But I got mad at the system and I said, somebody has to change this because if, if this happened to us, you know, we, we live a middle class lifestyle. My parents had been involved with mental health services for 22 years. I understood that, that the system works a certain way, that you should reach out to the system when you need help. And when I did that, it failed me.
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Hey everybody, it's Sally Hendrick, and today I've got Maureen O'Neill-Davis out of Connecticut with me, and we're gonna talk more about child welfare reform, which is this entire season. So listen up and Maureen, tell us more about you and what you're doing.
Well, thank you, Sally, for having me. I really appreciate it. Um, I am based in Connecticut and I am a married mother of three kids. All of my children are adopted. And I came into the work of child welfare reform from a, a little bit of a different lens than a lot of the other advocates that I meet with. And in DC and across the country. I came into it by way of, um, my children, two of my children were adopted because my, uh, husband's sister was murdered via domestic violence. And we adopted her two children during that, I don't know, one year period after her death. And we were told that, um, the trauma that they experienced in losing her and being there when she was killed was, was significant, and that the children could have some significant needs. And as it turned out, one of them, um, absolutely has had a very difficult time.
And so we reached out to the Department of Children Families in Connecticut to access complex need care. We were told that's what we needed to do. And then we learned that really what they wanted us to do was, um, give up custody to access care. And that when we did that, we would no longer have decision making authority over anything having to do with our daughter. And so, as the case unfolded, and I can talk more about that, but we found ourselves really embroiled in a child welfare, child protection case, showing us as neglectful, abusive parents. And we were brought into court and we were, um, uh, portrayed to the court in a way that was really decimating our character. Um, was lies. It was all lies. And what I found out by going through the process is that the way federal funding was written and distributed to states informed how child protection functioned at the state level.
And we really became wrapped up in this, um, funding scheme. And all states do it, um, where they see a family who is struggling, and they figure out a way to voluntarily or involuntarily take their child into state care. And that's what we found sales facing. Um, ultimately we did win the right to bring our daughter home without the services that we needed. And our life raising her has been very, very challenging. Um, but I got mad at the system and I said, somebody has to change this because if, if this happened to us, you know, we, we live a middle class lifestyle. My parents had been involved with mental health services for 22 years. I understood that, that the system works a certain way, that you should reach out to the system when you need help. And when I did that, it failed me. Um, and so I, I figured out how to meet up with other advocates from across the country, got involved in child welfare reform, and some of the things that we have done so far have successfully impacted some of the policies and procedures that happened. That happened to me.
I wanna talk about that because I jumped in way down the line on this story, and I went with you guys to Washington dc which is where we met. And it was a boatload, a truckload of information dumped on me, rather, and understanding that it's because of the where the money is. That's always the answer, isn't it? Find the money, follow the money, and then you're gonna figure out why certain things are happening in the system. And I think that, that, let's go back a little bit to you asking for services, having to deal with the child welfare system or child protective Services in order to get those services. But then afterwards, after this investigation, you ended up not getting the services that you needed.
Yeah, it, it really was mind blowing. Um, we, we had services in place in terms of therapy. Our daughter's needs were profound. And even at age five, the things that were happening in our home, her behaviors, her patterns, um, we knew she needed help. And we were having a hard time getting the right help because at the time, trauma competent providers could not be found. It's a little easier now. Trauma has become a, a catch word and everything's trauma informed. Well, that's happened over the last eight years. We're we're going back 16 years when I was looking for all this care and it could not be found. And I would find information online, and then I would try to find a therapist to match, and they weren't there. So, um, you know, our daughter's needs just got really complicated. And she, she ran away for the first time when she was, uh, four years old.
If you didn't keep her with you when you used the bathroom, she would leave the house and, and go hide in the woods to watch the neighbors who had a better life than hers. She never felt loved. She, um, would tell people we didn't feed her. Um, there was a whole series of things that were happening. And so I finally did find a therapist that had the right training, but she was young and she believed our daughter's needs were so profound that she needed some residential treatment for a while. And the only way to get residential treatment in the state of Connecticut, um, at that time, was to call the Department of Children and Families and tell them that you want your child to get residential care and you've got the recommendations from the provider. And they would step in and decide whether or not that care could be provided. In our case, when we reached out, they said that I didn't want her or love her, and that's why we wanted to put her in residential care. And that's neglect.
