Every year across the nation, between 550,000 and 750,000 children are born after prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, and substance abuse by a parent is one of the top reasons for children’s removal from their home.
Danielle is one of these children.
When Danielle was born, she experienced withdrawal from the opiates her mother Erin took during pregnancy. After the symptoms persisted, the infant was hospitalized for a month to receive treatment. She was also experiencing hearing problems in one ear and a heart murmur.
While it is often difficult for parents struggling with substance abuse to overcome their addiction, 22-year-old Erin had emotional support from her mother, sister, and CASA volunteer, Lynda, and the desire to get better so that she could be a part of her daughter’s life.
Lynda was assigned to the case when Danielle was eight months old. At this time, Erin was enrolled in a Mommy and Me program with Danielle. While Lynda observed the baby to be healthy and happy, she knew that the young mother would need support to successfully get through her treatments and ultimately get her child back.
“My first time meeting Erin, she seemed very young and overwhelmed. She was learning a lot about being a mom from the other young moms in the program. But I saw a lot of good things happening,” Lynda explained. She said the mothers enrolled in the program would take their babies to the nursery in the morning before going to their treatments and counseling during the day.
“Erin understood that I was there as her daughter’s advocate and that meant supporting her recovery as well. She was very open to our relationship,” Lynda said. “She could see there was value in having someone who wasn’t from the child welfare office. Erin knew that I was there to make sure her daughter had everything she needed and that Erin was making improvements in caring for her daughter.” She also knew she could confide in Lynda and trust that she was there to help her family.
“My relationship was that of encourager,” Lynda said. “Erin seemed to be very mature in that she distanced herself from her prior relationship because she needed to work on herself. I thought that was a mature thing to do because that’s exactly what she was needing to do at that point.”Through the Mommy and Me program, Erin improved her ability to bond with Danielle and quickly became comfortable in her role as a new mother. They were doing so well that Lynda recommended to the court that Danielle continue to stay in Erin’s care as she completed rehabilitation.
After six months of Mommy and Me, Erin successfully completed the program and was relocated to a halfway house with her daughter. When Lynda visited, the director of the halfway house said of Erin, “I couldn’t be happier about her progress.”
Danielle had been doing well in her mother’s care. Lynda noted that 11-month-old Danielle was able to say, “mama” and “baba,” and that she seemed inquisitive.
“When I met her, I could see that she had that desire to be a good mom and to do what’s right for her child,” Lynda said of Erin’s successes in her rehabilitation programs. “Since that meant getting off drugs, she was willing to do that, and the change in her is clear.”
“When under the influence, you’re not functioning with your full capabilities,” Lynda said. Rehabilitation helped Erin think clearly and learn how to be a nurturing mother, something she struggled with when her daughter was first born.
Erin did so well at the halfway house that she and Danielle were released earlier than the typical six month stay. She then completed an intensive outpatient program. Along the way, she also successfully completed mandatory parenting classes.
Erin and Danielle, who is now 18 months old, are adorable together, Lynda said. “She is very conscious of Danielle’s safety; it’s a priority for her. She’s really gentle and sweet with her… She doesn’t have unrealistic expectations for a child that age. She’s really playful with her, speaks kindly to her, doesn’t seem frustrated. She seems very content with being a mom.”
Currently, Erin and Danielle reside with Erin’s mother. Erin’s goal is to go back to school and get a job. Lynda tells Erin to focus on her goals so she can continue earning credits, even if it is one or two classes at a time; if she works hard, she can accomplish anything.
“If anybody can do it, this young mom can. She’s very smart and has the support of her mom. That’s huge. You have to be careful who you’re hanging out with. Erin has been able to weed out the friends who are not a good influence. She had a lot going for her and continues to have a lot going for her.”
Erin is fortunate that she was able to get her life back on track, and having Lynda as her CASA volunteer was paramount. Lynda encouraged Erin to make life decisions that would benefit her and Danielle, and in her role as advocate, she brought to the court’s attention what was in the child’s best interest.
Lynda 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.