Single father Andrew Farris knew he’d have to fight his own monsters before he could be a dad again.
Farris will never forget the day he lost custody of his three children because of his drug addiction.
On Feb. 11, 2011, at about 7:30 p.m., he answered the phone. It was Child Protective Services, telling him they were coming to pick up his children.
“My drug addiction was completely overtaking everything,” Farris said.
It took six months of drug treatment before Tristin, 9, Terrance, 8 and Trinity, 3, could come home.
“How do you describe that?” Farris said. “It was a moment of crazy accomplishment.”
Now, Farris is one of several local parents using their story of hope to help other parents cope with losing custody of their children. The Spokane Parent Advocacy Network, launched in 2009, supports parents working to reunite with their children.
On Saturday, SPAN hosted a picnic at Mission Park for families that have been reunited, some within the last several months, others for years. About 100 people gathered in the park, their children scampering across the lawn, parents laughing and sharing their stories.
As of June 30, there were 796 children in foster or relative care in Spokane County, according to the Department of Social and Health Services. Last year, 390 Spokane County children were reunited with their parents.
About 70 percent of Spokane parents with children in the foster system have problems with drug or alcohol abuse, founding SPAN member Ambrosia Eberhardt said. Others may have abused their children.
But parents can change, she said, and she’s an example of that.
Eberhardt didn’t know how to be a good parent when she had her children, she said. Her father was in a biker gang and her mother dead from a drug overdose, she said. Eberhardt slipped into depression and drug use, unable to care for herself, let alone her children.
In 2000, her twins, Braydon and Brayana, were taken into foster care.
She was in counseling, took parenting classes and complied with her caseworker’s instructions, she said. In 2003, just before Christmas, a judge ruled her hard work had paid off and her kids were coming home.
“That was the best Christmas present ever,” she said. “Ever, ever, ever.”
In spite of the heartache, Eberhardt said she wouldn’t have changed a thing. Before her children entered the foster system, she was a drug addict who felt she had no future. Now, she’s an outreach specialist for parents with children in foster care for the Spokane County Superior Court. She has a bachelor’s degree in social work from Whitworth University.
“CPS saved my life,” she said.
On Saturday, Braydon, now 13, helped grill hamburgers for families in the park.
SPAN offers several programs, including Parents for Parents, a program run by veterans of the CPS program to provide a support network for new parents. They also offer Helping Other Parents Engage classes, a course about the CPS system.
For Rachel Baker, having a support network made all the difference in regaining guardianship of her children.
Baker, a recovering heroin addict, had her children taken from her after multiple arrests.
“I had no idea how to love them,” Baker said.
She’s gotten clean and has had 4-year-old Lillian and 6-year-old Haley back since 2009.
The Vancouver, Wash., native moved to Spokane to help kick her addiction. She has no family here, but the support network she built while fighting to get her kids back helped save her life.
“Don’t give up,” Baker said. “Reach out for help and support.”
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