Unbelievable. Yeah. And I've heard this over and over again, that neglect, it has its own definition depending on where it's being applied.
Correct. So we don't have a universal definition for neglect in the country. And at the state level, um, each state gets to determine what neglect is. And in most statutes, it's very vague. So in the state of Connecticut, our statute really leaves the definition of the neglect left to interpretation by the social worker, by the social worker's superior to decide whether or not what they are seeing and how they document it is neglect, and I specifically use that word, how they document it, because there's a, there's a process by which a narrative about the family is created, and that narrative is crafted based on what the state needs to identify to trigger funding from the feds. So they have a criteria, there's box checks, there's narrative that, that they need to fill in. And the, the, um, story that unfolds about a family needs to hit some of these boxes and hit some of this terminology.
And they d they put together what's called a case plan. And that case plan shows the family to the judge, shows the family to the providers on paper, who they are, why they're involved with child welfare, and leads the court to see the family in a certain way, to arrive at a certain ruling. Um, that's a crafted narrative based on what that federal money requires the state to show. And so when we received our first case plan, first of all, when we were substantiated of verbal abuse and, and neglect, um, I was dumbfounded. Uh, our other two children are thriving. We have, um, other family members living in the home so that our children are never alone. And, um, still with all of the precautions, um, using therapists, going to therapy regularly, um, making sure the children always had an adult, almost one on one, an adult, three young kids, always more than two adults at home.
I thought, I did everything right. And then I get this case plan and the way it's crafted, I'm looking at it, and this isn't me. This isn't my husband. This isn't who we are. And as I went through this case and felt, um, embarrassed, felt that it was a character of assault, um, everything was, was lies or omissions of truth. Um, I, I couldn't believe what was happening to us. And I knew at some point through the process, around 18 months in, I, I began to see things differently. I, I stopped taking it personally. Um, at that point, our daughter was in foster care. She had already gone through, uh, three placements because nobody could manage her. And we were told that it was because of a personality conflict or, you know, she just wasn't a good fit in that house. No, she was doing the things in those other homes that she did in our home that we managed for years they couldn't manage for five to 10 days. And instead of the Department of Children and Families, um, honestly speaking about her needs, it became minimizing her needs in order to portray us as the neglectful parents. They wanted us to be seen as,
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How often does that happen? I've come to find out that it happens quite often. Um, since the Family First Prevention Services Act was passed in 2018, which the Family Forward Project Advocates were part of influencing the language, uh, that went into that bill, it is my understanding that some states are beginning to shift how they do what they do, shift away from a knee jerk reactionary model of child protection to a more prevention and family integrity oriented model of intervention. And, and that's really what child welfare should have always been about. Um, I think most families who go through what I've gone through, um, don't survive it. They are decimated. They are depleted. They have nothing left. And I don't know what happens to them. We do know a lot of them, uh, don't make it in, in a variety of ways. Um, I'm grateful that I wasn't one of them, and I was able to take what I learned from going through this horrific experience of, of child protection portraying us this way.
Um, $50,000 in legal fees, three and a half years of court cases, um, specific court steps that were irrelevant to our lifestyle. You know, drug testing and, and, and that sort of thing. Um, therapy sessions alone with my husband, with all of our kids one on one with each one psychological evaluations multiple times in order to prove the, this Kate's, um, the State's case. The state's case was not proven, and ultimately we got her back. But you, you can't live through that and think, well, okay, I'm gonna go about my life now. I've got my daughter back. We're gonna get her needs met some other way and, and just move on. I couldn't live with myself if, if I just went on with my life. And so I learned more about why the system does what it does. And what I did find out is it was happening in most states, and it was happening because the federal money flows to states based on these criteria.
And that criteria was established back in 1974 under the CAPA Law that was passed. And it was then re-upped multiple times with a, um, a more expansive model of funding, um, based on, based on an aggressive adoption model in 1997 under the adoption and say, families Act. So what, what all of us advocates have, have come together, and what we advocate around now is how to change the language within those laws, or write new law to counterbalance, uh, be more responsive to where we are currently in society. Um, some of the advocates that I work with, they speak specifically about the adoption and say, families Act being the downturn and undoing of valuable child protection. I think adoption and say Families Act was valuable at the time to meet the needs of our society at the time, which was that there were a lot of kids in foster care lingering there without permanency.
