Substance Abuse — The Thief that Robs Parent from Child

What do we really want for our children? We want them to grow into kind, functioning adults who are joyful, find their purpose and ultimately contribute to society. Easy stuff right? Under the best of circumstances, that’s a pretty tall order.

sadchildParents will do whatever it takes to help their children reach these goals. It can be challenging. For starters, kids need safety and security and food and shelter. But also important are clothing, medical care, heat in cold climates, lessons in hygiene, boundary setting, emotional support, socializing. The list goes on and on. But love and consistency are at the center of developing a young child, born full of potential, into a healthy adult.

But what if, as a parent, you don’t have the all the tools you need? What if you realize the big job ahead of you? What if you get scared? Or you don’t have the best coping skills? What if drugs or alcohol gave you relief? Or, you thought it did.

Enter substance abuse into a family, and even a child’s most basic needs are at risk.

Though each child’s experience will vary, most children of parents who suffer from substance abuse face a myriad of issues that affect the child’s entire life:

A parent might not come home at night, leaving the children to fend for themselves;

Mom cannot keep promises and may not even remember a promise was made;

Dad may have trouble keeping a job and struggle with paying bills, providing food or medical care;

Mom cannot help with homework, prepare meals or provide lessons in personal hygiene.

Consider this child, a child of a parent who suffers from substance abuse and you can imagine him going to school hungry, perhaps unwashed, in unclean and poor fitting clothes with incomplete homework. He or she, most likely on top of all that they endure at home, will experience teasing and bullying at school. He or she, most likely, has no coping skills to deal with the day they’ve been given.

Add family fights, neglect and emotional or physical abuse, and that’s a recipe that can lead to a child or children being removed from their home and placed into foster care.

Foster care can isolate a child, preventing them from forming healthy relationships with their peers. We can hope their teacher offers kindness instead of a reprimand for incomplete homework. Hopefully, the cafeteria server sees a hungry child and gives an extra helping and offers a smile. But in spite of the kindness offered, the feeling of hopelessness is a natural response to being removed from their home, and even though it is through no fault of their own, the child feels responsible for tearing the family apart.

With all that suffering placed on their small shoulders, the child begins to lose focus at school, they act out, they cannot see a future for themselves. All too often, they feel lost, confused and voiceless.

Fortunately, for a child living in foster care, their hope, their voice comes in the form of a CASA volunteer. A CASA volunteer may be the only compassionate, consistent adult in that child’s precarious life. One single bond from a caring adult can give hope to a child who deserves joy and the opportunity to reach their potential. One single bond can save a child’s life.

CASA volunteers are trained in the complicated issues of families dealing with substance abuse. A CASA volunteer can help guide families to the resources and the support they need to help break the cycle of substance abuse, get their family back together and ensure another child, another family, is given the opportunity to thrive.

Learn more at AtlanticCapeCASA.org

 

When Families Reunite Everyone Wins

One day at school, a seven-year-old Jonas was found with an apple-sized bruise on the back of his neck. His teacher brought him to the school nurse, who found more bruises on the child’s back, sides, and arms. Most disconcerting were the long, thin, vertical marks that stretched from his neck to the middle of his back. The result of a belt, the nurse thought.

The nurse asked the boy how he got the bruises.

“I scratched myself,” he replied.

The next day, a worker from child services was called into the school to speak with the child. In addition to the linear, vertical bruises on his back, he also had similar horizontal marks across his rib cage. His ear was swollen, his legs were bruised and scabbed, and he had dark marks on his behind and his bicep.

When the division worker asked the child how this happened to him, he said he was not in pain and that he scratched himself.

“Is your mokids_drawingther nice to you?” The division worker then asked.

The boy was silent.

Back at home, Jonas lived with his infant sister Mia, his mother, and Mia’s father. As a child, the mother had been disciplined with a belt and used the same manner to discipline her son. But one day after the child had made a mess, she struck her son seven times with a belt creating the bruises that the teacher, nurse and case worker were looking at now.

A Notice of Emergency Removal was issued, and the siblings were placed under the custody and supervision of the Division. Fortunately, the children were able to stay with their grandmother during this time.

