WCAX, Kristen Kelly: Honoring Vermont Families That Reunite

Honoring Vt. families that reunite

Posted: Aug 16, 2013 6:08 PM EDT Updated: Aug 19, 2013 5:00 PM EDT

BURLINGTON, Vt. – “Families work really hard to gain their children back,” Sarah Lowell said.

Lowell knows about that hard work. She is a proud mom. But for a while, she couldn’t care for her son and he was put in state custody. They’ve been happily back together for almost four years.

“It takes a lot, it takes a lot to be able to get your kids back and to be able to be reunified,” Lowell said.

The Vermont Department of Children and Families says most families separated by the state do reunite.

Last year, 57 percent of kids in DCF custody went back home. That’s up from 53 percent 10 years ago.

Last year, 669 kids went into DCF custody and cost the state about $38,000 per child. The average stay is 10 months.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: Do you ever make mistakes– putting kids back into the home when maybe that shouldn’t have happened?

Vt. DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone: Sure, sure, about 9 percent of the time kids are re-committed back into custody, so that’s tragic. So, most of the time we get it right, but not always.

“It is easier to get into care than it is to get your child out of care,” said Trine Bech of the Vermont Parent Representation Center.

Bech is a parent advocate helping moms and dads do the work to regain custody.

“About 80 percent of the children come into care, come in because of neglect, not because of abuse. And a lot of it has to do with poverty,” Bech explained.

DCF says some parents are just not able to overcome past problems and current stresses despite state help. But a growing number are getting there. DCF says that’s because it’s put more time and money into teaching parenting skills and building extended family bonds to strengthen the network around kids.

“So, kin play a very important role and that’s been a conscious effort over the last five or six years where the state has tried to do more family supports,” Yacovone said.

But for a parent to regain custody, there are many hoops to jump through. The classes and counseling can become a full-time job.

“Sometimes it feels like, well, that you have nobody else,” Lowell said.

For Sarah Lowell, that’s in the past. Now, she successfully juggles family, full-time work and planning for a big celebration Saturday in Burlington– a picnic for other reunited families and families still working to get back together. She’s the parent working with DCF and other child welfare advocates on the second-annual event, hoping to inspire other parents who want their kids back.

“It’s amazing to see all of the people who have gone through the reunification process and hear their stories,” she said.

The Family Reunification Celebration is Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Battery Park in Burlington. It’s open to all reunited families and those hoping to reunite.