On their feet after hitting rock bottom
The adults who attended this year’s Reunification Day Celebration at Wapato Park call themselves veterans. The name fits.
They have struggled with addictions, burned their allies and forfeited their children.
But they have come through the battles, remade themselves and are rebuilding their families. They have proved to state Child Protective Services workers that they are fit parents for the children they once endangered.
Brenda Kaufman, 42, of Port Orchard organized Friday’s event and helped build the services that made it possible. Those services are based on veterans’ experience of what does, and does not, work when CPS aims to reunite families – one of the agency’s principal goals.
“I went into my first drug-and-alcohol treatment when I was 12,” Kaufman said. “Between 12 and 28, I had two children and four in-patient treatments. I did a lot of out-patient as well.”
She was a rotten mom. Neither of her kids’ dads was in the picture. She worked most of the time but needed public assistance. When her daughter was 11 and her son was 4, she’d been doing meth and abusing alcohol for two years.
“I had gone into a meth-induced psychosis and was very paranoid,” she said. “My car had broken down, and I had asked my mom to baby-sit. I went back in the middle of the night to see them.”
She got her kids and took off in her mother’s truck.
“I was pulled over for stealing her truck and taken to jail,” Kaufman said. “Both my kids were taken.”
She needed jail.
She got sober, went to New Connections Bible study and planned to take the help they offered when she got out.
Trouble was, jailers released her at midnight. New Connections was closed. By morning, she had hooked up with an old boyfriend, used again and decided to jump from the Narrows Bridge.
“They should have let me out when I could get into one of those places they were telling me about,” she said.
When she finally did, she succeeded. In a year at Tacoma’s Phoebe House she got clean, had her son move in, learned parenting skills and got a job. Since 2000, she’s gone to college, earned her daughter’s trust, bought a house and worked her way through social services training. She developed a program in which veterans like her can demonstrate to parents that there is a way to heal themselves, and their families.
They do the simple stuff, such as getting people from jail to services, even in the middle of the night.
They do the complicated stuff, such as explaining to social workers what does and does not work, and why.
They do the personal work that is beyond the experience of people who have never been as low as they were.
That, said Ray Schenck of Tacoma, is why his children are living with him again.
After CPS took them, he ended up doing drugs and living in his minivan. He got sober, fathered another baby, got the others back, relapsed and lost the children again.
He’s been straight for three years now, and during that time he connected with the veterans.
“It’s been a long journey but a good one,” he said.
They helped him build a good sobriety support. They helped him understand that CPS workers weren’t out to get him, but to protect his kids. They understood that, for a guy who’s been abusing substances since he was 13, getting sober on the state’s timeline is a tall order.
“I call the veterans for guidance from someone who has been through a little bit of what I’ve been through,” he said. “They are very smart about how CPS works. Instead of butting heads with them, they give you points on how to work with them.”
Schenck, 40, works as a certified auto-body technician. He’s helped raise $250,000 for NW Children’s fund. He’s renting a comfortable house in Fern Hill, where he is a single dad for his youngest daughters, ages 16 and 5, and his son, who is 4.
“It’s made me a better person after what I went through with CPS,” he said. “It was a battle. I’m a better person, a better parent.”
He thanks a veteran, and he is a veteran, willing to help the next person through the fight.