Note: Names and locations have been changed
When children enter their teens, their drive to know who they are and where they come from increases dramatically. Carly is a prime example of a young woman determined to connect with her parents no matter what the consequences.
The teenage Carly was a bit rebellious and was having difficulty in her placements. She had been in and out of the local Safe Center several times during her adolescent years and seemed restless. The case was referred to Family Finding by the Department of Human Services caseworker, with a focus on the paternal side of the family.
In the interim, Carly decided to take matters into her own hands. Having a name and location, she ran away to Idaho to find her biological mother. She was successful. Unfortunately, the experience was less than what she expected and she ended up being restrained and unable to get back home. Her biological mother's lifestyle had not improved much from when Carly was a child when parental rights were terminated. Carly eventually managed to get away and returned home more traumatized than ever.
While this was occurring, the Family Finding volunteer was hard at work investigating the files, researching the paternal side of the family, and making connections. Parental rights for the father had been terminated when Carly was two years old. Dad lost custody to the maternal grandmother and when he was unable to maintain a safe, drug free environment for his children. He had not seen nor heard about Carly since.
The Family Finding volunteer first spoke with Carly's paternal grandmother who filled in the family tree and shared phone numbers and contact information for two sisters and Dad. When the family was contacted, they expressed excitement that Carly had finally been 'found'. However, there was nobody more surprising (or surprised) than Dad. A quiet, reserved kind of man, he spoke at length about how his life was out-of-control when Carly and his other children were born. He admitted mistakes but had made a serious effort to turn his life around which was evidenced by the powerful references provided to the Family Finding volunteer. He was remarried, held a successful job, and led a quiet life in another state.
Although the caseworker was reluctant to proceed with the connection after the profound incident Carly had experienced with her mother, eventually a meeting occurred and Carly was re-connected with her father and the other safe family members who so much wanted her in their lives.
Sara is an almost 21 year old who came into foster care when she was ten years old due to her mother's death from alcoholism. An older brother was unable to care for her because of her high needs. Her father was unknown. She is currently living in an adult foster home as she is developmentally delayed and needs supervision and aid with daily tasks.
Sara’s caseworker referred her for Family Finding as she was about to ‘age out’ of Department of Human Services care and she wanted Sara to be reconnected with supportive family. After making calls, the Family Finding volunteer located and connected with Sara's older brother, James. Due to the possibility of Sara being adopted, contact with James had been halted years ago. Sara ended up not being adopted and had been living in permanent foster care. James told the Family Finder that he thought of Sara constantly over the years but didn't know how to find her.
James shared the names of extended family members and explained that he was married with two young boys of his own. He provided current photos of himself and his family, as well as photos of Sara as a child to the caseworker.
Sara was graduating from her school program and starting work at a local community college's recycling center. The caseworker explained the Family Finding program and about the search for her family members. Sara learned through Family Finding her brother James had been located. She paused and repeated his names a couple of times before shouting "Jimmy?! You found Jimmy?!" She jumped up and down crying and talked about how much she loved him and how sad she was when she was told they couldn't see each other any more because she was going to be adopted. She was worried that James was going to be upset that she was adopted, not realizing that the adoption was never finalized.
When Sara was shown the photos of herself as a baby, she stared at each picture for several minutes, entranced and absorbing the details, pointing out people she recognized. She had never seen a picture of herself as a baby. She immediately asked for a piece of paper and carefully wrote out her entire name, address, and phone numbers for Jimmy, ending it with "I love you."
Sara explained that she never really felt like she belonged with the families that she lived with and always wondered if she had a real family. When she was told that she was an 'Auntie', she flopped down on her bed with amazement. Sara had lots of questions about her mom and other family that she was excited to ask her brother.
Sara was allowed to decide when and where she would be united with her brother. When the caseworker’s visit was finished, Sara approached her, gave her a huge hug saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” before sitting down to examine the pictures again.
Joey & Eric
Consider the case of Joey and Eric, two teenagers who were raised in the foster care system for over 10 years while their family tried desperately to find them.
Joey, now 19, and his brother Eric, soon to be 17, lived in separate foster homes. Joey excelled in school, sports, and life. Eric struggled with anger issues and was moved to several different foster homes.
The case worker referred this case to Family Finding primarily at the request of Joey, who wanted to know his family.
The Family Finding volunteer located family in California, Nevada, and Oklahoma. During the first Family Meeting, family members were so anxious to connect with these young men that they were willing to drive to Oregon immediately just to meet them. An 18 year old sister even offered to be an adoptive placement.
Family members were emotional, excited, and some were even a bit angry that their early efforts to be a resource for the children had been denied. The meeting facilitator was able to direct the meeting in a positive way and the DHS case worker openly shared information about these young men with the family members. A second Family Meeting was scheduled, during which the family was assured that the boys would be in attendance.
When the day for the second Family Meeting occurred, the family called in to the conference line early. Joey (18) was the first to arrive with his foster mom. He quickly became engaged in conversation with family members on the phone. Shortly, Eric (16) arrived with the case worker. From this point forward, the meeting was far from facilitated. The family and boys exchanged memories, they laughed together, and there were emotional moments. The boys were each given access to a computer where they were directed to Facebook and MySpace pages so that they could all see the pictures of each other immediately; they talked about the past, the present, and the future. When Eric was asked about the one thing that he had dreamed about during his growing up years, he steadfastly stated, with a bit of a break in his voice, that 'the one thing he always wanted was to be with family'.
His wish may become reality... the caseworker is currently investigating the possibilities.