This story was written by Carol Luttjohann, a licensed Kansas social worker with KVC Kansas. In her role, she provides support and resources to families whose children are at risk of going into foster care as a result of abuse and neglect.
*The names of the parents in this story have been changed for confidentiality purposes.
It was a hot Monday in July. I had just finished lunch and was heading back to the office. A familiar ding came from my phone indicating I had a new referral for a family whose two young boys were in danger of going into foster care.
The referral listed allegations of two parents struggling with issues stemming from substance use which led them to potentially neglecting their children. On the surface, their home did not appear to be a suitable living environment. It had boarded up windows, an air conditioner that had been broken for more than a month, leaky plumbing, holes in walls, and a kitchen where most of the appliances didn’t work. In addition, the family did not have a phone or transportation and couldn’t find employment.
I drove to the home and Mark*, the father, greeted me at the door. We began to talk about the referral, and he explained why his home was in the state it was: The landlady refused to fix things; their car had been towed by the city because their tags were out-of-date; and their only phone had been stolen from his wife, Kelly*.
Soon after I arrived, two little boys came around the corner. I remembered that I had two bottles of bubbles on me that I often share with children during visits. I gave each of the boys a bottle of bubbles, and their faces lit up as they blew and chased them.
Kelly came outside. They discussed how they wanted to move but needed assistance in finding a place. We went inside and used my laptop to check various websites until we found a good prospect. We set a time for the next day to visit it.
As I drove them to check out the house, they asked if I could help them run a few errands going to a food pantry and picking up some medications. During that day’s visit, I realized how overwhelmed this family was. To name just a few of their problems, they barely had enough money for food and Kelly had lost her ID, meaning she was unable to pick up prescriptions for her family.
The next day I brought them food and some other essential items. I also helped them put together a garage sale for the coming weekend.
On Monday, I got a call from Kelly who said they needed to get to a hospital because one of her boys had mites, which made everyone in the house sick. I immediately called for emergency assistance and headed their way. Luckily, by the time I got there, emergency services had already arrived and cleared them, and no one needed emergency treatment. The boys proudly showed me their fireman and police stickers.
The following Wednesday I got a call from Mark, who was frantic. He told me that Kelly and the boys had left the home and he wasn’t sure where they were. I notified law enforcement immediately and reached out to family acquaintances. Several more hours passed with no word on Kelly and the boys’ whereabouts.
Mark became increasingly consumed with panic. He told me that Kelly sometimes would leave unexpectedly to ask passers-by for money in parking lots and street corners. He mentioned she had done this before at a specific location, which I then traveled to but they weren’t there.
I received a call from someone who knew Kelly. They stated they had just seen her in the parking lot of a restaurant. I headed that direction and found Kelly and her children. Kelly described her situation to me in desperation. She was trying to get some money together so that she could afford medication for one of her boys. I was able to secure funds through KVC to help her afford this but knew this wouldn’t be a sustainable activity long-term.
I went to their home the next day and learned their electricity had been turned off. We all agreed that they couldn’t continue living in these conditions and that, without immediate changes, their children would be placed in foster care. After discussing our options, they agreed to seek the services of Hope Center, an organization that provides shelter while people work toward a better life. We began making the arrangements.
On moving day, I made sure to pick up more bubbles for the boys, which they played with enthusiastically while their parents packed their items into the KVC moving van. This move meant that their children wouldn’t have to enter foster care and the family would be preserved.
As soon as the family had adequate shelter, Kelly and Mark received treatment for their substance use issues and their children were able to get their prescriptions on a regular basis. Also, both of the boys were able to attend school consistently and experienced improvements in their academics and behavior.
Thanks to this safe environment, Mark was able to work toward sobriety and apply for several jobs. They now have stability, and they are doing the hard work to keep moving upward and onward.
When the boys see me, their first question is still, “Did you bring bubbles?!”
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