Articles

Getting Ben Back

A Letter From a Birth Parent

During those three years in prison, I kept in contact with the social worker assigned to my child’s case, and proceeded to take any and every parenting, drug recovery and skill class I could. Once I was released in January 2013, the first call I made was to the social worker for my child to begin the process for visitation.

Before my first visit, my anxiety was high. Ben was one-and-a-half when he was placed in foster care. Would he remember me? He was living with a foster family in southwest Virginia, and I had moved to Tennessee to be with family. In order to see Ben, I had to find work and a home in Virginia. It took some time but I found employment and a home in March 2013. Granted, where I moved was more than four hours away from where Ben was living. I made the ride every other week for a one hour visit. The company that the Department of Social Services used to monitor and schedule our visits was more focused on the foster family and DSS. They instructed Ben to call me Helen, not mom, and I was instructed to limit hugs towards him. I felt so frustrated and isolated from bonding with him. I had team meetings month after month with the social worker, foster parents and the individual monitoring the visits. Those always left me feeling emotionally beaten down and more guilty than I already felt. It felt like I was going into battle against an army by myself.

Over numerous months, my visits were changed from one hour supervised to three hours unsupervised, however I still felt like I was going into battle month after month with the team meetings. The focus was not how all parties could work together in the best interest of the child.

Then, in October 2013, a series of events occurred and Ben was placed in another foster family’s home, thirty minutes from mine. UMFS was the placing agency. My defenses went on high alert due to my past experiences with foster families and agencies. On the day Ben moved, the UMFS supervisor called me to inform me that he had made it to the foster home safely and was adjusting very well. I was so relieved. The supervisor also informed me I could still have my scheduled visit with my son to take him trick-or- treating on Halloween.

I began to have weekly meetings with a UMFS worker for parenting classes. When I had concerns dealing with Ben and voiced them to UMFS staff, they listened and treated me as his mother, not a stranger, and they had answers. UMFS also had a parenting class that I was able to attend. To my surprise it included a couple becoming foster parents. The instructor from UMFS joined foster family perspective and what they deal with, as well as birth parents’ perspective. This was the first time I felt like it wasn’t me against the system, it was about how we could work together in order to help my child transition from foster family back to birth family. This was such a relief — it’s hard enough to imagine someone else raising your child, but even more difficult when you have to fight for everyone to come together in his best interest and to make the transition easier for him.

I honestly feel if UMFS had been involved from the beginning, I would have had Ben in my home sooner. UMFS actually works hard and encourages the foster families and birth parents to work as a team in the process to help the child through the transitions more easily. I’m happy to say that I will have full custody of my son this coming August. UMFS really brings families together with care, compassion and teamwork from the directors to the rest of the staff, everyone practices these values.