CASA Volunteer, Bill was assigned to the children’s case. During a visit to Jonas’ school, Bill learned that he was having difficulty interacting with his peers; he would act out aggressively if other students got too close. His ability to focus also needed improvement. Bill asked the teachers if there were opportunities for counseling or training that could help. They suggested interpersonal relationship or anger management training, and Bill put in a request to the courts for these services.

Bill also sought out the children’s medical records and visited them at their grandmother’s house. When Mia was diagnosed with medical problems that were not being corrected with medication, Bill recommended early intervention services for her, which were ordered by the courts.

While the children were doing well with the grandmother, the children’s mother and boyfriend received counseling and continued to see their children on a regular schedule. She was making progress, even being diagnosed and now treated for PSTD, which she suffered from because of her previous service in the armed forces.

While CASA Bill continued to monitor the children’s well being, he stayed on top of the mother’s progress as well. When she was involved in a domestic violence issue with her boyfriend, Bill recommended supervised visits and an anger management course for both adults.

After six months of living with their grandmother, both children were improving. Mia was reaching her development milestones and Jonas was doing well in school both with his grades and interactions and relationships with his peers. The children’s mother and her partner continued to attend counseling and were also improving their relationship with one another and with the children.

After a year, the mother and her boyfriend successfully completed all of the recommended course and were finally at a place to make a safe home for their young family. At this point, CASA Bill had seen the progress made by both adults and recommended that the children be reunited with their mother. A few months later, both children were happily reunited with their mother and her boyfriend, Mia’s father. Young Jonas now receives all  A’s and B’s on his report card and Mia is an active 18-month old and can point to her nose and ears when asked.

Had it not been for CASA Bill’s diligence and dedication to this family, Jonas and Mia may have never had the opportunity to grow up together with their parents in a safe, loving home. Jonas’ mother was grateful for CASA Bill’s investment in her family saying, “He believed in me and my ability to provide a home for my children, his dedication to my children and to our whole family allowed us to heal.”

Helping Children Find their Forever Family

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From dedicated foster parents, to a biological grandmother single-handedly raising her grandchildren, it is a family’s love and support that makes them picture perfect. In Atlantic and Cape May counties, more than 1,000 children are living in foster care.

Thankfully, with the help of a CASA volunteer, a child lingering in the child welfare system is not an option.

Once a child is removed from their home due to abuse and neglect, three different outcomes can arise:  reunification, kinship legal guardianship, or adoption. Behind each court docket, a child is hoping for a forever family, and here are their stories, as told by their CASA volunteer.

Reunification

When CASA volunteer, Anna met the little boy on her case, he was in a body cast to properly mend his broken bones. After being injured at home, he was removed from his mother and placed in care with a cousin. “When I first got involved with the case, he was delayed in speech, mobility, and potty training,” Anna said. Reunification with his biological mother did not seem to be a viable option.

CASA Anna ensured he received special services and was enrolled in special education classes. For the first time, he was not merely surviving but thriving. While he progressed, his biological mother was determined to have her child back home. “From parenting classes to counseling, she did everything she was advised to do,” Anna said. “She worked hard to get her boy back.”

Anna continued to visit with the case workers, foster parents, and the biological mother, and despite the obstacles, reunification with mother and child became more than a hope – it became a reality. After much work and support, the boy’s mother was ready to make a home again for her son and he finally returned to his mother’s arms and his forever family. “Reunification is a good option when the parent and child have a warm, comfortable relationship, and the parent will do whatever it takes to get the child back,” Anna said. “Luckily in this case, his mother was once again able to provide a safe, loving home and I could fully support him being returned to her care.”

Kinship Legal Guardianship

As a cockroach crawled across her foot, CASA volunteer Kathy knew this was not a safe home for children. Brother and sister, ages 5 and 3, were removed from the bug-infested apartment and safe from their father’s drinking, after neighbors called child services. When CASA Kathy took the case the children were delayed mentally, and although they were safe in their grandmother’s home, they were still swatting away invisible bugs as they struggled to sleep. “The parents were not emotionally capable of caring for their children, and they would show up in preschool with diapers that were days old,” Kathy said.

The children adored their grandmother, and the transition to their new home was smooth, but parental visitations proved to be problematic. “When the children had visited with their parents, the next day at school the boy would be agitated and crazy, and the daughter was nervous,” Kathy said. Finally, the biological parents abruptly decided to move out of the state, leaving their children’s court case unfinished and their grandmother with the responsibility of raising the children on her own.

