18 Degrees President Sarah Cook says some families need help and guidance on the road to reunification.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. – Varying circumstances led to the Ernest, Hernandez and Hendrickson families being separated by the child welfare system, but they are now together again.
The three families celebrated Berkshire County Reunification Day at 18 degrees on Wednesday. They were brought together over the past two years after a lot of hard work and perseverance.
“We know that the families we work with have strengths and talents, capacities and abilities, and these are sometimes difficult to access when life and circumstances are against it. Social, health and environmental challenges can impede all of our abilities to achieve our dreams, and can confuse and complicate our day-to-day choices,” said President and CEO Sarah Cook.
“And that’s where by working together through support and guidance and a path that we jointly identify, participants in our program can begin to take the steps they need to move forward. The path certainly has stoppages and obstacles and challenges, but when our community comes together to support families when the light shines on the journey ahead, we are able to grow stronger, we are able to come back together and so are our families.”
Raymond Hernandez, the father of Devon, 11, and Angel, 8, thanked the organization, the justice system and everyone involved in bringing his sons home.
“It was a great experience and I just want to let dads know that you can do it. If I could do it, you could do it,” he added.
“It doesn’t take much, just follow the rules, follow the steps, and whatever your heart desires to do the right thing, do it. Your kids deserve you. Your kids deserve being home and it was really tough because nobody’s perfect, you fall, that’s what you do with it after and I got back up, dusted off and I’m here.”
Devon and Angel sat together in the front row of the ceremony, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. The family’s attorney, Jessica Instone, stressed the importance of the relationship between the boys.
“We know that the sibling relationship is the longest relationship a person has in their life and it’s the most important, but it’s the best protective factor for children in foster care and luckily Devon and Angel were able to be together all the time,” she explained. adding that their father worked to ensure they maintained a brotherly bond.
Lindsay DiCiccio, a social worker with the Department of Children and Families, explained that she met the boys in 2017 after an incident that led to them being placed in foster care and said that since the first day, Hernandez had done everything that was asked of him and more.
“Since returning home, Raymond has continued to work hard to maintain sobriety and a stable home for the boys,” DiCiccio added.
“I see them often in the community, they are always so happy and it’s so clear how much they love each other and how proud Raymond is of the life he has created. I’m also super proud of the path traveled.”
Kaitlyn Hendrickson says she and her 8-year-old son Jaxon are “two peas in a pod”. She emphasized that the ceremony is to honor all the families that have been reunited.
“I’m glad I was able to be here to support all of the families that have been reunited,” Hendrickson said.
Attorney Krista Wroldson Miller said Hendrickson has always been and continues to be an amazing mother and despite her time, she has always had a positive relationship and strong bond with her son.
She reported that in the case for the scheduled trial, the court acknowledged that Hendrickson went above and beyond what was asked of her and her son to be unified.
“All the hard work Hendrickson has put in speaks for itself,” added Wroldson Miller.
“She was ready to have her son home with her, she continues to be an amazing mom, and years after reuniting with all her hard work and everything she learned along the way, we anticipate that ‘she will continue to be a wonderful mother as Jaxon continues to grow and thrive with her.”
Each family received a certificate and a gift basket to mark the occasion. Sharon Ernest accepted the offers before bringing her reunited child home so she could attend university.
Ernest was praised for his academic achievements and in his family life. It has also been described as a “smart cookie”.
Berkshire’s first juvenile court judge, Joan McMenemy, didn’t stop smiling at the ceremony and said on days like this she was one of the “luckiest judges”.
“In our child protection system, we never forget and we must never forget that every case, every case number, every piece of paper is about a family and it is always about the family,” said she declared.
“It’s about strong, resilient parents who want to do well for their families and it’s about strong, brave, fun-loving, fun-loving kids who need their parents, grandparents, guardians and caregivers. advice from their family to show them their way in this world and to create great memories and to get through the lows together and to celebrate the good times and to celebrate the victories and to live your best life.”
McMenemy later added that being a parent is the “toughest job in the whole world” and that life can sometimes “stack the deck against families”.
Raymond Hernandez says he worked hard and followed the rules to ensure his sons could return home.
She highlighted the courage, determination and strength of families and unsung heroes such as social workers, therapists, clinicians, court-appointed special advocates, volunteers and lawyers.
Jacquelyn O’Brien, executive director of the State Public Advisory Services Committee, Children and Family Law Division, told the families they were a “shining example of the power of love”.
She said the DCF’s annual report indicated that there were almost 8,500 children in foster care at the end of 2021, which is a downward trend from previous years, and not quite half of these children were reunited with their parents within the first year.
“I would love to see that number come down even more and it’s the work of the families as well as the work of the providers and the DCF and the CPCS and the court that can make that happen,” O’Brien said.
The reunification celebration was first held in 2016 and is held every two years. In 2020, it was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was organized by 18 degrees, DCF, Berkshire Juvenile Court and CPCS.
Gift baskets were donated by Ayelada, the Berkshire Theater Group, The Bookloft, Ready Set Play and the Reunification Day Planning Committee.
Key words: 18 degrees, family,