After Kayla’s mother was incarcerated for theft and violating probation, 9-year-old Kayla was left in the care of a relative. Her father now married to a woman with children of her own, came and took Kayla. At her father’s house, Kayla endured physical and emotional abuse from the stepmother, without any protection from her father. She was screamed at, locked in her room for days, denied food, and made to hold canned goods in her outstretched arms until the pain was unimaginable.
Kayla’s situation was particularly stark in contrast to the stepmother’s own children who were entirely spared these episodes of abuse – and in some cases treated to playtime outside while they were going on. All of this tolled heavily on Kayla’s emotional well-being. The abuse went undetected for years, partly because the stepmother kept Kayla from school and from doctors, and instead assumed those roles in Kayla’s life (though she had neither a license nor training in education or medicine).
When a stepsibling was treated for an injury, Kayla confessed to a hospital worker that she had been abused. She was immediately removed from the care of her father and stepmother. Now 11, she was placed in two different foster homes before a suitable family was found.
The first foster home proved inappropriate because many of the seemingly innocent routine behaviors of the foster mom were reminiscent of episodes of Kayla’s abuse and triggered post-traumatic stress. As a result, Kayla’s grades suffered, she developed an eating disorder and her emotional instability worsened. The foster parent refused to understand how things she deemed normal could possibly negatively affect the child in her care, and refused to alter her behaviors in any way. KidsVoice advocated for a new placement.
The next family was simply ill-equipped to handle a child who needed the patience and encouragement Kayla did to recover from the emotional trauma and physical abuse she had endured for years, and the ongoing emotional abuse she was still enduring. Though her father and stepmother had moved to Texas shortly after Kayla was placed in foster care, they routinely called to harass and threaten her. Despite the physical distance from her father and stepmother, the lack of proper support and boundaries from the foster family were not enough to keep Kayla feeling safe. KidsVoice once again requested that Kayla be moved somewhere where she would feel more safe, comfortable, and supported.
The third placement was with an experienced foster parent who had prior success fostering children who needed extra love to flourish. KidsVoice also made sure the abusive calls would not continue. In this new placement, Kayla returned to school, began making friends, and was ultimately doing well. However, Kayla desperately wanted to return to her mother.
After her release from prison, Kayla’s mother was unable to contact Kayla. Kayla was not permitted by her father and stepmother to speak to or even speak about her mother while she was still living with them. It was not until Kayla was adjudicated dependent and placed in foster care that her mom was contacted by CYF and apprised of the situation as it had played out over the past few years. At age 12, after 3 years without contact, Kayla was finally allowed to speak with her mother for the first time since Kayla left her mother’s home.
Because she lived out of state and was still on probation, Kayla’s mother initially had a difficult time making it to Pennsylvania. Regardless, Kayla’s mother was determined to get her daughter back. In order to do this, she needed to resolve her criminal issues, maintain adequate housing, and complete visits with Kayla. Mom did it all. She secured a job and an apartment, and made it to Kayla’s hearings whenever possible. Kayla was happy to see her mother, and her mother was clearly making all efforts to convey to the courts that she was ready to provide the loving home her daughter so desperately needed.
Placing a dependent child in a home in another state usually requires both states to participate in the Interstate Compact for Placement of Children (ICPC). This can be a time-consuming process, as it involves home studies and paperwork approvals from each of the states and counties involved. Sometimes it takes 6-9 months to complete the ICPC process and approvals. In Kayla’s case, there were further complications related to the size of the house.
Because the mental health professionals in the case believed that living with mom was in Kayla’s best interests and where she would flourish and feel most comfortable, KidsVoice successfully recommended that the case be closed and that Kayla be returned to her mother sooner, without further ICPC delays or her mother having to change her housing situation or find another apartment.
After a tearful and extensive hearing, two long years in care, and several years of abuse before that, Kayla is back with her mother. She feels safe and happy and at home.