Parent Partners helps reunite parents and children

BY EDDIE KIRSCH | JUNE 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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Nkosanzana “Zee” Brown, 32, will tell you how she lost her children and what it took to get them back with little hesitation.

“Our situation, it was drugs involved,” Brown said. “We had six children removed from our home at the time. My husband was facing 25 years in prison here.”

Brown was not allowed to see her children for eight months while they stayed with her sister in Chicago. She and her husband, Tony Brown, 41, faced charges of delivery of controlled substance, possession, neglect, and child endangerment.

“It wasn’t good; it wasn’t good at all,” Zee Brown said.

It took them more than a year, but she and her husband were eventually able to reunite with their children. And it was precisely this experience that led her to join a local program that specializes in doing the same for other families.

Parent Partners, which is run locally through the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, is a state program in the Department of Human Services. The Johnson County site has existed for almost three years. The grant-funded program enlists the help of parents who have had their children removed and then reunited to help other parents going through the same process.

“What better way [to help parents] than a person who’s already done what you’ve just went through to give you advice and kind of coach you through it,” said RaQuishia Harrington, 30, the Parent Partner Program coordinator for Johnson County. “Their attitude, their demeanor, the whole outlook on life changes, and you have someone who’s more relatable to them than just service providers coming to tell them you need to do X, Y, and Z.”

Harrington and the mentors see no common theme for why children are removed from their parents.

“It’s very traumatizing,” said Whitley Weston, 23, a mentor. “So your child’s with a stranger who you don’t know. Yes, the courts say they’re OK, and the community may say they are OK, but that’s still your baby.”

Lindsay Peltz, 28, another mentor of the program, said she lost her children due to a meth addiction.

“I am a recovering meth addict,” Peltz said. “I got in a lot of trouble, and I had to go to jail for — I was convicted on charged of possession of a precursor — an intent to manufacture. My children were placed with my mother. That meant they were going to live four hours away from me. It meant six weeks before I got to see my children.”

She was homeless when she was released from jail. She worked cleaning rooms at a hotel to pay for her own hotel room. She was determined to do everything she could to get her kids back.

“I had to cut off ties to my children’s father,” she said. “I also had to cut off ties with anyone I had known during my drugging days, which left me with my mom. I worked my case. I ended up getting my children back.”

Margo Magee-Swim, 60, a family team meeting facilitator for Parent Partners, has worked with Human Services for 32 years. She said she is a huge supporter of this program.

“I think it is probably one of the best things that has come out of this area in years,” Magee-Swim said. “I haven’t been where they’ve been, I can have empathy, but it’s not experience. It’s not the same experience.”

Harrington said the mentors have a lot of training they must go through.

“They work with the family to process whatever it is,” Harrington said. “To process their emotions, to process whatever it is that they need to do when it is coming to doing the visits with their families, just getting their life situated and stable enough.”

And although the mentors and Harrington boast that the program has a high success rate, there are cases where reunification is not possible. The mentors, however, remain there for the parents.

“Our role as the Parent Partner changes,” Peltz said “We are no longer helping them reunify with the kids, we are helping them find a new normal.”

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