Searching for Stability for Charnese

Child sitting outside looking at camera.

When Charnese* entered foster care, she was just a toddler – a bright, inquisitive child who loved her mom.

Over the next two years, she lived in six different foster homes. As the years passed, she had several psychiatric hospitalizations – because her behavioral health needs had not been met or because there were no appropriate homes available. One time she stayed overnight at the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) because there was no place to go.

Her experiences reflect two crises facing the District – DC’s behavioral health crisis and a shortage of homes for foster children with specialized needs. We advocate every year for increased investments to fix both long-term issues, but we also fight to make sure Charnese and children like her don’t get left behind.

Early Years

Charnese’s mom struggled with substance use which prevented her from providing consistent care – at a critical time when Charnese was learning how to attach to others.

When Charnese entered care, she bounced among foster homes because the adults didn’t have the training or resources to fully support her. Charnese’s mom was also working to overcome her addiction, but after multiple failed attempts, the family couldn’t permanently reunite. Still just a young child at the time, Charnese began to act out.

Graphic that says: Like so many children in foster care, the removal from her mom made Charnese lose trust in adults. But the additional placements exacerbated her trust and attachment issues.

For Charnese, living in a foster home – even with the most dedicated foster parents – was traumatic because she assumed that all adults would give up on her. She often rejected foster parents before they could create a connection, so it wouldn’t hurt as much if the placement failed. Without a stable home, her behavioral health needs grew.

Social Work Partnerships

Children’s Law Center’s social workers team up with our lawyers and investigators to provide an extra layer of support for kids in care. They also work closely with CFSA’s social workers – supporting one another to find the best solution for a child.

As we partnered with CFSA’s social workers to find the best living arrangement for Charnese, we knew from her history that:She was more successful when she was in a structured environment with direct access to clinicians.She was triggered by the expectations and intimacy found in a family home.She required clinical support to rebuild her trust in adults – and to open her up to the possibility of feeling safe in a family again.

Unfortunately, the group homes that CFSA partnered with were full or unable to meet Charnese’s needs.

Finding the Right Fit

Our social work team began to research other options. We spent dozens of hours on the phone with community partners, medical providers and clinicians asking for recommendations.

On one call, we learned about a local, small therapeutic group home. The group home had a limited online presence to protect the children who lived there, but they invited us to tour the home. Their approach to supporting children and youth seemed like the right fit for Charnese – they had a comprehensive treatment approach to address her trauma and understood her attachment issues.

Charnese was able to move into her new home, and now – a year later – is doing well. She more actively participates in school, proactively asks for help, meets regularly with her therapists and is slowly rebuilding and repairing trusting relationships with adults. She has even had successful visits with one potential family who might be able to care for her in the future. These are all signs of progress that will set her up for success when she transitions from the program.

CFSA now partners with this group home to provide support for even more DC kids in care – a direct result of our research and tenacious follow-through. We will never stop being creative and innovative to meet the needs of DC children.

*Children’s Law Center works hard to protect our clients’ confidentiality. The child’s name and some other details have been modified.