County Program Offers Tools to Help Struggling Families Reunify with their Children
"Parents need all the help they can get. The strongest, as well as the most fragile family, requires a vital network of social supports."
- Bernice Weissbourd
SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF – Life has taken on a new meaning for county resident Louis Vidal, Jr. After a long-term struggle with drugs that led him to a residential treatment center and to lose his children to State custody in 2019, Vidal began to see things turn in his favor once he tapped into the County’s partnership with the Dependency Advocacy Center’s (DAC) Mentor Parent Program.
During his brief stint at the treatment center, Vidal met DAC Mentor Parent Parish Green. It would be this unique encounter that would play a pivotal role in helping Vidal to garner the tools he needed to begin reshaping the narrative of his life.
“When I met Parish, he was different,” said Vidal. “He told me that he would connect me to a program that would help me to get my children back, and for some reason, I just knew that he was someone I could trust. Deciding to trust in Parish was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life.”
Those connections are at the core of the County of Santa Clara's Family Reunification Program, which is designed to reunite children in State custody with their families safely. It is a multifaceted approach that leans on intensive, family-centered services to support a safe and stable environment. This support often includes providing the tools needed to ensure effective family engagement, maintaining family and cultural connections, bridging families to evidence-based services in the community, securing frequent visits between family members with a social worker, and providing parent education, among others.
The Family Reunification Program partners with clients to address roadblocks to success, including effectively addressing the needs of each child, family, and legal situation. Customizing reunification efforts to each family's circumstances and addressing the issue(s) that brought them into the child welfare system are also pivotal elements in ensuring that children and youth return to the safest home possible.
For Daniel Little, Director of the Department of Family and Children's Services, the goal of DFCS is to advocate for every child in their care. This effort requires countless hours and the dedication of a village of community partners and advocates.
"While our ultimate goal is to ensure no child has to be separated from their family, when foster care is necessary, we want each child to go home," said Little. "To hear from each family, understand the challenges they faced, and to see the incredible connection between parents and children just makes all we do worthwhile."
On Wednesday, September 21, 2022, the Santa Clara County Social Services Agency hosted its eleventh Annual Reunification Day Program. The event honored five families and one community partner. This year's community partner honoree, Joanna Wallace, understands the importance of preserving the family unit as few others can.
Currently serving the County as a social worker within the Department of Families and Children’s Services, Wallace knows first-hand the agony of being separated from your children as a parent who once lost custody of her kids due to her long-standing battle with substance abuse. Wallace serves as a living testament to how the County's Family Reunification Program can successfully transform the lives of those they serve.
"It feels amazing to go from being recognized at this same event in 2017 for my reunification journey with my children, to standing before you today receiving this recognition as a DFCS social worker," said Wallace. "My life has come full circle; I'm both honored and genuinely humbled for being recognized for the work I get to do in serving families in this capacity."
Wallace isn't the only program participant who has seen their family restored and life transformed due to the efforts of the Family Reunification Program. Within two years of working with the Family Reunification Program, Vidal also witnessed a fantastic turnaround from his former troubled existence. Today, he and his wife Maria have regained custody of all their children, are both celebrating over two years of sobriety, and have a healthy, loving relationship with their kids. Vidal admits that taking the straight path isn't always easy but says he wouldn't trade his life today for anything in the world.
"I learned all of these things from those classes. The Celebrating Family and Domestic Violence Classes are where I learned to deal with my anger and to face life on life's terms," said Vidal. "I've learned to communicate and to become an outstanding citizen; I have everything I've never had in life now, and we have our son back.”
Learn more about the County of Santa Clara’s Family Reunification Program on the County's webpage.
By Saraa Kami, Office of Communications and Public Affairs