The last time Sarah* saw her five year old son, Michael, child protection services was removing him from her hotel room. At that time, Sarah was under the influence of substances that numbed her senses. That day was a blur. A horrible blur. The cries of her child. The police officers observing. The case manager filling a trash bag of Michael's clothing. She saw it happening, but she felt she was watching from somewhere else.
Today is the first time Sarah will see Michael in months. She is excited but nervous to see him. Will he be angry at her? Will he be sad? She arrives at the Bright House with ingredients to bake a cake and hope in her heart. She is sober today. Thanks to the help of Recovery Place, she hasn't used in 6 weeks. She is committed to making a change. She doesn't want to use substances to treat her past trauma anymore.
Bright House staff greet Sarah with a smile. It sets her at ease. They sit down and talk to her about what she is feeling. She hesitantly shares a little bit. She doesn't know the staff well yet, but they seem kind and helpful. Together, they plan what she will do with Michael when he arrives.
A minute later, there is a knock at the door. Then Michael comes bursting through it. He runs up to Sarah and wraps his arms around her. Sarah's eyes well up with tears. It's been a long time since she has held her son. Even when he lived with her, she was so numb she didn't get to fill this fully.
The Bright House staff retreats to their office, where they will supervise the visitation by the video feed. Sarah and Michael explore the living room, dining room, and kitchen tentatively. Michael is excited to pull out toys and play with them. She asks him if he wants to bake a cake with her. He excitedly agrees. They bake a cake together, laughing and getting more and more comfortable. While the cake is baking, they go outside to kick a ball around in the backyard.
The two-hour visit goes quicker than they wanted, and soon the transporter arrives to take Michael back to his foster home. Michael's eyes fill with tears as he is again separated from his mom. Sarah promises him that they will visit again next week. She knows she hasn't always kept her promises, but things are different now. She knows she must follow through if she wants her son back.
After the visitation, the Bright House staff sits down with Sarah to discuss how it went. They give her advice on redirecting Michael without raising her voice or losing patience. They ask her what it is like to parent sober, something she has never done. She acknowledges she feels the highs and lows much more deeply. Staff encourages her to discuss this more with her therapist. They talk about her case plan and other things she needs to complete before getting her child back. Staff provides resources on job placement, low-income housing, and additional support.
For the first time in a long time, Sarah feels hope. She doesn't feel alone. She has something to look forward to – not just next week's visit but eventually getting Michael back with her. Sarah is committed to overcoming her substance use disorder and becoming the mother she knows Michael deserves and she is grateful The Bright House is going to help her get there.
The Bright House provides court-mandated supervised visitation and family support services in a home-like setting. Learn more here.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
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