And the, the numbers were extremely high. I believe we were 650,000, uh, kids in foster care around in, in the nineties, late nineties. The need for permanency for those kids was great. And so the funding model that was, um, crafted then did get more kids out of foster care in the permanent adoption and permanent placement that had value at the time. But you can't fast track kids being adopted if you don't have the services that the families need to access in order to become better, um, healthier parents to get their kids back. You, you need to have both. Um, you need to be responsive to what's happening at the time. And so the, the Family First Prevention Services Act that, um, again, we help craft the language for, I think addresses that it, it's more responsive to where we are now as a society, which is let's try to preserve families. Let's limit the amount of trauma we, um, we inflict on children because the removal of a child from their biological or adopted parents, depending on the scenario, um, is in itself trauma. But the loss of a biological parent is trauma, environmental violence, um, domestic violence is trauma to a child. The more we can minimize trauma, the healthier our society will be over time. And, and that is really what I've gotten out of my education around child welfare and how, how broken it has been for years.
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I wanted to know more about Maureen's background to see what kind of person it takes to run up against the system like this and come out of it as an advocate for change. Like Maureen mentioned before, families are decimated by the harm from Child Protective Services. It could happen to anyone.
I'm from Connecticut originally, but I lived in Florida for about 20 years. Um, I started out in entertainment. I wanted to get as far away from the delivery of, uh, social services and mental health care as I could cuz my parents did that work. And I really needed to go somewhere else. And I was really into dance and music and theater. So I, uh, danced in New York City for a few years, then I moved to Florida where I was able to, um, start in the concert promotion business. I worked for three of the country's top promoters. Uh, two of two of 'em were outta Florida, one was outta Texas. And I did that for about, uh, 12 years, managed bands, promoted some club bands, and then worked on the large, um, arena and stadium shows for about five years. Um, from there I decided to open my own nightclub and I worked for five years to develop a, um, toads Place franchise in downtown West Palm Beach.
And that was a really great project. Ultimately the project did not come to fruition, but, um, I was able to sell the property I owned and I went into the parking lot business. I also started a land clearing business, um, met my husband and we, um, together ran our land clearing business, our parking lot business was, was a great one to own. And then from there we bought a, um, a retail and e-commerce business selling sports nutrition and health and wellness products. We did that for about four years until the recession, uh, took everything from us. Um, by that point we had relocated from Florida to Connecticut. And I, uh, we, we ran that business, the, um, supplement business for a good four years, and that's when our daughter's needs became more profound. Um, my, my husband went into the trucking world and I stayed at home and raised the kids.
Do you have any thoughts of going back in that direction? Um, or are you going to be 100% into the, what is it, family forward advocacy, ct, which is Connecticut? Yep. What do you, what are you wanting to do?
So right now, our small nonprofit has been, uh, established for about four years now. And we function as a, a chapter of Family Forward foundation. I know you have Connie regularly on earlier, and that is her, uh, nonprofit out of Tennessee. So we, we work as an adjunct to the work she does in Tennessee here in Connecticut. Um, for me personally, I'd love to get back into the entertainment business in some way, but I really see blending my, my entertainment industry experience with what I do now in advocacy. I'd like to, um, certainly do a, a concert series where we are raising money for our, our cause. Um, child welfare reform is critical. Child mental healthcare. Access reform is critical. Both areas of, of our society and our systems are failing families and children, um, every day. So I would like to put my skills to work, um, both on the advocacy front, which we are doing, um, working with families as, um, an advocate in special education, child welfare and behavioral health need, uh, situations to make sure children's needs are getting met. And we do that and mentor parents, um, to raise traumatized kids. And we do that in our work in Connecticut. But I also see an opportunity to, uh, create a concert series with some of the people I knew years ago in order to raise money for child welfare reform work all across the, the country. And so, um, I think, you know, opportunity is always around us. We just need to figure out how to make it happen. And so I'm, I'm working on doing that now.