“There was no question where these children should be; It was a no brainer, and I made clear in my reports that I supported the grandmother caring for the children,” Kathy said. Their grandmother happily became the children’s Kinship Legal Guardian (KLG). “This (KLG) is a great option. Why go into foster care if you have a caring family member who is willing to take on raising the children. In this case the grandmother was more than able, and the children adored her,” Kathy said.

Adoption

Due to their biological mother’s severe history of substance abuse, two brothers were placed in a foster home. “The foster parents were trained as medical specialists and worked with special needs children,” CASA Joe said. “It was a smooth transition; they fell in love immediately.”

From the beginning, the biological mother said, “I will do anything to get them back,” but no matter how hard CASA Joe tried to help and support her, she delved further into drug use. “The drug use finally caught up with her,” said Joe. Before the case was closed, the boys’ young biological mother died of an overdose.

Before relinquishing his rights, the biological father, who had never known his sons, asked to hold his children for the last time. “When this happened, the boy looked over to his foster father and said, ‘Daddy hold me.’ At that moment, I knew this child and his brother had found their forever family.” Joe said. The boys were officially adopted the following year into a loving, happy home environment, and Joe was honored to help bring a forever family together. “Everyone has a chapter to play in the child’s life, but you can’t ever forget the reality that they endured on the road to finding a home. Even after you know they are safe, you will still think about them and are glad that you played a small role in their finding a forever family,” Joe said.

CASA Volunteer Advocates for Foster Child Born to Mother with Severe Mental Illnesses

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Borderline personality disorder. Asperger syndrome. Mood disorder not otherwise specified. Schizophrenia.

Rachel was diagnosed with these mental illnesses and disorders. Then she gave birth to her first son, Henry.

During Henry’s first year of life, Rachel was frightened by him. She heard him speak to her at length, even though his mouth was not moving, and she feared that he wanted to kill her. For almost an entire year, Rachel kept a barrier over her son’s crib so that she would not have to see him. She told her case worker that she hated Henry and wanted to hurt him, even though she knew she could not act on these feelings. To treat her mental illnesses, she took several different anti-psychotropic medications. But she also had a history of abusing heroin, marijuana, and alcohol, combinations that can be increasingly dangerous when paired with such powerful prescription medications.

After nearly a year of being neglected by his mother, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency removed Henry from his home and placed him into a caring foster home. Henry was a very intelligent boy, but it is not surprising that he had some behavioral problems, as he had spent a year in a neglectful home. Sometimes he banged his head against a wall if he did not get his way, and occasionally he would hit others when angry.

By age two, he entered daycare and did well socializing with other toddlers and following teachers’ instructions. Henry’s CASA volunteer, Kathy, was assigned to his case at this time. She visited him in his foster home and also spoke with teachers to make sure he was adjusting well and receiving the care he needed.

Because of Henry’s traumatic childhood, Kathy knew how important a permanent home would be for the boy. When she realized that Henry was starting to form bonds with his foster family, who had no intentions of adopting him, Kathy quickly advocated for him to be placed in a pre-adoptive foster home.

Thankfully, the family court judge agreed with Kathy’s recommendation and soon after, Henry was placed in a new pre-adoptive foster home with a young couple. The new foster family made a book for young Henry to teach him what it means to be adopted. “This is your new brother,” one of the pages read, with a photo of their young son.

At first, Henry was doing well in his new home and was getting along with his new brother. But a few months later, his pre-adoptive family indicated to Kathy that Henry’s behavioral changes were upsetting. The couple was concerned for the safety of their biological son, who Henry sometimes treated aggressively.

Unfortunately, the family felt they could no longer go through with the adoption process.

To many involved with Henry’s case, he was showing early signs of Asperger syndrome, an illness that affected his mother. However, all testing came back negative. Kathy does not believe Henry has any type of mental illness.

“I know that it is very easy to look at the record and say, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s probably got a mental illness,'” Kathy said. “I don’t think that’s fair. He was never given a chance to be who he is… he has been traumatized twice, first from his family and then from the system. He hasn’t been given any consistency or permanency for any aspect of his life. He has switched families, brothers; how can you evaluate a child’s mental health when there’s been no normalcy in his life?”

