(Posted 2022 January)
One of the things that foster care continues to teach us is the importance of honoring family connections and remaining consistent in our efforts to identify, explore and maintain them.
In March 2019, Fairfax County Foster Care and Adoption received custody of an 11-year-old young lady whom we’ll call Gaby*. At the time of placement, Gaby’s father’s recent incarceration had left her without a caregiver.
Gaby had recently migrated to the United States from Honduras where she had been raised by her paternal grandparents until their passing. Neither she nor her father were able to identify any family connections in her home country. Gaby had never had a relationship with birth mother, who last saw Gaby when she was only a few days old. In addition, FC&A staff were unable to locate any relatives in the states during the initial search.
Finding family members proved to be a bit like putting together a puzzle. After piecing together information for various sources, staff obtained contact information for Gaby’s birth mother. She was elated to receive information about her daughter, but she was in no position to take Gaby in and care for her. Instead, Gaby’s mother gave staff the information they needed to find Gaby’s relatives in the United States.
When contacted, these relatives were also thrilled to hear about how Gaby was doing. It was greatly disappointing for everyone to learn that their personal and financial constraints prevented them from being a placement resource.
A Return to Honduras
Several months later, Gaby’s father was still in jail, no new family members had been identified, but Gaby’s birth mother was in a better position and decided that she wanted her daughter to live with her in Honduras.
At this point an international home study request was completed and within a few months Gaby’s birth mother was approved as a placement. The department used this period to begin Gaby’s phone and virtual visits with her mom. They got to know each other, and Gaby bonded with the siblings that she had never known. The department also maintained Gaby’s ongoing contact with her father through phone calls and face-to-face visits at the jail.
Gaby enjoyed her monthly visits with her dad and shared her excitement with him about getting to know her mom and moving to live with her. Although, he wanted his daughter to stay in the United States, he understood the plan to place her with her mom. As part of the planning process for her transition to her mom’s care, various services were put in place to support Gaby in her foster home, at school, and with the new familial relationships.
COVID-19 Impacts the Plan
Unfortunately, during the planning stages the COVID-19 pandemic hit and derailed the plans. Government shutdowns, financial and transportation constraints made it impossible to secure the needed documentation or make the travel arrangements required for staff to transport Gaby to Honduras.
The shutdown had a significant impact on Gaby’s mental health, and she became ambivalent about returning to Honduras. Additional supportive services were put in place to support her virtually. In addition, her treatment team met monthly, virtually, to ensure that she had the right services. The team was mindful of the services and supports put in place to not overcompensate based on the behaviors Gaby was exhibiting at the time and focused on identifying the root cause.
Despite all this, the department managed to maintain her connections with her parents and siblings who were now all back in Honduras.
Foster Care Staff Find Gaby a Permanent Home
Several months into the pandemic, it became evident to staff that it would not be possible to place Gaby in Honduras with her mother. The department began contacting relatives who had been identified earlier in the case and through the process located additional relatives. This led to the discovery that Gaby’s aunt’s circumstances had changed, and she would be able to care for her niece.
The department arranged for them to have ongoing contact through phone and other virtual means. Gaby enjoyed getting to know her family. She learned about other relatives, met her cousins, and saw pictures of herself when she was younger. Since the aunt lived in another state, the department also submitted a request through the interstate compact for the placement of children so that her aunt could become a relative foster parent. The process took several months to complete but her aunt was eventually approved, and the department was able to place Gaby with her aunt’s family.
Through this placement Gaby remains connected to her parents and siblings, and she has gotten to know extended family members. She is thriving and the behavioral and mental health concerns that started to surface in her foster home are nonexistent.
Gaby’s story helps to remind us about the importance of family connections and the need to always keep trying even when we hit roadblocks. Due to the efforts of her team Gaby’s familial and cultural connections will be maintained. She is connected to both sides of her family, and they all feel confident that they have the support needed to continue to thrive as a family.
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.
This article is by Nakejah Allen, South County Foster Care Unit.
This article posting is part of the Foster Family News monthly newsletter designed to keep foster parents informed about all the new and notable happenings in Fairfax County.
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