I love the fact that you're talking about this juxtaposition of, and this bridge that you're building between the entertainment and the child welfare part of it, the advocacy for families, parents, et cetera. We are doing something similar. And you, I don't know if I had told you this when we were in Washington, but we have, uh, we've started the Graph Museum, which is a graffiti museum. We're in the railroad business, and my husband makes furniture out of railroad parts, but we also help, um, private companies maintain their railroad spurs that come off of the main lines. And there's a whole lot of repair and maintenance that goes along with that. But then there's also a lot of waste of rail from the early 19 hundreds that's getting pulled outta service and it's marked with Carnegie 1899 or, or 1900 or whatever. Wow. And it was being melted down.
And so my husband took those materials on the job and started learning how to make furniture out of them as, as well as the wood, uh, that comes from the tie plants. But what we're doing with the graffiti is that those guys who are painting trains, a lot of 'em are in this patch, if you will. They're, they're caught between this artistic ability and maybe a single family home. You know, single family, single parent home or, uh, an addiction or something's going on with them. And what's happening is they are not wanting to get treatment in church basements. You know, they don't feel comfortable with what's going on, what the set, you know, the settings are at the moment. So this graffiti museum is gonna be all about putting, you know, um, giving these kids a way to actually get help and in another way mm-hmm.
And to go, you know, use the art that they, they have been doing. That particular group of group of people in the graffiti world tend to have addiction issues, um, family issues. They have, you know, drug and alcohol abuse, et cetera. And this is supposed to raise awareness around their needs because graffiti on the trains is such a huge safety issue. Mm-hmm. , but they, they've never, the, the railroad industry has never brought together the people who are doing all of this amazing art that's now getting preserved and putting it together to, to help these kids with the therapies and things that they need. So, and
There's a lot of textures there. So I imagine for these kids, working with those materials is therapeutic.
Mm-hmm. it is. And also the adrenaline of not getting caught when they're trying to paint and the fact that, that they come away from these trains. And then you see this beautiful art. We've got some amazing pieces though. I love the fact that you're talking about bringing entertainment into this, and then we are bringing art into this. And these, a lot of these, this whole entire group, when you follow them from when they're young to when they're older, they die way earlier, they have major illnesses because of they will sniff the paint. They will, you know, whatever else that they, they get into. Well, we,
You know, we, we also know that early childhood trauma, um, has an impact on brain development. And the, the Cleveland Clinic had a survey, uh, rather a study several years ago that shows early childhood trauma impacts a brain, much like physical head trauma impacts the brain. And, and so what, what we've seen, and and I, there's a number of studies out there around this. Individuals who come from traumatic beginnings often die much earlier in life. Um, their, their morbidity is such that it takes about 20 years off their lifespan based on those early traumatic life experiences. Um, and, and I think that ties back into foster care. You know, we, we have, um, prisons that are, um, house housing individuals that often came out of the foster care system. They lack empathy, self-control, um, self-worth. Um, often it is those early life experiences that set us up as, as humans to live our life in a certain way, to be able to have empathy, to be able to engage in, um, relationships, have connection and trust.
If, if you do not gain the ability to trust early in life through, um, healthy parent engagement, secure, safe, consistent parenting and nurturing, many of these kids grow up to, um, not be able to engage in society in safe, healthy ways. And they end up in our prisons, they end up in our juvenile detention centers. And, and for years the answer was foster care. Um, but yet our prisons are still full. Our juvenile justice systems are often getting, uh, more overrun. And so, is foster care an answer or is foster care part of the problem? And a lot of research has been done more recently to show when you separate a child from their biological mother or parents, and you also separate them from their heritage and culture by way of extended family, you are setting that child up to fail. You are adding to the trauma and you are putting greater strain on our, our social systems as well as society as a whole.
Over time, there's been a lot of school shootings, there's been a lot of heinous crimes. Um, every everyone across the country knows of situations where you, you shake your head and you just can't believe that these crimes by, by younger and younger people are happening. But yet, if you, if you go back and look at what their early life experiences were, there's, there is, um, a connection and there is almost a justification for their behaviors. Not that our society should ever make excuses, but you can see a pattern, um, of how it is that these individuals found their way to, um, you know, be able to hurt others in that way. Take out their own pain on, on others in such violent and destructive ways.
