The success stories of the children and families we have served are inspirational. Read through these amazing stories to see how CFSS makes a difference in the lives of individuals, families and communities. Some of the names and details in the stories have been changed to protect the identities of those involved. Each one is shared here with permission of the families and individuals whose successes serve as inspiration to others.
Dalmar’s parents and three older siblings were from the Congo in Africa. His parents were confused about their children being placed in foster care because there is no equivalent to the child welfare system in the Congo. Dalmar’s parents did not know how to navigate the child welfare and behavioral health systems. The CPS team’s understanding of the family’s culture was also very limited.
Dalmar was a humorous and charismatic young man whom many people would describe as an ‘old soul.’ He enjoyed playing basketball, listening to music and learning about astrology. Dalmar was very attached to his family and would often express how much he loved them. He was loyal to his parents and would not allow anyone to speak negatively about them in his presence.
Dalmar was very angry about being separated from his family and he was worried about their well-being. Dalmar would choose not to take his medication when his blood sugar was high or refuse to eat when his blood sugar was low. Dalmar had recently run away from the group home without his medication and ended up in the hospital in a diabetic coma. Dalmar’s team and the consulting doctors were concerned that Dalmar was a danger to himself because he was not managing his diabetes. The team was considering RTC placement to address the safety concern.
We asked the team to allow an opportunity to see if Dalmar could be successful in the community with support, and the team agreed. Dalmar was not interested in receiving any type of behavioral health services and was hesitant to trust new people. He had lived in a very close knit community and it was very difficult for him to adjust to living in the group home. Dalmar was expressing his need to see his family and to know that they were ok. We began to advocate for Dalmar to be able to have visitation with his family and when this request was granted we began to support family visits by taking him to visit with his siblings and his mom. As we began to support Dalmar in visiting his family, he began to gain more trust.
We also supported Dalmar in setting goals. He decided he wanted to play basketball at his school and we helped him create an action plan to do so. We had to create a strong relationship with the group home to help them understand Dalmar’s need to be connected to his family and create a positive identify. At times the group home would punish Dalmar by taking away family visits or support from CFSS. We were able to partner with the group home to see these visits and CFSS support as therapeutic for Dalmar. They eventually were able to see Dalmar’s negative behavior improve as his needs were being met.
Dalmar’s mother was living in a domestic violence shelter when CFSS began working with Dalmar. She expressed that she wanted to get an apartment and be reunited with her children. We began to help Dalmar’s mother look for apartments and complete the tasks that CPS asked of her in order to be reunited with her children. We partnered with her to help her understand the system and what CPS was asking her to do. Some of the team members were concerned that supporting Dalmar’s mother in this way was enabling her. We worked with the team to help them understand the impact that reunification with his family would have for Dalmar.
We were able to support Dalmar and his family in participating in cultural events, such as the Congolese Independence Day celebration. We supported Dalmar and his family during family events such as holidays, birthdays and graduations. This support was necessary because CPS would not allow him to have unsupervised visits with his family. We were able to build relationships with the Congolese community and find family members who could support Dalmar and his family. Through participating in these events and connecting with the community we were able to learn more about the family’s culture. Dalmar and his siblings were able to have overnight visits with two of their aunts and the youngest sibling eventually went to live with one of the aunts. We also supported Dalmar in reconnecting with a former teacher and friends that he grew up with.
Dalmar was able to continue to live in the community and manage his diabetes. He went on to play sports in high school and was voted Homecoming King during sophomore and senior year. Dalmar continues to have a close relationship with his family.
When others were recommending out of home placement, when told to give up and that her son was “the devil’s spawn,” when neighbors refused to let their children play with him, CFSS had to question what they could do differently to support this family. How could CFSS help them find peace and meet the basic need of feeling safe in their home and community?
It started with the Direct Support Worker creating opportunities for practicing their daily routine together. We encouraged the activities Jason enjoyed and wanted to explore, like drawing, basketball, swimming, baseball, scooters and looking for trains. While with him, we were able to observe the details of what triggered him and determine what particular techniques would “in-the-moment” work to reduce his fear and stress. After determining what setting conditions increased the likelihood of an outburst, we consistently implemented specific non-verbal and verbal strategies to support him through these challenges.
Today, Jason will say that because of CFSS, “I am not afraid anymore.” He is no longer the boy who hurts his mom and others, who destroys property, is isolated and is not welcome in neighbors’ homes. He is now a young man who earned his black belt in Taekwondo, teaches gymnastics to children, hangs out with his friends and is planning to attend a regular high school in the fall. He no longer needs adults watching his every move for safety concerns. Jason is not just a “success story,” he is a hero.
The school district that he would be attending for elementary school had agreed to home school him to prepare him for entering a classroom. Homeschooling for his age group consisted of someone coming to his home twice a week for 45 minutes to play educational games. The teacher would easily become frustrated with Nico’s inability to stay focused on the task for the full 45 minutes and would often leave early.
