Permanency Team Honored for their Dedication to a Special Three-Year-Old Boy
By Kelly Myers, PAE Coordinator
Three-year-old Angel has had a unique journey to permanency. Medical needs, distant placements, and a global pandemic created some challenges for his team to solve. However, Heather Miller, Christina Cross, and Barbara Black were up to the task. These women worked tirelessly, along with the support of numerous other team members, to help Angel find his home—a place where he could have his first birthday and Christmas celebrations in a true family setting. They were honored with the Permanency Teamwork Award at the 2021 Pennsylvania Permanency Conference.
Angel was placed at a medical facility as an infant due to his extensive medical needs. Christina Cross was Angel’s case manager. She had worked at the agency for ten years and had extensive experience with medically needy children. She worked closely with Angel’s birth mother, who loved him dearly, but was unable to care for his needs. After two years of searching, the county was unable to locate a medical foster home to accommodate Angel’s needs. They made a SWAN referral for Child-Specific Recruitment so that a recruiter could search for a family equipped to care for Angel. Simultaneously, they moved towards the termination of parental rights. As all this was happening, the world was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, and many things came to a grinding halt. This team, however, did not stop their efforts to find permanency for Angel.
The recruiter identified a family for Angel who lived about three hours away from his current facility. The mother was a nurse, and the family was eager to match with Angel after hearing about this special little boy. However, to match with Angel, the family’s agency needed to have a foster care contract with Philadelphia County. The county case management director and supervisor on this case, Heather Miller, stepped up and wrote a letter to support the development of a special foster care contract to place Angel into this family’s home. Heather has been a lifelong advocate for children with special needs and has worked in the child welfare field for 27 years. She was involved in Angel’s case for the entire time he was cared for by Philadelphia County.
While this was occurring, Philadelphia Department of Human Services nurse Barbara Black began working to train the family on Angel’s unique needs. Barbara worked as a pediatric nurse and has been in her current position for ten years. She worked hard to ensure that the family not only understood and could care for Angel’s needs, but to strengthen the relationship between the child and the new family. Typically, the family would have come to the facility for extensive training and visits that would slowly progress to overnight visits, but in a pandemic world, nothing was “normal.” Angel’s pre-adoptive mother was ultimately able to attend just one or two in-person visits. She created a photo album of her family and their home for Angel to see, and she showed him this album over and over again so Angel could become familiar with his new home.
The family’s agency, which was providing the SWAN Child Placement Unit of Service, helped coordinate all the moving pieces that needed to come together for Angel to move into the home. The entire team was in constant communication with the agency and the medical facility to plan Angel’s transition. Finally, the special contract with the family’s agency was approved, and Angel had a placement date of December 14, 2020.
Christina fondly remembered that long drive where she took Angel to his new forever home. She said that he slept for part of the ride, but they spent the rest singing songs and talking about where they were going. Angel spent his first Christmas outside of the medical facility with his new mom, dad, and loving siblings. The very next month, he celebrated his third birthday with the family.
Today, Angel is thriving and his family and team are working towards finalizing his adoption. Angel is in pre-K, attends church with the family, and loves playing with his siblings. Heather reflected on the placement saying, “Angel was the missing piece in the puzzle of this new family. He fit right in and was meant to be here.”
His pre-adoptive family has also worked hard to create and maintain a relationship with Angel’s birth family. Photos of Angel’s siblings are in his Lifebook and the family has had frequent virtual visits with his birth mother, grandmother and siblings.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work!
Heather said that Angel’s story created a spark that helped their team persevere when they ran into challenges. When asked what advice she would give to others in the child welfare field, she replied, “Don’t let barriers stop you. There is always a solution to every problem; you just have to find it.”
Christina commented that it is important to listen and give others the time to tell their story; this helped her to create a trusting relationship with Angel’s birth family and nurture the new relationship they have with the pre-adoptive family.
Barbara added that she was proud to be part of the team that worked so hard to find a way for this match and placement to happen, despite the barriers of medical training, distance, and COVID-19. “Kids need to see their families,” she said, “and agencies just needed to find a way to make it all work, even during a pandemic.” When reminiscing about this case, she added, “It was as if someone sent an angel for Angel.”
The team is anxiously awaiting Angel’s adoption finalization. They look forward to closing the final chapter on a story about a medically fragile little boy in need of a dedicated and loving family to care for him and the amazing team who worked together to find them for him.
Kelly Myers is the PAE coordinator for Philadelphia. She is a Licensed Social Worker serving children and families since 1992. For more than 25 years, Kelly has worked in the field of child welfare providing foster care and adoption casework services, supervision, training and staff/program development. She has worked for both public and private agencies in the area of child welfare and special needs adoption.