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Washington with you. I noticed that you happen to have training materials and things that you would bring out and say, Hey, let's go over these, these various things. This is the training that you guys are wanting to do for the advocates for the families when they first get introduced into child, the child welfare system. But why don't you tell me a little bit more about that.
Yeah, I'd be happy to. So, family forward advocacy Connecticut offers, um, advocate training for parents who want to, uh, become familiar on how to talk to lawmakers, how to tell their story in a way that lawmakers can not just hear it, but engage and want to make adjustments, fixes to the system. We, we talk to them about their breathing and how they present. We talk to 'em about their nervous system and, and how to make themselves, um, more effective in the role of storytelling for the purpose of influencing legislation. Um, that's a whole different way of communicating than the way somebody communicates in a support group or the way somebody communicates with their friends or, or, or, or a stranger even about what happened to them. And so we, we take them through a format of so many sentences to say who you are, where you're from, and what happened to you.
So many sentences to talk about the impact of what happened to you on you, your family, and what you're seeing now. And then a few sentences on what you're asking for, reiterate your, what you just said in the two previous sections. And what you're ask is we put it together with the assistance of, of effective breathing so that the nervous system is calm when this information is delivered to the ears of a lawmaker, so that the person who, um, has a story to tell also understands that the person listening comes from their own background, their own life experiences. And based on those life experiences, they're going to hear the story being told through their own ears and choosing words, the intentional use of language being very important in order to deliver that story in a way that somebody else truly can, can feel empathy and a desire to help.
Um, we, we use techniques and we offer trainings, uh, virtually for folks all across the country. Um, our next series will begin after the first of the year, and we are hoping to, you know, educate a few more people on how to be an effective advocate. So every time we go back to DC as a national group under the Family Forward Project, which can be found on Facebook at Family Forward Project or Family Forward Project, and the letters to your state, those individuals have a fresh story to tell for the lawmakers we meet with, um, we can show the scope and depth of the harm that's being done. We're not just rehashing the same stories, but we always have new voices at the table. Um, and doing so, we are not just allowing the lawmakers to understand that this is a big, big nationwide issue, but we're also allowing multiple, uh, parents who have been harmed by the system to regain their voice, to become active in influencing change, to maybe help them on their own journey of healing. A lot of these families never get their children back. A lot of parents lose their children to the system, have their rights terminated, and yet they're expected to go on as a contributing member of society without their children. We give them, we give them hope that at least if nothing else, that their experience can, um, influence change in the system so somebody else doesn't have to go through what they did.
So informative. It's really scary to think about this happening. I mean, I met with you, all of you ladies in Washington, and most everybody in the room had a so had a story, a personal story surrounding this. And it makes you wonder, you know, how in the world can you have a successful life when, if your family's torn apart? And 80% of cases from what I've been reading, typically are unfounded. That's a lot of cases, that's a lot of lost children.
It, it really is. And it, the cost of doing business and child welfare and child protection should not be that 80% of the children that come into care didn't need to be there, but at least we saved 20%. Those numbers don't make sense to me. Um, a lot of states talk about the need for more foster families. We have a foster family shortage. Do we really have a foster family shortage or do we have too many children brought into the system for reasons that are not bonafide neglect or abuse, but rather are portrayed in some way as neglect or abuse to ensure the states are, are bringing in the same amount of funding year after year? Um, I, I can say in Connecticut, we have seen a shift and, and I think that's a good thing. I think it's a result of positive advocacy work.
Um, myself and my business partner, Sherry Brown, we have been very fortunate. We've had opportunity to sit down with the current DCF commissioner in the state of Connecticut, Vanessa Durans talk to her and her administrative staff about the changes we'd like to see. And and we've been influential in getting one of their programs called Voluntary Services moved out of the child protection umbrella and moved into our social services department, um, under Beacon Health Options. And so it, it's certainly a, a program that is developing. Um, I believe the funding right now doesn't match the need. And so some families are still not getting their child's specialized needs met. Um, which again, creates, creates a, a pipeline back to child protection if a specialized child's needs are not being met. Often that child becomes known to the department in, in one fashion or another through, um, a, uh, an allegation being called into the care line.
