‘We’re Here For You’
Support and straight talk from my parent advocate helped me trust my lawyer and her team.
|Art by Stephanie “Meadow” Kunar
|Ebonie's story was reprinted—along with a story by Center for Family Representation Parent Advocate Milagros Sanchez—in the December 2009 issue of Child Law Practice, a newsletter of the American Bar Association.
On my first day in family court after my son was placed in foster care, I walked up to my court-appointed attorney, introduced myself and asked, “How can you help me?” He just stared me up and down. In court, he said nothing on my behalf. I was furious.
That day, I saw a woman zipping quickly around the waiting area, talking to other women. She seemed to really care, so I followed her. I asked, “Are you a lawyer?” She said, “I’m a social worker,” and breezed away.
Alone and Hopeless
For a month after that court date, I did not begin any of the services, did not visit my son or go to court, and fell deeper into my addiction to crack cocaine. I felt hopeless. I believed that I could trust no one to help me.
My mother had called in the neglect report because I was abusing crack and was neglecting my beautiful 8-month-old baby boy. I was taking advantage of my mother’s kindness. I often left my son with her and didn’t return for days at a time.
One day, when I returned from running in the street, my son was gone. I knew immediately that he was in foster care. My mom told me, “What I did was necessary.”
I was devastated. I felt my son was my only reason to breathe.
A Glimmer of Hope
A friend convinced me to visit my son and stop feeling sorry for myself. After I saw my son, I went to the next court date.
This time, instead of the lawyer who had first represented me, I found out that a whole team from the Center for Family Representation (CFR)had been assigned to represent me: a litigation specialist, staff attorney, social worker and parent advocate. The social worker, Adjara, was the woman I had seen zipping around!
My team told me, “We’re here for you.” They spoke to me with respect and gave me a glimmer of hope.
I was not ready to be clean, and I was honest about that. The CFR team was straightforward, too. They told me that if I didn’t get myself together, they would not be able to be of any help to me.
Monique, the parent advocate, then took a walk with me and took me to lunch. She asked me to go into treatment and do the right thing in order to be proud of myself and to have a son who is proud of his mom.
Monique didn’t judge or disrespect me. She pushed me hard in a good way. I knew what she was telling me was right. So I promised to enter treatment, and Monique made a date to escort me to the program.
The day of our appointment, though, I stood Monique up. I went to the treatment program on my own. I was overwhelmed by her genuine concern. It made me afraid.
My Strong Points
In the program, I found out that I had a bigger problem than drugs. Even once I got clean, I was in pain and full of distrust because of abuse I went through in my past, so
my behavior was bad. Every time I went to court, the report from my treatment facility was very negative. I felt ashamed that my personal information was being shared
in court and feared that I would not get my son back.
But my CFR team jumped on my strong points. They told the judge that all of my drug tests were clean and I did not miss visits. I also got certificates for completing
a number of programs.
I was surprised that my CFR team continued to speak to me with respect even after they heard the bad things about me in court. It’s hard to talk to someone in a positive way about her negative behavior. But my team didn’t talk down to me. They were careful with their words and they stayed positive.
Soon I got unsupervised visits, but I hit more bumps in my case. First, the treatment program asked me to leave because of my behavior. Immediately, the agency dropped my visits back to once a week, supervised, even though I was still testing clean. I called my lawyer. I don’t know how she did it, but unsupervised visits were reinstated the next day.
On my own, I got into outpatient treatment and started therapy and anger management. A year and a half after my son went into foster care, he came home on trial
During the trial discharge, I got a new case called in on me. I called Monique right away and she told me, “Don’t let anyone in until I get there.” Monique was right there when the child protective worker arrived, and she helped me get the case dropped.
Proud of Me
Looking back, I don’t think I showed how much CFR’s help meant to me. Every time my team saw me, I had an attitude about something that was going wrong, and I was pushy. I was annoyed about going through the system.
But I called CFR every time I ran into trouble. I grew to trust them because, in court, they stuck to reuniting me with my son. They cared and they touched me by being themselves.
Now everyone from CFR looks at me with pride. When I got my son on trial discharge, I needed a stroller. Monique called to say, “Come and get it.” At the CFR office,
my team welcomed me and gave me Pampers, wipes and a Maclaren stroller. I was so
Soon after, Monique came to visit me at home—at the apartment she found for me. “I couldn’t wait to see you with your son at home!” she told me, and I gave her a big hug.