After spending a few months with Nico, observing when he struggled the most and when he was thriving, it became clear that much of his behavior was a result of being bored. Nico had limited opportunity to engage in play, or any kind of activity with children. While he would play video games and play with toys alone in his room, he didn’t play with Corina and, as the only child, didn’t have other children in the home to play with. Corina looked at me one day with tears in her eyes and said, “I don’t know what to do. He always wants me to play with him, and then I get mad and yell. I don’t know HOW to play with him.” The first step was to teach Corina how to play. Despite her fear of this, she quickly realized that it was fun and that she could be very good at it. Corina and I then partnered to try to find community activities where he could play with peers. Though Nico was enjoying these activities and learning new skills, something was missing. He was able to succeed in the activities we created, but what would happen in a classroom when there was a structured routine and when he had to compete with other children for the attention of the adults and his peers?
We met with the Child and Family Team and requested that the school district join us to discuss options. The psychologist made it very clear that her recommendation would be to wait until he was ready to enter kindergarten in a mainstream classroom (specialized schools cost the school district money, and she wasn’t convinced that he had special needs that would necessitate this). Nico had recently thrown one of the educational games at the teacher’s head during a homeschooling session, resulting in that session ending early. The psychologist considered this a “red flag” in regards to his ability to safely interact with peers and engage in a classroom setting “appropriately” at that time. Corina looked defeated by this discussion, as her fear was that he would never be ready.
I raised a question that could have caused some tension in the room. “If the concern is that he does not interact safely with peers, and the plan is to keep him isolated from peers until his behavior changes, how are we expecting to see change? Doesn’t he need to have the opportunity to interact with peers if he is going to learn how to do so safely?” At first the room was silent. Then Corina expressed the progress she has seen with Nico and what she thinks are current barriers to his growth. One of his case managers then agreed with her. After much discussion, the team was able to convince the psychologist that isolation was not the answer. She agreed to recommend that Nico attend a school that was familiar with his behavior patterns and was equipped to respond to some of the sensory needs that led to these behaviors, in hopes that this school could prepare him for entering kindergarten.
Nico was able to truly shine once he was in the classroom. He learned how to play with peers, follow instructions, and rely on routine and predictability. Corina was then able to implement similar routines and structure at home. Corina called one day and said, “We need to talk. Life is different, and we need to talk. I love my kid!” After struggling for so long, Corina was able to enjoy her family again.
The following account was written in 2009 by a young person supported by Child & Family Support Services:
I was born May 11, 1995 in Yuma, AZ and I lived with mom and grandma in Yuma. In Kindergarten, we (my mom and grandma and two brothers) moved to California. I sometimes got mad. I did schoolwork and lived with my family.
Academically, I was average. Sometimes I was bad. I can’t remember why. In 1st grade, I got in more trouble, especially with substitutes because they think they know everything. They don’t listen very well and yell a lot. Sometimes we had a lot of substitutes. This is kind of how it was all the way until 5th grade. I also played on a football team in California at Boys and Girls Club in 5th grade. One day, I asked my mom if I could live with my dad in Arizona. She said, “Ok.” She wanted me to be happy.
In 5th grade, I moved to Arizona to live with my dad. I was still getting in trouble. One day I went too far. I took a knife to school. A kid made me mad. I took out the knife. I was going to scare him. They called the cops. I was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon at 10 years old. I went to juvy for one night. Then I had an ankle bracelet, was on house arrest for a month or three. I cleaned a lot. Living with my dad, I used to go outside a lot- participated in sports. But I also got in trouble a lot. I violated probation by not going to school, getting into fights. One time, I ran away. I just went around. I did it because I was mad.
I went to Youth Development Institute (YDI) treatment center for anger management when I was 11. I got in trouble there a lot too for fighting, kicking and biting staff and peers. I don’t want to do that anymore. I have motivation. I want to go home. I was in YDI for 6 months. I got in a fight (I think they were tired of me) and they called the cops. I was arrested. It was Friday the 13th. I went to juvy.
I got out of juvy on December 5th and went to San Marcos Treatment Center. They said it was a good treatment center and I think it helped a lot. It helped me deal with my anger by teaching me coping skills that I can use when I am mad. I learned that I can read, write or go to sleep instead of arguing or fighting. I didn’t like San Marcos. It was boring and I was too far away from my family. I wanted to go home to California to be with my mom.
In California, I have family support to help me make better decisions. I think I respond better to my mom than other authority figures. Yeah, it’s because I love her. I might still get in trouble, but I’m going to try not to. I’ll hang out with nerdy kids. I don’t know how that will help me, but I think they would not be doing anything bad- most of the time. I will avoid things that will get me locked up. I will try not to break the law. I will avoid doing drugs, getting into fights, cursing at my teachers, etc. When situations happen, I will just have to think to myself, is this worth going to jail for? Nothing is really worth going to jail for.
