May 2021: The Power of Instilling Hope
A topic we often encounter in the child welfare system is one that remains central to our core as human beings-hope. Without hope, we have nothing to live for. Really, it’s evidence-based. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for birth parents in the child welfare system to have their own deep-rooted trauma which led to poor decision making. You see, the brain is a magical organ. It is malleable, adaptive, and protective. These brains have also been impacted by toxic stress and have adapted the only way it has been shown how. Much of the time, these brains have adapted to the dopamine rush it receives from illegal substances: addiction. Addiction is a much more complex issue than many people ever realize. Keep this perspective in mind as we walk through a small, but mighty success in a Tarrant County case.
Shortly after onboarding a new case for the Safe Babies program, a beautiful relationship between birth and foster mom began to bloom. Foster mom’s willingness to go above and beyond to reiterate her support of this birth parent has been critical. Our brains are pattern-seeking. Experiences from the outside wire connections on the inside. Our brains crave consistency and predictability and foster mom showcased repeatedly that this child and her mother were loved and cared for. Birth parent quickly warmed up to foster mom’s invitation of support and they began communicating outside of visits because their relationship quality grew exponentially. There was safety here, an experience that adaptive brains have a hard time sorting through. The message was echoed again and again, “You are worthy of love”. After four visits, mom stopped communicating. She stopped showing up to visits. She disappeared. Her trauma had taken over her capacity to show up or move forward. Her doubts were loud, and her addiction was louder.
The Safe Babies Coordinator relayed the update to all parties to the case, offering her perspective on how mom’s addiction had permeated into her executive function capacity.
“We will be right here welcoming you with open arms when you’re ready.”
After several weeks of a seemingly optimistic caseworker, her doubts became more and more evident as she encouraged foster parent to stop sending mom any picture or video updates. She wanted mom’s lack of updates to serve as leverage to re-engage her in parent-child visits. This tactic is used time and time again but has more harmful effects than positives ones.
Foster mom’s supportive nature prevented this. She continued to send pictures and videos of the child to mom often, persevering through repeated weeks of silence. Memorial Day weekend-foster mom sent a video of the baby laughing and smiling to mom and poof-mom responded. She reappeared and told foster mom this video was the catalyst for her to seek inpatient substance treatment the following day.
Hope. We cannot survive without it. Hope makes us brave. Hope gets us through the lowest lows and darkest days. Hope is the only thing we have when everything else feels stacked against us and the world is just too hard. This mom needed hope to make one of the hardest decisions in her life and this foster parent never wavered, not one single time.
If we want better outcomes, we must remain hopeful.