A bit of good news about children today: Life is getting safer for them. A large-scale federal study, released in February, showed a 26 percent decrease in physical, sexual and emotional abuse against children between 1993 and 2006.
Likely reasons? Public awareness of abuse and lack of tolerance for it. And programs that help parents overcome addiction, poverty and chaos.
Here, two Spokane mothers share their journey out of chaos, and their reunification with some of their children.
When they changed for the better, they changed the future of their children, too. But they didn’t do it alone.
“A society is defined by how it takes care of its children,” said Diana Salinas with Spokane County’s CASA/Guardian ad Litem program. “There are many agencies that collaborate to help families here.”
DaVonne Edwards, 27
Back story: Grew up in Spokane, started drinking and smoking marijuana at 13. Both parents struggled with addiction. At 16, she took refuge in the streets after her mom died.
By 21, Edwards had given birth to four of her five children. Three are living in an adoptive home. Another child lives with his father.
She kept her fifth child, Jeshiah, until he was 9 months old. Then she was arrested on drug charges.
“I believe it was a godsend that I got arrested,” she said.
Edwards spent a month in jail. Jeshiah moved into foster care.
“When they took him, I said no matter what, I’m going to get him back,” Edwards said.
“If they told me to stand on my head, jump through a hoop of fire and do back flips, I was going to do that.”
The programs: Edwards interacted with dozens of social service agencies and nonprofit programs as she worked toward reunification with Jeshiah, including:
•Child Protective Services. Through CPS, Edwards received a psychological evaluation, a parenting evaluation, and drug and alcohol treatment. She took parenting classes, and had regular urine analysis tests to monitor sobriety. She showed up at all the required visits with Jeshiah.
Sondra Baker-Carlson, her CPS social worker, said: “DaVonne had all the tools she needed to parent her son, and once she realized we weren’t willing to budge on court orders, she just dug in and did it.”
•YWCA: Edwards lived for a time in the nonprofit’s domestic violence shelter.
•Transitional Living Center. Edwards now lives in this North Side housing program for homeless and low-income women and their children, run by the nonprofit organization Transitions. The center offers wrap-around services including therapeutic daycare.
•Spokane Transit Authority: Edwards depends on the bus system to get around.
•Our Club: This recovery club in downtown Spokane hosts 12-step programs, and offers a clean and sober environment.
“It’s important to establish new surroundings when you’re getting clean,” Edwards said.
•Spokane County’s CASA/Guardian ad Litem program. Volunteer guardians ad litem advocate for children in the court system.
Mentor: Susan Piccinini, 45, was Jeshiah’s guardian ad litem. Her task: figure out the best living situation for him.
“I brought her a red rose to encourage her, to let her know that I was there to advocate for Jeshiah,” Piccinini said of her first meeting with Edwards.
“I told her I planned to get Jeshiah back,” Edwards said.
The guardian ad litem process took about 16 months.
“Some parents spend a lot of time telling you how unfair the (requirements) are, and I’m sure it felt unfair to DaVonne, too, but she took each day,” Piccinini said. “At times she was pushed to the limit, but she didn’t give up.”
Her life now: Edwards reunited with Jeshiah last August. She is taking college-prep courses at Spokane Community College.
Her ultimate goal: to become a chemical dependency social worker. She has been sober “19 months and nine days.”
Edwards mentors a young friend who is going through the CPS system. She tells her: “You need to stop fighting the system and go with it. No matter what, don’t give up.”