Three years ago, my son was removed from my home because he had serious behavioral problems and I had become too sick and exhausted to care for him.
I raised my son on my own until he was 9 years old. For five years, he was in and out of psychiatric hospitals because of his impulsive, destructive behavior. He was diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder.
I found services to support my son: daycares and camps for mentally ill children, case management, mentoring and in-home counseling. Still, I felt I needed someone capable of keeping him for a weekend, just so I could rest. I looked for respite and even explored placing my son temporarily in therapeutic foster care.
I Lost My Son
Then, in the winter of 2006, I developed pneumonia and ended up in the emergency room. While there, I made statements I deeply regret. I told the nurses, “I have a special needs son who is causing me a lot of stress. I feel like I’m going to choke him or seriously harm him if I go back home!” I was just physically and mentally exhausted and wanted help.
Within days, CPS in Virginia, where I lived, had arranged for my son’s father in Texas to take full custody.
Six months later, my son went to school in Texas with bruises because his father had become overwhelmed by his behavior and hit him. My son went into residential treatment in Texas and his father gave up his rights.
What Could I Do?
At that time, I could not afford to move to Texas. I asked CPS in Texas to return my son to Virginia so that I could get services while visiting my son in foster care. But the CPS worker told me, “You will have to move to Texas to get services.” I didn’t have a lawyer and didn’t understand my rights, so I believed there was nothing I could do.
Then, on June 6, 2006, I got an order to come to court in Texas, which I could not do. Soon after, I got a court order in the mail, saying that my rights had been terminated. The court order said that I had knowingly placed my son with someone who endangered his well being.
I was so angry and hurt. Why was I held accountable for what happened between my son and his father when I was more than 1,000 miles away and Virginia CPS had placed my son in his father’s care?
Apart for Three Years
Now it has been three years since I last saw my son. Since my rights were terminated, my son has not been allowed to talk to me, but he has occasionally called his grandmother, my mother. We both cry not knowing how is he being treated. I ask myself, “Why couldn’t anybody see my side of this—being a single parent, overwhelmed but doing the best that I could?”
But I believe that change is on its way. After a period when I wasn’t in touch with anyone at CPS, I was contacted by a Texas child protective caseworker. He wanted to know if I was interested in reuniting with my son. “Yes, of course,” I said. He advised me that if I moved to Texas, the system could offer me services. I did not understand why he was contacting me, but I didn’t ask. I was just grateful that he wanted to help me.
At the time, I still could not move to Texas. But the caseworker and I stayed in touch. He would ask me, “Do you ever plan on moving? What are your plans for your son?’ Finally, with help from my son’s father and from my job, I moved to Texas in April, 2009.
Working with CPS
When I arrived in Austin, Texas, the first thing I did was call the caseworker.
At first, he said that he did not know what to tell me because CPS had to meet with the judge to announce my arrival. But soon he called and said that he talked with the judge. They agreed to work with me on a parenting plan. They said I would have to get a psychological evaluation and take a parenting class, which I did. I also started counseling with a social worker who works with CPS-involved parents.
My counselor was surprised by my case. She asked me, “How did CPS get involved with your case after your parental rights were terminated?” I also talked with a lawyer in Texas, who said, “It’s a miracle that CPS is communicating with you.”
I did research and learned that, under normal circumstances, once your rights are taken away in Texas, that is the end. But the CPS worker told me there is a pilot program to reconnect children in residential treatment with family. I am hopeful that, this time, my son and I will get the support we need to reconnect.
‘What Is Going On?’
On Sept. 2, 2009, I went to a court date for my son. When I got there, I was nervous. The judge said, “I hear the biological mother is here.”
“Yes, I am Mrs. Burks,” I said. The judge said hello and that he was glad to see me. He asked the department, “What is going on here? Why are you communicating with Mrs. Burks?”
They didn’t seem to have an answer at first. Then the CASA, who is there to support the child’s point of view, stood up and said, “Yes, we are working with Ms. Burks.”
‘I Miss My Son’
The judge asked me, “What do you want to see happen?”
“I miss my son,” I said. “I want the chance to see him again.”
He said, “So you do not want CPS to have legal rights over him any longer?”
“No,” I said. “I want my rights back as a parent. Even though my son and I had rough times, I miss him and I am hoping we can have a fresh start.”
The judge asked CPS, “What do you think?” They agreed to start the communication process. I was so excited. Even though it was just a first step, I felt like I had accomplished my mission in moving to Texas, like I could do the impossible.
Soon I got a call from my son’s caseworker, who said he was trying to schedule family therapy. I couldn’t wait! I would actually see my son and be able to tell him, “I am still fighting for you. I care about you and love you.”
But later on, my son’s caseworker told me that my son was having a hard time dealing with the fact that I want to be back in his life. My son was confused because he’d been told that he would not be able to see me until he was 18. I was surprised to hear that my son didn’t feel ready to see me.
On January 6, 2010 I went to court again and the judge told me that my son did not want to see me. He said my son he had been told that I did not want anything to do with him and didn’t care about him.
When I heard this, I felt so bad for my son that I started crying. My son must have been so sad thinking that I did not want to see him. I also felt sad because I learned in court that his foster parents had requested that he be removed from their home due to behavior problems. My son was back in a crisis hospital.
Now it has been almost a year since I moved to Texas. I am still in therapy and communicate regularly with my son’s workers, but I have not been allowed to see my son or speak with him. I was told that I could write my son a letter. My son’s therapist would determine if my son should read it.
In the letter, I told my son, “I am sorry about how things turned out here in Texas for you. I moved back to Texas to see you again and I miss you. I know you have been going through a lot, but I have been through a lot also. I am not leaving Texas until I see you again. I hope you are doing OK and I love you.” I pray that my son will be able to read it.
Recently, my son’s worker gave me a picture of him. I also spoke with a program director at CPS and we seem to be on the same page. She said that my son’s behavior is so challenging that, in reality, he may not be able to live with me, but we can work toward weekend visits.
Any kind of visit would be nice. I can’t wait for the day to come when I can see my son again. I feel that I need to see that my son is alive and well, and I want to be able to offer him my support and love.