Um, and, and so we, we, we, we've tried in the state of Connecticut to shift the mentality from that knee jerk response of child protection. Let's remove the child to how can we help, what can we do as a system to be more valuable to you as a family? A child is not a child by themselves. A child is a child within the context of a family. And, and keeping that the child or children with mom and dad should always be the priority. Um, certainly there are those times when that can't happen, but the system needs to be better equipped, um, to be able to recognize when a removal is truly necessary and when a, when a series of effective family supportive, prevention minded, um, interventions and, and wraparound care can be provided and and stabilize the family. And I think we're, we're starting to do that here.
So if there was a perfect case and you wanted to be involved with this case, talking about family forward advocates being involved in that, what would be the perfect way to handle that in your eyes?
So, so family forward advocacy can help a family in a few different ways. The first way is when the first knock at the door comes from child protection and they say, we, we got an allegation against you. A family should say, thank you very much. I will have our attorney call you and, and get their card. You, you are, you do not need to be pressured into letting that social worker, that investigator into your home. You do have the right to have an attorney or an advocate present when you meet with that social worker for the first time. And although the social worker is required in most states, to see the children and to see your home, um, within a certain period of time, usually at that time period is 72 hours. Um, it's only in the most egregious allegations that that time period is 24 hours or 48 hours.
So most families do have the right to say, thank you very much, I'll be in touch with my attorney at that point. In the state of Connecticut, we recommend that a family either call an attorney or call an advocate. We find that when they contact us at Family Forward and we're able to get involved from the first meeting with that investigator, that the 45 day investigation goes much better for the family. The investigator does get their questions answered, but in a way that is more comfortable and productive for the parent. The parent feels more supported and can ask the advocate or attorney questions that allows them to better understand the process. Um, the parent also does not feel as threatened. So they, they show they, they present better to the investigator when they feel more supported and less threatened by the process of the investigation.
And fourth, the children often need to be spoken to by the investigator, but somebody else can be in the room with them when that happens. So if you already have a lawyer or an advocate involved, they can be present when the investigator interviews the child. And oftentimes the questions and manner in which the investigator, uh, interviews the child is a little softer and a little, um, more, uh, compassionate when there's a third neutral party in the room. So based on all of that, um, and helping the parent to know what information to share when and how not to share too much information, cuz that could open another door that, that the parent wouldn't even imagine. Usually those investigations, um, conclude with no substantiation of the allegation and the family's able to go on with their life. Sometimes it'll, it'll be determined that the family needs some services. And so the advocate can help have the conversations to lead the investigator or the, uh, assigned social worker to a more, um, responsive, appropriate model of services. Uh, the goal is to keep kids at home, keep kids with their parents, and to make sure the parents, um, can, can manage the investigation in a way that's helpful, healthy, and valuable for, for themselves and their family.
It's just a complete turnaround and you're getting somebody up front to make the parents feel protected and safe because we all change our personalities when we feel under pressure like that, everybody does.
The human, the human experience is, um, is designed to respond to threat in a certain way. Some people, it's more elaborate than others. So if you think about a mama bear and she has her cubs, if if somebody approaches her when she has cubs, she's going to stand at her high legs. She is going to potentially attack, she's going to protect her babies. When you see that same mama bear without the cubs, she feels less threatened and she'll go about her day. It's kind of the same way with, with us humans, right? When we feel threat, we respond. And if we have more to protect, we respond in a bigger way. And I, I think that's where a lot of parents are portrayed or, or their, um, body language and the way they conduct themselves is interpreted by the investigators as being something that it's not.
Often they'll say that the mom, um, is out of control, she's unhinged. Um, she must have mental health issues. She didn't seem to be able to control her emotions or have organized thought. That means she must be doing drugs, she must be, um, a bad parent. They come up with all these scenarios. And the thing is, if you do have disorganized thinking, and then when you speak to an investigator that disorganized thinking is on full display, it's probably because you feel threatened. But it could also be because you're on drugs. It could be either one. So the investigators air on the side of caution, and oftentimes you'll see in reports that they have air quotes concerns about this, this parent or parents. And it's based on the interpretation of really the human response to being investigated and to being threatened with the possibility of losing your children.
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So if there was one thing that you wanted to ask the community of who is listening to this podcast or reading the transcript, what's the one thing that you hope for or one thing that you really want to turn around?
