversations! It felt nice, it felt normal, and the appreciation I have for her needed to be recognized. So I framed some photos of her and my boys, got her a gift card, a sweet card, and a coffee mug that read ‘best. foster. mom. ever.’ I was so giddy about giving this to her, my husband thought I was a dork!
The week before Mother’s Day weekend, she contacted me and asked if I would like an additional day of visitation with the boys for Mother’s Day on Sunday. (Our days are normally Friday & Saturday.) I was literally in tears. She valued my feelings. They are a religious family, so Sundays have always been a no-go due to church and rest for them. It was a big deal in more than one way; they were sacrificing that for me to have Mother’s Day with my boys. Again, so, so, so, grateful. I expressed my gratitude to her after we dropped the boys off and she told me it was my day.
When my children went into care, my youngest was just 6 months old. I was incredibly fearful he would end up in the hands of a family not supportive of reunification, who would fight me tooth and nail to adopt him. My experience has been the absolute opposite. They have supported us in every way and always said things like, ‘When they come home.’ Little gestures like that also meant everything.
We continued on with our unsupervised visits, and as I continued advocating for myself and my kids, we were approved for overnights in June. I was so, so, so extremely excited for this, you have no idea. Getting to put my kids to bed, make dinner for them, even have a messy house, were all things I had taken for granted previously, but never again, I assure you. The amount of patience I have gotten from being in this situation is truly invaluable, because I have constant fear someone is going to come knock on my door and cut our time together short. It’s a newfound anxiety I wouldn’t wish on absolutely anybody.
With my boys waking up here on Father’s Day, I knew I had to show up for their foster dad the same way I did mom, because the appreciation I have for them both is just unspeakable. So I also got him a framed photo, a card, a gift card, and a ‘best.foster.dad.ever’ mug. The foster mom texted me the same night and said the foster dad said, ‘You guys aren’t allowed to make me cry!’ The emotions that statement made me feel were a lot. It was always so important to me they both know I recognize them as parents, and their efforts are absolutely not unnoticed.
I never once looked at them as an enemy, but I won’t say I was never jealous of them. They got to witness moments and milestones with my children I will never get back. My youngest crawling for the first time, holding his bottle, transitioning to table foods. My oldest losing teeth, his last day of school, helping him with homework. Extreme jealousy, yes. Anger? Never. Simply gratitude for them loving my children as if they were their own the past 9 months.
Finally Coming To An End
We are set to be reunified by July 6th, 2022. You better believe I am counting down the minutes and seconds. I have never been more excited for something in my life. As angry as I am this situation happened, and as puzzled as I am they were able to take my children based on a foundation of lies, I am grateful it’s almost over. I was able to receive free therapy and psychiatrist help the past 9 months, and able to truly ground myself and stabilize my mental health.
I’ve kept myself busy with work, and it almost seems like time has flown by. I was telling my therapist it’s crazy how trauma will do that to you. I am fearful for my children to be home, only in the sense they could be taken again. However, I will still be required to do random drug screens up until my case closes, so I’m hopeful this will never happen again. I will stay in therapy and receive psychiatric treatment, as well as have my oldest continue therapy to help him cope with the trauma he has endured. I’m hopeful doing that will set us up for success in our days post reunification.
My biggest advice for someone going through this journey? If they say jump, you say how high. Once they have your children, they’ve got them. No matter what you did or did not do, you should just comply with their requests and continue to advocate for yourself and your children. I feel like my persistence has gotten me very far with my case, as well as my compliance. Have I wanted to do some of the stuff I’ve had to do? Absolutely not, but I’d do it again and again for my children.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Courtney Jean of Florida. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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