She believes his behavioral issues were related to the trauma he experienced since he was born. Kathy advocated for Henry to receive specific trauma therapy, which the judge ordered. Kathy said this therapy is helping him tremendously.

Now four years old, Henry is preparing to move out of state to live with a family friend. Kathy has spoken to his new adoptive mother, and she is fully aware of what Henry has been through and what he needs–specifically, the continuation of his therapy.

Most importantly, Kathy said, his behavioral modifications, put in place by his therapists, must be used by everyone in his life. “It has to be consistent. Parents need to use it; not just the school. Everyone has to know how to respond to him when he’s acting out,” Kathy said.

Kathy is hopeful for Henry’s new placement. “His [adoptive mother] seems very willing to cooperate… she is expecting a rocky transition; it’s not like she is going to be surprised if [he acts out], which I think is very good.”

Henry’s spirit hasn’t been broken thus far, Kathy added. “It really speaks volumes of what a survivor he is.”

Kathy is one of over 200 CASA Volunteers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties fighting for the rights of children living in foster care. CASA is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Join the Movement by calling CASA today at (609) 601-7800.

The Importance of Male Role Models: “Angels in the Outfield”

AngelsOutfield

Now that summer is here, we decided to take  a look at the 1994 Disney film, Angels in the Outfield. While it is a fun baseball movie, the storyline goes much deeper.

Roger, about 12, is the protagonist of the film, and JP, about 6, is his good friend. The boys are both foster children whose parents are not involved in their lives, and they live in California with their foster parent, Maggie.

Roger’s father greets him at the beginning of the movie, only to inform him that he is still not ready to care for him right now. He rides off on his motorcycle without even saying goodbye to his son. Now Roger has hopes that if the California Angels improve their baseball season and win the Pennant, his father will return, and they can be a family again.

Twenty-four million children in America–one out of three–do not live with their biological fathers. This “father factor” affects a tremendous amount of social issues in these children’s lives, including poverty, emotional and behavioral problems, education, crime, substance abuse, child abuse, and teen pregnancy and sexual activity [Source].

Roger and JP are big fans of the Angels. While they are at the game one day, Roger’s ticket number wins him a photo opportunity with the team’s manager, George Knox. Knox is very stern and angry, as the Angels are last place in the league. However, Roger is somewhat of a good luck charm at the games (you will find out more if you watch the movie), and Knox invites him and JP to all of the season’s games.

Over the course of the season, Roger and JP crack Knox’s hard shell, and he learns patience and kindness. For example, when Knox prepares to drive the boys home from the game one evening, JP cannot bring himself to set foot in Knox’s car.

“JP doesn’t ride in cars because he used to live in a car with his mom,” Roger explains to Knox. Without any hesitation, Knox invites the boys onto the Angels’ spacious tour bus and drops them off home. Knox also organizes a pickup baseball game for the children in Roger and JP’s neighborhood, and he teaches several of them some new batting tips.

Before going to sleep that night, JP asks Roger if he thinks his parents will ever come for him.

“I don’t know… my mom’s not alive, but my dad’s gonna come get me. I’m sure of it,” Roger says.

It is heartbreaking when foster children place so much hope on their parents’ return because it is never a guarantee. However, it is natural for children to want to be reunited with their parents, regardless of what they have done to neglect or abuse them. Their parents are often all they know of love and family.

After a traumatic occurrence in family court one morning, Roger is left very hurt. His father has once again let him down.

Knox visits Roger right away and tells him how sorry he is about what happened, but Roger does not think Knox is being sincere at first; he says Knox doesn’t know what it’s like.

Little does Roger know, Knox had a similar childhood.

“You know, Roger, when I was growing up, I never saw very much of my dad. He couldn’t take care of himself, so taking care of me and my brothers was out of the question,” Knox tells him.

“I’m not sure the pain that caused ever goes away,” Knox continues. “But I am sure you can’t go through life thinking everyone you meet will one day let you down. Because if you do, a very bad thing will happen… you’ll end up like me.”

This is a turning point in the film for Roger and Knox. Their relationship is strengthened because Roger realizes how much he cares about him.