Well, that's a great question. Um, I don't know if I can say just one thing. Um, I certainly would like to say is a non-profit. We are working to raise funding and drive donations to help serve the, the families that find us not all are financially able to pay for the services we offer. And so when we raise money and secure, um, grant funding, we are able to offer a sliding scale to, uh, families who are referred to us. I'd like to see the child welfare system and the child mental healthcare system be two different and distinct systems of care. One is about family preservation and, um, certainly safety, but it's about, it's about ensuring that that parents get training if they need it, get support if they need it, get services or, or mental health care for themselves if they need it. Because a goal in child welfare and child protection should be family preservation.
Child mental health care for years has been, um, uh, intersect. It has intersected with child welfare in a lot of states. Decades ago, the thought was if child welfare is about the wellbeing of children, they can also manage accessing mental health and behavioral healthcare services, and that should all go under one roof. But it's very hard to interpret, um, what the child needs in the mental health or behavioral health realm when you're looking at the family from a safety lens. Um, it's two different things and, and you can't hand out gifts and police parents at the same time. It really should be two distinct, uh, service deliverables. Um, I'd like to see us have a system that can be more responsive and have more appropriate, uh, services, treatment models, an array of, of service deliverables available to families. If, if your child has schizophrenia, you should not be putting that child in the same program with kids that have autism.
If your child has complex developmental trauma, that child should not be in the same treatment program with a child that has, um, hearing and vision loss with some co-occurring behavioral issues. There. There there's a whole gamut of need, um, and treatment models that are appropriate for different diagnoses. But we don't have a system with that kind of capacity. We don't have, um, and I'm unaware of any state that really has a system with the kind of capacity we need. Uh, several years ago, some states decided not to send kids across state lines to, um, admit them to programs that are appropriate because they wanted to keep their dollars in state and they wanted to keep their kids close to home. That's well and good in one regard, but if we don't have what the child needs in our state, we should be sending that child out of state and providing a mechanism by which parents can, can get to their children for visits and appropriate contact within the context of those programs. I, I don't think there's a one size fits all either in child protection or in child mental health care. I think we really need to, to have two systems that are, are crafted and funded to meet the need, not create a system, and then make the kids and families fit into those systems doesn't work that way.
It also makes me think that because this country has a huge mental health problem, for some reason we don't treat it the same as just, you know, it's medical and people can't get therapy without having to pay, you know, 150 bucks a session or whatever that may be, and hardly any of 'em take your insurance. And that doesn't make sense. It's, it's like there's a whole animal out there and we're learning from a grassroots effort here what the needs really are. You're coming at it from a completely different perspective than, you know, than just a, some government handout or some governments, you know, let's check this box and move this kid over to this, this system or that system. And I think that it's probably the precursor to a complete revolution overhaul of the mental healthcare system in this country.
Absolutely. And, and there are some folks working on this and, and I'm, I'm grateful to be playing my small role in informing, um, by way of my own personal experience and the experience of the families that family forward advocacy in Connecticut serve. We work with families who are trying to access specific care options for their children at points in time. That, that the, it needs to be very responsive. Sometimes a kid needs one thing today and that kid's gonna need something very different in six months. Um, we're, we're really in a unique situation to be able to inform lawmakers on what several families experience and then bring those families into those meetings and say, now tell your story. We've already laid the groundwork. Tell your story so that this lawmaker or this legislative aid, here's what we're saying at the, you know, uh, mile up level, but also here's it at, at the micro level, this family experience this, and here's the landscape as to why that's happening.
Um, we're able to do that effectively because we're offering the advocate training and we do so virtually we're able to do that because we come alongside parents and we, we help them on their journey one on one through parent mentoring. Therapeutic parent mentoring is critical to, uh, deescalating, uh, a child. It, it's critical to understanding what triggers, um, a traumatized child responds to. Um, and then with biological families who are losing kids, you know, sometimes there's early trauma in those situations and it's completely discounted in terms of the child parent relationship being strained or, or not functioning properly. It, it, it can still be linked back to early traumatic experiences. Um, it's just not viewed that way by the system yet. They don't see it clearly and the child's not diagnosed with a trauma condition because they're still with their parent, their biological parent. So there's, there's a lot that we need to change in terms of our lenses on how we see the families that become known to child protection.
