Looking to the future: Breaking the cycleWritten by SAFE
The SAFE Futures program operates squarely at the intersection of child abuse and interpersonal violence. Our team provides support, education, and advocacy to families experiencing domestic violence and/or are involved with the child welfare system.
After a violent fight with her sibling, Colleen’s three children were removed from her care. One of the conditions that Child Protective Services required before they would return the children to Colleen’s care was that she participate in the SAFE Futures domestic violence education series.
Colleen arrived for the classes fully engaged, stayed after to learn more, and voluntarily signed up to receive additional advocacy and case management help from SAFE Futures staff. Through her work with SAFE staff, Colleen began to understand the deep layers of hurt, violence, and abuse she had experienced – layers that were now impacting her ability to be with her own children.
A past filled with violence
After being sexually assaulted for years by her stepdad, Colleen confided in a friend at school about what was happening to her. As a result, Colleen was removed from her home and had to testify against her stepdad, leading to his imprisonment. Her family blamed her, saying that she “wanted it and made him.”
And so, Colleen stayed in CPS custody until she turned 18, at which point she started dating a much older guy who took her in, but eventually required “favors” from Colleen in exchange for money and drugs that he transported to other states and countries. She was trafficked for sex over the next four years.
In that time, Colleen gave birth to three children. She knew she wanted to get away, but she didn’t know how. And then Colleen’s mother reached out, telling her she wanted to repair their relationship. With so many forces working against her, she managed to escape with her children and flee back to Texas.
Even then, the environment Colleen was living in was still toxic. She was still blamed for her stepfather’s imprisonment. It was in this toxic environment that Colleen’s years of abuse and assault led her to be violent, resulting in the loss of her children and the court order to enroll in the SAFE Futures program.
The SAFE Futures staff worked to build a relationship of trust with Colleen, allowing her to tell her full story of abuse for the first time. Colleen began to see how she did not deserve her past, and that it was up to her to break that cycle of violence.
Unfortunately, Colleen’s ex-boyfriend — the same man who had trafficked her –tracked her back to Texas. He began actively looking for her, having men monitor her house and knock on her door at all hours of the day. SAFE provided safety planning each day during this time, at one point recognizing that she was in such danger that she had to be admitted to the Family Shelter.
After learning that she was admitted to our shelter, Colleen was so terrified that she didn’t even want to wait for a cab – so she literally ran all the way to the shelter while on the phone with the SAFE Futures manager.
While staying with us, Colleen received case management that helped her get SNAP benefits and affordable housing that she has maintained for over a year. She completed her classes and parent education with SAFE Futures and Strong Start parenting experts, and is still in therapeutic services with a SAFE CARES therapist.
And, yet, after all that, there was still the chance that Colleen might not get custody of her kids back. Given her background, the court and CPS personnel supported adoption by the foster parents. But Colleen had never been a direct threat or negligent to her children and had fulfilled all court requirements with no incidents to prove that she was or is unfit.
In court, she advocated for herself, as did her supportive SAFE team – including SAFE Futures, CARES, and Rapid Rehousing. After a year of being separated from her children, Colleen was granted a Return and Monitor with a plan for full reunification just two months later.
Our SAFE staff say that Colleen is an amazing human and mom who loves her children more than life itself. Her humility, resilience, and fire inspire others.