Do the Angels win the Pennant? What happens to Roger and JP? You will have to watch to find out. Angels in the Outfield is a great film for youth. It is heartwarming, both funny and poignant, and it is an enjoyable baseball movie for the start of summer.

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[Photo source]

CASA Volunteer and Child Bond Over Baseball

Brian was turning eight when he was removed from his home. His sister was born with opiates in her system, and the Division placed both children in foster care the day after she was born.

It was hard growing up with a dad and mom who suffered from drug addictions. Brian didn’t have what most people would call a “normal” childhood. He often times took care of himself, his father preferring his next high over any interactions with him.

When Brian met his CASA volunteer, Warren Iredell, he took a liking to him very quickly.

“I told him I will always be there for him,” Warren said when he first met Brian. “He’s a super little boy, a lot of fun, very polite, but he misses his mother tremendously.”

On their first meeting, Warren got to know him. What stood out is that Brian mentioned he liked baseball.

“Maybe I’ll bring a glove and we can have a catch,” Warren told him. And he stuck to his word.

When Warren showed up next week, Brian’s resource parent said, “Brian has been waiting for you to come; he’s so excited!”

“I brought a glove for him and me. I went to KMart and picked up one for his size,” Warren said. “After a while, I decided, well, that’s good but maybe I’ll pick up a wiffle ball and bat.”

Because Brian’s father did not play an active role in his life, Warren said Brian did not understand how to correctly throw a ball. So the two of them practiced during their visits, and Brian has learned a lot.

“He loves it; he’s doing real well,” Warren said. “We have a contest with each other. I try to strike him out and he tries to strike me out.”

Warren said it is extremely important for boys to have a male role model. He is the father of six children and has 11 grandchildren, and he said he realizes how important it is to have someone to look up to.

“You can see it with Brian; he now hugs me when I arrive and he hugs me when I leave,” Warren said. “You can see the effect you have on a young boy, just being there for him, and just playing.”

Warren  enjoyed spending time with the child so much that he decided to visit him once a week instead of once every two weeks. In addition to playing baseball together, Warren has also helped Brian with his math and reading homework.

“He was very happy I could help him. He read to me one time… I sat and listened and I helped him with some of the words he had difficulty with,” Warren said.

Sadly, something Brian struggles with is guilt. Brian’s counselor informed Warren that he feels at fault for being taken away from his mother because he witnessed her using drugs.

“I do talk to him and try and tell him that things can get better, but he has to be patient,” Warren said. He told him, “If you need something, I’m there.”

Currently, Brian’s aunt is very interested in caring for him and his sister, so they have been spending weekends there to get used to the new environment.

Warren says Brian likes it there, however, structure is not something the child is acclimated to.

“He had no structure in his life at all, staying up all night long, coming and going whenever he pleased,” Warren explained of Brian’s childhood with his parents. Now that Brian has been in the resource home, where there are rules, “He kind of complains because he has to go to bed at nine o’clock. His aunt also has rules and structure, so this is what he was lacking in his younger years.”

Because their aunt lives out of state, she made a commitment to the Division that she will bring the siblings back home every other weekend so they can spend time with their mother. Their father is currently in jail and has been sentenced to three more years.

Despite all of the adversity he experienced, Brian maintains a positive attitude toward school, and he hopes to join a little league team one day.

“I hope I am making a difference and helping in some small way,” Warren said, adding that he is happy the children now have a relative in their lives who can take care of them.

An Aunt’s Wise Words Inspired Trish to Become a Foster and Adoptive Parent

Trish always knew she wanted to adopt a child one day, but she was hesitant to become a foster parent at first. “I was terrified of falling in love with the child and then having them leave, especially if they left to a situation that wasn’t ideal,” she explained.

It is her aunt’s powerful words that led Trish to change her mind. Ten years ago, Trish’s 17-year-old cousin lost his life to cancer. After his death, his mother—Trish’s aunt—told her, “I had 17 years with my son. And I loved all that time that I had with him, and I would never sacrifice that to spare me the pain of losing him. You can’t not bring someone into your life for fear that you might lose them.”

Trish had not thought of it like that, and these words truly changed her outlook about becoming a foster parent. From there, she and her husband thought, “We have to go for it.”