We need to understand that better. I think we need to have more empathy and I think we need to, um, rethink foster care completely there. There's a lot there that we need to rethink. And you know, Molly McGrath Tierney was the executive director of, um, child Protective Services in Baltimore for many years. She come out openly, um, via TED Talk in 2014 and talked about her view of what's wrong with child welfare from both. I I believe she admitted to being in care at one time and then running a department. So, so coming at it from both sides, what we do wrong, why just the mechanism of foster care doesn't work. Um, you know, I think she's spot on and, and much of what she talked about, and I try to think about a lot that she said, um, in that TED talk, when I talk to families and when I talk to social workers and, and clinical providers as well, we, we really need to rethink what we're doing on how to, um, effectively support families, keep children and families, and make sure they're getting their needs met.
Excellent. And I, I wanna bring that up a little bit more too, because I watched that TED talk when you guys mentioned it. I went and watched it that day and it made so much sense, but I don't know if I would've understood how much it made sense had I not been there learning everything from you guys. So I do want to tell the listeners to go look up Molly McGrath tyranny and find that TED talk that she talked about on, on child welfare and foster care or whatever, adoption is the other thing too, adoption that seems to come up very quickly and, and then there's bonuses given out for, for that as well. And that just makes things even worse if the case never should have progressed to that point. So let's just hope that everything that will start to get this reeled in and pulled together. Are there any upcoming trips to go back to Washington or are you gonna be doing things in the Connecticut legislature?
So the legislative session for Connecticut starts in January, and so the focus right now is going to be on looking at, um, conversations with lawmakers here at the state level. Um, I think we'd like to bring a bill that would require an advocate to be appointed to a family or be available to a family by way of a, um, a system where they could choose the advocate, but there would be funding through, uh, the child welfare agency to, uh, cover the cost of that advocate to come on board with the family at the point an investigation is started to try to ensure that families, again, feel supported through that investigative process. Um, and we're also looking at, um, establishing some oversight by way of a, um, bussman or, um, you know, complaint division outside of the child welfare agency right now in Connecticut. Um, they have an, um, bussman department within the agency and, and that is a complicated thing for families to navigate, um, at the federal level.
I believe we're gonna be going back to Washington in May. Um, you know, we just had an election and so sometimes you have to kind of take a step back, um, through the election and the lame duck period of our, um, legislatures and, and see where we are in January. So that's probably what we're gonna do. Um, maybe in May we'll go back to DC and, and work on some more, uh, verbiage for, um, hopefully the reauthorization of CAPTA is being worked on now, and we'd like to influence that some more. Um, but you know, one of the things we're focusing on here in Connecticut is, um, our fundraising. We, we've never done that before. We're just starting now to really look at finding, um, funding partners to come alongside us. We were very fortunate. We recently got a small grant from the NE e KC Foundation and, and so that, that was a huge win for us.
Um, and we got a small grant recently from the Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation. We're gonna be hosting a couple workshops here in our state in the next couple weeks. Um, two will be in person, one will be virtual on parent resiliency and how to effectively parent the traumatized child and what you need to know if child welfare does knock at your door. Um, so we'll be doing that over the next couple of weeks and, um, we're always trying to put together something. We also do have a, a podcast called Parenting Through Trauma. Um, we did about six episodes last year, um, and then we put it on hold for a little bit and we hope to, uh, get back to, um, issuing a few episodes in the early part of next year.
Excellent. Well thank you so much for doing this today. I've really enjoyed talking with you. I really enjoyed meeting you and all the other ladies in Washington back in September when we were there, so hopefully we'll have an update coming after you guys, uh, hit the streets again.
Absolutely. It was great meeting you too, and I really appreciate you coming to Washington and, and really spotlighting this on your show. Um, yeah, I, I, uh, wasn't aware of your show before I met you and, and I've really just blown away at, um, at some of the people you've had on. So kudos to you and keep up the great work.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Thank you for listening today. My name is Sally Hendrick. Be sure to visit our website for show notes and more information on how you can inspire others. If you would like to contribute content to our magazine, please apply on our website at shoutyourcause.com.