On June 30, 2016, dozens of local families gathered on the east lawn of SaintA at 89th and Capitol Drive. It was a true summertime celebration, complete with kids’ games, balloon animals, grilled foods, freshly popped popcorn, a drum line from Express Yourself MKE, a four-legged friend from the Wisconsin Humane Society, and so much more. Most importantly, it was a day of togetherness for case workers, family engagement specialists and parents who have been reunified with their children.
Also in attendance were Milwaukee Children’s Court officials, SaintA board members, and Reunification Day partners, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. Parents received certificates of accomplishment for taking the steps necessary to regain custody, while kids got to try their hand at bean bag toss, a prize wheel and other lawn games.
Reunification isn’t easy, but it is possible
While the reasons for out-of-home removal vary, there is often addiction, mental health barriers or trauma to overcome. There may also be a need for quality parenting instruction.
“I didn’t think I could do it; I wasn’t sure I could get her back.” said Angel Bailey, who was perched on the grassy hillside eating popcorn with her young daughter. “But as I started doing the things I was supposed to, I was like, ‘I can do this.’” And she did – after almost a year of being apart from her baby, the two were permanently reunited.
“She was only 8 months old when everything happened. At first, I got to see her for home visits only, then I was allowed overnights and then I got her back full-time,” said Angel. The pair has had a good year since their official reunification last summer. “We have a lot of plans to spend time together. We’ve been to Summerfest, we are going to the zoo and of course the State Fair,” Angel explained.
Literally a wake-up call
Another mom talked about how her older children had started to recognize her parenting problems. “My daughter said, ‘You have to wake-up, mom,’” she recalls. “After I lost custody of my son, I went to church, looking for spiritual help, and guess what that pastor said? He said ‘you’re asleep and you have to wake up.’”
That was it – after that, she knew what she had to do, which was whatever it would take to bring her son home and be present for him and her other children. “She has done a lot of work in order to be here, reunified with her son and raising her children,” said her case worker who was there to celebrate with them.
Once a family, always a family
Another mom and daughter duo shared their story. “It was alcohol. That’s why she was taken away from me and I will never, ever let that happen again,” one mom said, with her pre-teen daughter standing by her side – both physically and symbolically.
“Our case workers were amazing in getting us back to being a family. They’re here today, so we got to say ‘thank you’ again.”
There were lots of dads on hand, too. One father who was reunified with his daughters after having been incarcerated talked about their upcoming plans for a birthday party in Wisconsin Dells. “We have never been there; we just know to pack our swim suits. And I hear there’s an outlet mall nearby,” he says with a smile, “So they’ll drag me there, too.”
Reunification Day is a national celebration and this was the 5th year SaintA hosted Milwaukee’s Reunification Day, along with co-sponsor, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.