Real Parents, Real StoriesAs I stated, my website and blog is to and for parents who are involved with the Child Welfare system in New Jersey. In my experience, other than the death of a family member, the removal of a child from a parent's custody is the most stressful and traumatic situation one can face in life. That's right, I put it even ahead of divorce on that list. Divorce or the end of a relationship is traumatic, sure, but it is within the realm of experiences that many people face. Divorce is not uncommon. People feel that can talk to friends and family about feelings of loss after divorce, or even death.
But involvement with the child welfare system is different. Parents are dealing not only with the removal of their child, but the stigma attached to being involved with the system. At the same time, they feel the stress of attempting to deal with the issues that led to the Division's involvement, and struggle to comply with required services. These stress factors can be even more difficult when parents are facing serious issues in their own lives, such as incarceration, financial difficulties, or drug and alcohol abuse.
In my years of practice I have sat next to my parents in both happy and sad moments. I have seen many successful reunifications, and have also seen parents lose their parental rights at trial or surrender them voluntarily.
Although I experience these emotions myself, I still cannot imagine walking in the shoes of a parent who has actually experienced them. A former client of mine who I will call "Jennifer" (name has been changed of course), has graciously volunteered to allow me to share her story with you. I thank her very much! We discussed her case and collaborated on this article based on our recollections, in hopes that her story will be a source of hope and inspiration for others.
"I told Jennifer not to give up hope. She was compliant with the court orders and working very hard to achieve reunification. She had a good relationship with her son who enjoyed his visits. But still, I had to advocate for her very aggressively, in order to convince the court not to reduce her parenting time with her son."
"Jennifer could have chosen to give up her rights but instead somehow found the courage and inner strength to carry on. Because of Jennifer’s hard work and determination, the court did not terminate her rights. The Court saw that Jennifer’s son loved her and that his return was in his best interest. Although not all cases have similar results, Jennifer has shown that success if possible for parents who will work to achieve it. She has agreed to let me share her story so that other parents involved in the system will know that they can succeed as well if they put their children first.”