“Sandra”: Family Visitation
Creating permanency by helping parents and children feel right at home.
“Sandra” is a single mom who works hard to support her three kids, all under seven. She was doing well, until her toddler suffered a significant brain injury at the hands of a trusted babysitter.
With an investigation and legal action pending, the boy was removed from Sandra’s care and ordered into a foster home placement with a supervised visitation program under the guidance of The Children’s Institute’s Project STAR.
Project STAR is dedicated to the reunification of families and is a leader in supervised visitation programs, bringing both professional diligence and personal warmth.
In fact ProjectSTAR’s approach achieves an outstanding reunification rate of 90%.
Caseworkers learn what the parents need to know to better parent their child then utilize the supervised visits as an opportunity for coaching, role-modeling and hands-on lessons. Between visits, the caseworker and parent discuss the previous visit; what went right, what went wrong, and prepare for the next visitation.
Recently, ProjectSTAR went one step further to help parents and children feel more comfortable during supervised visitation—modifying a house on our Squirrel Hill campus to provide fully-equipped kitchens, cozy living rooms and dining areas.
For parents trying to re-establish the bonds with their child, this new Family Visitation Center is meaningful. As Sandra explains, “It’s made a big difference,” she says. “It’s the most natural thing in the world to fix a real meal for your child, or to relax together on a sofa.”
Sandra and her son have progressed to the next level; having visits without the caseworker in the same room. The next step will be visits in Sandra’s home, and finally, if the court approves, the family will be reunified.
“She’s a good mom,” her ProjectSTAR caseworker says. “She’s constant in her visitations and is doing all she needs to do to get him back.”
Chipman Family: Intensive Family Support Services
Nicole Chipman: The help a parent needs to rebuild and reunite.
It’s not easy being a single mom. Add into that two boys with special health care needs and one can see why Nicole Chipman was struggling.
Recognizing the difficulty Chipman family was experiencing, The Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau stepped in and referred Chipman to The Children’s Institute’s Project STAR.
ProjectSTAR works with at-risk families, offering support and guidance so that they can rebuild and stay together.
When Project STAR Permanency Specialist Jen Ambrose met the family, she saw that Nicole’s eldest son, Dakota, had an ostomy bag that wasn’t changed often enough, leading to infections. His diet was inadequate and his failure to gain weight had made it impossible to reverse the ostomy procedure. He was also prone to behavioral outbursts.
Nicole’s younger son Aaron had health problems, as well. He couldn’t speak, but had never been diagnosed with anything that would explain this developmental delay. In addition, his feet turned in, making it difficult for him to walk.
Jen began by coordinating formal supports for every member of the family. Dakota received physical and mental health services, while Aaron underwent evaluations that ultimately led to a diagnosis of autism along with a treatment plan. Meanwhile, Jen worked with Nicole on parenting skills.
Gradually, the family became stronger. Dakota gained enough weight to reverse the ostomy procedure, and his behavior began to improve dramatically. Aaron made excellent progress — he began to speak, learn numbers and letters, and his gait normalized. Nicole became a far better mom.
“She’s a totally different kind of mother,” says Jen. “She’s attentive to the boys’ needs, she is caring and compassionate, and she has become an advocate for Dakota and Aaron.”
Nicole agrees, and is thankful for the services her family received through Project STAR. “It’s been nice to have a caseworker who actually cares. I’ve learned so much. Now I know how to be there for my kids.”
The Jaskola family: Adoption, Foster, Medical Foster
The Jaskola family: Fostering a welcoming and lasting environment.
Noelle and “Jaz” Jaskola are one set of parents who opened their hearts and home and adopted three young children through ProjectSTAR at The Children’s Institute.
All three children have special needs. Nine-year old Andrew was born with fetal drug exposure and spina bifida; eight-year old Nicholas was born with fetal drug exposure, hypersensitivity to sensory stimulation and a brain hemorrhage; and 6-year old Ana was born with a rare syndrome that necessitated a bone marrow transplant and has numerous developmental delays.
All three children came to the Jaskola family through the Foster-to-Adopt program.
“Most people don’t think to go through the foster care system, “ Noelle Jaskola explains, “but you have more options with the kids’ ages and other factors. And you know upfront who’s likely to be adoptable. “
The Jaskola family is full of loving, good sense. “No parent knows what the future holds—especially for kids with special needs. We just want them to grow to be good people making good decisions for themselves, as confident and independent as they can be.”
This positive attitude comes as no surprise to those at ProjectSTAR, especially Luisa Hewitt, the permanency specialist who did their original family profile. “We need parents who are able to accept unknowns and Noelle and Jaz are good with that. They’re down to earth with a high degree of commitment to each other and their children.”
ProjectSTAR and ProjectSTAR families have been a constant source of support for the Jaskola family. As Noelle explains, “I can’t tell you how great the other ProjectSTAR families are. A lot of them had been through this (Ana’s medical issues), and they’d come over and lend a hand or tell me to call any time.”
The entire experience has been a tremendous success for Andrew, Nicholas, and Ana, as well as Noelle and Jaz. “We’re a family.” Noelle concludes.