Six years ago, Trish and her husband finally had this opportunity. The couple took in three sisters who were removed from their home due to suspicion of parental drug use and possible neglect. The sisters were 11, seven, and six years old when they were removed from their home, and they were placed with Trish and her husband shortly after.

The girls were struggling with many emotional problems. Their CASA volunteer, Clare McCarroll, observed that Erin, seven, seemed very angry and would frequently have meltdowns, while Maddie, six, appeared very nervous and clingy, often bursting into tears. Clare noted that a therapist helped Erin and Maddie ease their anxieties and better learn how to verbalize their needs. Lauren, the eldest sister, was also struggling emotionally and was upset about her mother not being there for her. She ultimately chose to live in a youth shelter, but Trish and her husband have always invited her into their home each week because they feel it is important for the girls to maintain a sibling relationship.

About year after taking in the sisters, Trish and her husband took in another foster child, Sally, who is the siblings’ niece. Sally, who was born premature, was six months old and weighed 10 pounds when she arrived at the couple’s home. Sally’s biological mother, age 20, was unemployed, habitually smoked marijuana, and had postpartum depression and untreated bi-polar disorder. She had truly neglected Sally; she routinely fed her diluted whole milk instead of baby formula, never treated Sally’s diaper rash, and had her sleep on a dirty mattress on the floor because her own belongings took over the baby’s crib. The biological father, also 20, struggled with substance abuse.

“When they brought Sally to me, I felt like she bonded with me immediately,” Trish said. She held a birthday party that night for one of her foster daughters and invited extended family. “Sally would watch me as I walked around house. She was so hungry, sucking down bottles. It was an immediate connection, I felt.”

CASA volunteer Robie McKinnon, who was assigned to Sally’s case, noted how much improvement Sally made with Trish and her husband. After just two months, Sally had already gained seven pounds, and her pediatrician said she was now at a healthy weight for her age group. She continued to reach appropriate developmental milestones during her time with them.

While there was a great connection between them, Trish said it was difficult at the same time. “I felt so connected and I was afraid that if she ever left… I didn’t want her to have that feeling that I didn’t care about her because I knew she wouldn’t understand why she left… She is just pure joy. I can’t imagine my life without her. She’s so precious.”

Sally came into Trish’s life at a time when she truly needed to be taken care of. However, it was more complex with Erin and Maddie because they were older and more aware when they came into her care. “They always thought they were going back [with their mother],” Trish said of their demeanor when they first came to live with her. “Their mom would make DYFS out to be wrong, and she put herself in the role of the victim, and the kids bought into that. This made it difficult for them to adapt.”

Three months after the sisters were brought into the couple’s home, CASA Clare observed great improvement. The family even went on a trip to Disney World together. Erin and Maddie expressed their desire to be adopted by Trish and her husband, and the couple was eager to adopt the sisters as well.

The day finally came when Erin and Maddie had to say goodbye to their mother, and a final meeting was scheduled. However, it was a very stressful day; their mother never showed up.

“[Their mother] kept saying she was late but on her way, but it went on to be three hours late,” Trish said. “Finally, I said, this is done. Their mom had no intention of saying goodbye to them. We had so much nervous tension bound up because the kids were afraid to see [their mother] and say goodbye. And they were wondering how she could not come say goodbye.”

Trish had an idea to ease the tension. When the goodbye meeting was called off, Trish resorted to music. She put on Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.”

“‘I said, ‘This is our song, girls.’ And we ran around house. I’ve never in my life had that much tension. I could have ran a marathon… And this morning, that song came on! Every time I hear it, I cry.”

When the girls finally accepted that their mother was not coming for them, Trish said it became a lot easier for them; they had a final answer. Trish commended their therapist, who she said was wonderful and helped them so much through the process.

Sally was adopted by Trish and her husband about a year after her aunts. CASA Robie said she was thrilled with the couple and was happy that they were planning to adopt Sally. She still sees Sally from time to time because the family keeps in touch. “She’s the brightest, most adorable little girl, and happy and a lot of fun. We have tea parties when we get together,” she said of Sally, who is now five.

“We’re a family, and families kind of morph and change and grow,” Trish said. “Especially these days; remarriages, divorce, step children. And I think that [adopting from foster care] doesn’t have to be an extraordinary situation. We’re just a normal family now.”