Being an ongoing case manager requires flexibility, perseverance – and often a fair amount of teamwork. A recent case handled by Lilia Figueroa, a lead ongoing case manager at SaintA, illustrates this well.
Lilia is 26 years old and has worked at SaintA for four years. She took this position right out of college and is working on a master’s degree. But despite her youth, she knows how to be creative to get things done.
Lilia is bi-lingual, and this case involved a mother, who we’ll call Mary, two daughters, a son and paternal grandparents. The grandparents speak only Spanish, the mother prefers to speak Spanish, and the children are bilingual. So in addition to other things involved in the case, language was a factor for Lilia.
Mary attempted suicide in April 2011, she tested positive for cocaine, and her children were removed from her home. The girls were placed with their grandparents and the boy with an uncle. Mary was very much in denial over her mental health and drug issues, Lilia said. She also was very inconsistent with visiting her children, then would go to her relatives and demand visits. Because things were so upsetting, her son ended up being removed and placed into a pre-adoptive home.
Lilia got Mary involved with addiction services and individual therapy. SaintA’s Family Interaction Services began working with her and clearly outlined the expectations they had: she had to plan activities with her children, then follow through.
After awhile, something seemed to click, Lilia said. Mary started to turn things around, was clean for a few months, then she relapsed. But she admitted it.
“That was very big for her considering that she was so much in denial at first,” Lilia said.
Lilia was moving the family toward reunification, then issues arose with the grandparents. They did not believe Mary had changed and began making allegations against her. The accusations turned out to be false but took considerable time to investigate, at one point causing a 60-day delay. Then the girls told the Family Interaction worker that the grandparents were using corporal punishment on them.
Lilia interviewed the girls individually and they went into detail about being hit with a belt and a cord. Their stories matched, and because of the safety threat, Lilia had to remove the girls to an emergency foster home, about 8:30-9 at night. The grandparents were greatly upset by the situation, and they filed a formal complain with the court.
The children had no way to get to their school, which was about 10 miles away, so Lilia stepped up to the plate and began taking them in and picking them up. This lasted three months.
Then allegations arose that the foster parents’ daughter was harming the children behind their back, and the girls were removed again. This time they were placed with their brother, whose pre-adoptive foster parents changed their license to be able to accept them.
Transportation remained an issue, so Lilia continued with the daily trips to school. She also helped Family Interaction’s supervised visits with Mary and her children two or three times a week.
“Sometimes I wouldn’t end up getting the kids back until 6:30 or 7 at night,” she said.
Mary’s son, who was 4 by then and who had been with the pre-adoptive foster parents since he was 2, did not adjust to his siblings being with him.
“He had gotten used to being the only child,” Lilia said. “In visits, he would not call his mother ‘Mom.’”
So Mary voluntarily gave up her parental rights to her son so his foster parents could adopt him.
“She knew that if he was returned to her, he’d ask where his mom and dad were, and she thought this was best for him.”
After all the twists and turns, things ultimately all worked out. In September of 2013, the girls were reunified with Mary. She’s continuing with addiction and mental health treatment and is involved in her children’s school activities. Her son was adopted in November of 2013, and he continues to have a relationship with his mother and sisters.
All the while this case was working its way through the system, Lilia had 26 other children in other cases, many of whom required her to visit twice a month. Trying to keep some semblance of work/life balance she continued to work out in the mornings three times a week.
“I’d pick the kids up in sweats, and I told the foster parents, I hope you don’t find this disrespectful!’ “ she said with a laugh.
“What I did is something I would willingly do for almost any family. I feel like I’m kind of a person who can see the good in a parent, even when they don’t want to see or admit it.”
Permanency is always the ultimate goal, Lilia said. “So I’m determined not to disrupt that because services are not there, even if it requires me to do the transportation or whatever. It wouldn’t be fair to hold up families like that.”
But Lilia said she recognizes there are limits.
“I try not to be a control freak, and I have faith in my colleagues to make the right decisions if I’m not able to be around.” She ended up having to rely on her team quite a bit to help cover her English-speaking cases. “I know they care and if they are able to help, they will.”
Dennis Uyeda, who was Lilia’s supervisor during this case, said SaintA has always promoted teamwork.
“You do your best to help each other out, especially in difficult times,” he said. “I’m really so proud that everyone pitches in; and this is not atypical of other teams.
“Lilia’s an example of good teamwork; she’s always been available to help others. And that’s how we get by.”
And how families like Mary’s achieve reunification and hope for a more stable future.