Two young children placed in another state’s foster care system were recently reunited with relatives thanks to the hard work of Adams County Children and Youth Services (CYS).
The children’s parents, who were known to CYS in the past, moved their family out west in October, according to Ashley Garcia, CYS intake supervisor, and Elizabeth Winebrenner, CYS caseworker 2.
In March, the parents became “unavailable” to care for their two children, causing the other state’s Department of Human Services to take over custody, said Winebrenner.
“They went into traditional foster care,” Winebrenner said. “They were with strangers.”
Both children were under 5 years old at the time.
If this had occurred in Pennsylvania, CYS would have been able to release the children to a relative, according to Winebrenner.
“In that other state, they have stricter barriers to family finding,” Winebrenner said.
That did not stop CYS staff from treating these children as their own, working in a coordinated effort with the other state’s caseworkers.
On average, it can take at least six months to bring a child back to their home state, said Sherri DePasqua, assistant administrator at Adams County Children and Youth Services.
“It’s not in anyone’s best interest to stay there for that long because of bureaucracy,” DePasqua said.
Through the collaboration, the children returned to Pennsylvania within a month, Winebrenner said.
It was not a free-for-all by any means.
While Winebrenner was coordinating with the other agency, CYS resource coordinator Teresa Polvinale worked to have three family members approved as “kinship providers,” according to DePasqua. This entailed vetting the families’ homes and finding car seats, beds, and other necessities for the children.
When the children flew back with a caseworker from the other state on April 15, Winebrenner invited the family members to the Harrisburg International Airport. The family made “welcome home” signs for each of the children with their names and photos.
“The kids were so excited and ran to their family members and jumped into their arms,” Winebrenner said, becoming a bit teary-eyed recalling the moment.
The other caseworker traveled with the children before relinquishing custody to Adams County CYS. That is why a caseworker needed to be there, according to DePasqua.
CYS has shifted from being “very business driven” to becoming more “family focused,” Garcia said.
“Back in the day, it didn’t occur to people to invite family to the airport,” Garcia said.
Winebrenner said family members have been working with one another to have sleepovers, make dinner plans, and attend sporting events.
“I think these children, unfortunately, have been through a lot of trauma,” Winebrenner said. “This is probably, in their situation, the best possible outcome. They are thriving and doing great.”
“We don’t always get to see that,” added Winebrenner.
On May 29, Adams County commissioners recognized CYS for Child Welfare Professionals’ Appreciation Week, which started Monday and runs through Friday.
Sarah Finkey, CYS administrator, likened her staff to first responders. CYS employees save lives every day through the work they do, she said.
Finkey also called them “true heroes” because they risk their own safety to help children in need.
CYS staff have a little more work on their hands than first responders, said Commissioner Marty Qually.
“When the fire is out, they are finished,” Qually said of first responders, noting caseworkers work with families when homes are falling apart and are around to help pick up the pieces.
Adams County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Michael George talked about a court proceeding involving two addicted parents who lost custody of their child, a 6-year-old at the time.
The child was returned to the family after interventions, George said.
George recalled the child saying, “Thank you for giving my family back.”
“That was what an 8-year-old said,” George noted.
The ceremonial courtroom roared with applause.
George credited CYS for the work its does behind the scenes.