Don’s Mom’s Story
The following account was written in 2009 by the mother of a young person supported by Child & Family Support Services:
I think Don was a pretty normal baby. He developed at a normal rate, though he always seemed able to go from 0-100 really fast. He got mad faster than my other kids. I was on crystal meth when I was pregnant, but Don developed normally, some milestones were even early. He crawled at five months, walked before he was a year old and was potty trained at one year and ten months. He did cry–a lot–and when he got to the age where he could hit, he would try to hit me. My other kids did it once and that was it. I tried spanking Don, but it was like a power struggle. When he was two, it seemed to stop. Don has always been very high energy.
His feistiness continued. When he had his friends over, they would say that he hit them. With his brothers, they treated him as an equal. If he tried to pick a fight with his brothers, they would fight back. The brothers all got along pretty well. It seems like growing up Don got angry easily and didn’t know what to do with this emotions.
It’s very different now. Maybe it’s a honeymoon period when I see him because I haven’t seen him in so long. He’s being really good. Because his visits are so short with me, it’s almost like he does not have the opportunity to get mad. He was wrestling with his brother recently and I heard him say, “You’re lucky that I don’t fight anymore.” I saw this as Don’s more recent ability to see negative behaviors as something of the past. I think he is recognizing that he has control over his actions.
This last weekend in Yuma was busy- lots of cleaning and moving things around to get ready for the parties. In Phoenix sometimes we go bowling or rent videos and games. It’s hard because Don expects to do fun things all the time. Don is learning what it is like to just be at home and hang out. He always wants to do something special. I think he looks forward to action on the weekends, because he spends all week looking forward to our visits. Sometimes I have had a really busy week and am ready for a break. We are learning what it is like to spend time together again.
If Don got angry or aggressive with me around I would remind him about what he has learned. I don’t know what’s going to make him angry. We have spent a lot of time apart. I think it is important to remind him what he has learned. I would talk to him about what he’s done in the past- other things that have worked. I would encourage him to talk to me. Don being so far away is hard for me, especially when he was in treatment, because I couldn’t participate in what he was learning. I want to be part of his life and help him make good choices, but it’s hard because we’ve been apart.
In the home, there are four of us–myself, husband and Don’s two brothers, Zach, 17, and Ray, 19. My relationship with my husband is perfect. I’m not saying he’s perfect, but he’s my match. We fit. He’s the stability I’ve never had and has helped me grow and be a more focused person. He’s very caring and very, very patient with me and everyone around us. My boys love him very much and so do I. He also loves us and supports us in every way.
Zach and Ray get along really well with Don. Ray has gotten in trouble in school before, but never for fighting. He was put on probation in 6th grade for taking a knife to school. It was a show knife. He was never an angry kid or a fighter. Ray is working on his GED. Zach is in high school and had a few bad years where he didn’t do well. He’s doing better now and is starting to play on the football team.
I work full time at daycare as a teacher for two-year-olds. It’s tiring sometimes. I take a lot of classes about caring for children. Sometimes this helps with caring for my own kids. But my kids are so different and they are much older.
Our family is very involved in church. Everyone goes every Sunday- sometimes more. They have an awesome youth program that does a lot of activities. I think Don would be interested in this.
My biggest concern for Don is that I want him to be a healthy person. I see him going on the right track. That’s what I want for him. I want him to be able to make healthy decisions. I try to give him guidance when I talk to him and try to be an example for him. It’s hard because he’s a teenager and they think they know everything. I try my best. I want him to find his own voice within. I think Don has changed in the past few years. He is more conscious about the choices he makes. When it comes down to it, he knows there are consequences to his choices. I’m glad that he is the person he’s becoming. This is what it’s about- making good choices. I think Don is beginning to realize that there are outcomes to the choices he makes.
My hope for Don is that he can come home to be with his family. It’s very hard not to have as much contact with Don as I would like. This sometimes makes me mad or sad. I am helping D’Angelo by encouraging him to make good choices and by letting him know he’s doing good. I want him to know that his family loves him and we will wait for him.
Finally, Don can be home! Last night the ICPC worker emailed me and told me that everything was approved and they are only waiting on one form to be sent in from Arizona and then it will be really official. I am happy to have Don home and he is glad he doesn’t have to go back. It’s a good feeling. It’s been a long time.
I just want to say something about our life, or really about myself. It seems to me that it would be easy to look at the situations and blame my kids’ actions on me and my parenting. To you I say, “Go ahead.” I’m not the same person I was yesterday and, for that matter, all those years ago; the one who started having babies at 16. I take responsibility for my actions and in-actions because I know now that they played the biggest part of all this. Now my focus is my children and, more so, Don right now. I’ve been clean from drugs since November 9th 2002 and I am willing to do whatever, go wherever, learn whatever to get my child back. To all you who are helping us along this journey I am so grateful to you. To Don I say, “Hang in there, son, we love you and you are doing a great job!”