FIJ Quarterly - Summer 2022 Edition

Eventually, Shelaya and her three siblings were sent to live with their grandparents and then fostered by a PGST member. Unfortunately, this latter situation would be short lived “After six months, we have another court hearing, and the Judge asks if I want to go with my mom or my dad. I chose to go back with my mom. My mom is my person. We have always been open and honest with each other our whole lives and never hold anything back,” said Shelaya. Unfortunately, as can be the case for kids who find themselves in the child welfare system, Shelaya was soon again removed from her mother’s care and placed with her grandparents. She was 14. Shelaya began testing limits, drinking, and sneaking out on the weekends. She longed to go back to living with her mom, but that just wasn’t possible no matter everyone’s best intentions and encouragement. “I remember my grandpa telling my mom: ‘We can only love them so much; your motherly love is something different to these kids. You are what they need’,” said Shelaya. The grandparents eventually had to give up the kids to foster care, where the siblings were split up. The new foster home provided a structure Shelaya wasn’t ready for. While Shelaya was used to caring for her siblings, a new set of rules and chores strained the relationship with her foster family. “I went to find my mom, and we talked, and I cried to her. I told her she needed to get her stuff together. I didn’t like living there,” said Shelaya. Recognizing her daughter’s very real distress, Shelaya’s mom contacted the PGST ICW caseworker, who intervened. While Shelaya’s foster family did their best, ICW took Shelaya and her mother’s concerns seriously, and it was decided that the home wasn’t a good fit. Shelaya needed some connection to her family to feel secure. She was placed in a new foster home, one that included her younger brother, Jace. Almost immediately, it was clear that this was a better situation for Shelaya. “This family took me in and treated me like their own, even took me on my first trip out of

the state to Hawaii. They had this welcoming and loving feeling, but,” she admitted, “I would still skip school and be rebellious.” While Shelaya had a good, loving home and the physical care she needed, her emotional needs weren’t being completely met. PGST ICW caseworkers recognized the need for stronger connections. They began to visit with Shelaya more frequently, holding her accountable for her actions. She pushed back, continuing to skip school and make demands of her caseworkers for food or other treats. The caseworkers held firm even as Shelaya rejected their efforts time and again. “I know (dismissing the care the caseworkers were trying to provide) wasn’t kind of me, but afterwards, my caseworkers and I got really close,” said Shelaya. “They got to know me and what I liked and what I didn’t. I actually started to look forward to seeing them. I started to enjoy seeing their faces.” While a caseworker leaving their position suddenly can often signal a significant step backward in building a child’s trust, PGST’s personalized approach to ICW created a scenario for the opposite to occur. When Shelaya’s caseworkers both left the department, a new caseworker came in ready to do the work to get to know Shelaya and her family. The new caseworker connected Shelaya with other kids in the foster system, which helped her build friendships that held her accountable while limiting feelings of isolation. “(The new caseworker) enjoyed seeing us laugh and spending time with each other but would always remind all of us that…we needed to get our stuff together in school,” said Shelaya. “The caseworker got to know my mom and my family. She was one of the most pure people I’ve ever met.” She went on to say, “This is what ICW needs more of: listening and hearing someone. Actually caring for a child’s feelings, see what makes them happy, and acting on it.” The caseworker’s commitment to Shelaya is reflective of how PGST handles child welfare: by caring not just for the child but connecting with the whole family—including extended relatives—to ensure the best outcomes. It

FIJ Quarterly | Summer 2022 | 83

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