What It Could Look Like
Preservation. Reunification. Expansion.
Family-based care seeks to preserve families. To keep them together despite hardship. To prevent children from entering institutions and to support the whole family so they can thrive together.
Family-based care seeks to reunify families. To bring them back together when, for one reason or another, they were separated. To make sure that they are reunified in a way that encourages healing, love, and strength.
Family-based care seeks to expand families. To create families where once there was just a child or just a person. To change the definition of family so that a child whose parents die doesn’t have to stay parentless forever.
Carlos, Deysy, Miguel*. Three children who have, at some point, passed through one of our programs.
Carlos is a goofy, lovable first grader. He likes cars and Curious George, gives great hugs, and regularly spills atol all over the classroom floor. Some days last year, Carlos came into school tired, unwashed, and with a growling stomach. He lashed out on these days, punching a classmate for calling him a name he doesn’t like or crying when his pencil broke.
This year, Carlos’s mom meets regularly with Story’s social worker, Youscella, and Story has begun to work on preserving Carlos’s family. Carlos’s mom is a single mother raising two young boys. They were living in a sheet-metal house, always low on money, scraping by with what they could- but just barely. Because Carlos’s mom was brave enough to admit that she needed support, Story was able to work with her to ensure that the family could thrive.
Now, Carlos attends the School of Hope on scholarship. He receives a free, nutritious lunch at the end of the school day, and his full belly allows him to focus better on his schoolwork. His family’s limited resources aren’t stretched so thin. A Story staff member picks him up for school so his mom has more time to do other things. His mom receives regular psychological support from Story’s psychologist, Karen, to ensure she knows how to relieve stress in a healthy, constructive way. Recently, a short-term mission team began constructing a house for them out of sturdier materials. When it’s completed, it will be warm and dry. One less thing to worry about for a mom with her hands full. Carlos didn’t need a new family, or to re-meet the family he already had. Carlos’s family just needed a little help to set them up for success.
Miguel, on the other hand, spent the last several years in an orphanage. His own mom, a single mother like Carlos’s but without the resources to provide for even one of them, placed him there so he could go to school, receive three meals a day, and have a roof over his head. She visited him weekly, took him to church, and brought him little snacks or toys when she could. Miguel lived with two very loving caretakers, but didn’t connect with them like some of the other boys who didn’t have a parental connection with other adults.
At the end of last year, Miguel’s mom decided she was ready to bring him home, and the judge agreed. But unfortunately, living with family after a long time away from each other isn’t as easy as simply staying with family. To ensure that their reunification was as successful as possible, Miguel’s mom began receiving support from Story. Miguel attends the School of Hope on scholarship and receives the same hot lunch that Carlos does. His mom also attends psychological support sessions with our psychologist, as well as parenting classes held at the school. Our social worker does regular home visits to make sure they have what they need, and Miguel and his mother are thriving thanks to the extra support that they required after being apart for so long.
Deysy, like Miguel, also used to live at the orphanage. She was a baby when she first came, and spent several years in the “baby room,” growing up with the other babies and toddlers as her brothers and sisters and their caretaker as her “mami”. Eventually, she moved up to a room with older girls, and was cared for by a couple who loved her very much. Still, simply by virtue of growing up in an orphanage, she was a victim of trauma. The resulting symptoms, which she shared with many of those in her room, meant that she needed much more one-on-one attention than was possible when she shared her caretakers with nine other girls. She was smart and strong and silly, but she was also struggling with attachment disorders and symptoms of trauma.
Then, last year, Deysy was one of the 119 children adopted in Guatemala. Now she has a mommy and a daddy who can give her their undivided attention. She graduated from kindergarten and received an award for having some of the best grades in the class. In the picture sent to her former caretakers, she’s smiling big, holding a certificate, her hair carefully curled by someone’s gentle hands. Earlier this year, she and her parents put together a donation package to be sent back to the orphanage where she spent her first few years. Deysy is treasured and cared for. She has someone to hold her when she cries, talk to her teachers about her behavior in school, cook the foods that she likes, and walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. She has a family, and all it took was to expand someone’s definition of what that should look like.
Preservation. Reunification. Expansion.
This is what it could look like - maybe not for everyone, but for the vast majority of the 5,000+ kids in Guatemala’s protection system. Stories of families preserved, families reunified, and families expanded. Stories of strength, perseverance, acceptance, thriving, healing, and love.
This is what it could look like. And what’s more, this is what it should look like. After all, we are made for family.
*for privacy, these names have been changed.