Although in her early years she was isolated, at age14, Hannah was welcomed with open arms into her extended family. A family she would never have known if it weren’t for the Family Finding program at Hollygrove, an Uplift Family Services agency.
"A safe, loving family is as essential to a child as food and shelter," said Martine Singer, executive director at Hollygrove. "Our Family Finding program, funded exclusively through grants and donations, makes a profound impact on children who would otherwise be lost to foster care."
At birth, Hannah tested positive for drugs and was removed from her biological mother. Because she had been born drug-addicted, she had to suffer through withdrawal. She was briefly placed in foster homes and then with her maternal grandmother. When she was only six months old, her mother died - and she was left an orphan. Thankfully, her grandmother adopted her.
While living with her grandmother meant Hannah didn’t experience the frequent moves and instability that is common to kids in foster care, her time with her grandmother was lonely and isolated. Her grandmother loved her greatly, but she kept Hannah estranged from any other family - her grandmother would get upset when Hannah merely brought up the subject. And, while she and Hannah were eligible to receive supportive services from the Dept. of Mental Health and other agencies, the grandmother didn’t take advantage of them. In fact, Hannah recalls taking a taxi by herself to doctor appointments.
When Hannah was 13, a neighbor found her wandering when she should have been at school. The neighbor investigated and learned that Hannah’s grandmother was sick and dying at home.
This caring neighbor came into the house during the grandmother’s final days. She made sure Hannah got off to school every day, then did what she could to help her grandmother. Within a few days, the grandmother died without any plans for Hannah. Hannah was now orphaned for a second time and put into foster care again.
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) referred Hannah for the Family Finding program at Hollygrove. Family Finding helps reconnect children with safe, healthy family members, which speeds their recovery from emotional trauma. Using Internet search technology, the Family Finding team locates biological family members for children ‘lost’ in the system. Once the team identifies family members, they work to reestablish relationships and explore ways to find a permanent family placement for the child.
Through Hannah’s maternal grandfather, her Family Finding team made contact with Hannah’s maternal aunt and uncle who lived out of state. They were shocked to learn that their half-sister had passed away and that her daughter was in foster care. They immediately wanted to know more information about their niece and expressed a desire to meet her.
Coincidentally, Hannah’s aunt had been a foster parent for many years and had adopted a family member and a set of three siblings from outside the family. She wondered if it was possible to adopt Hannah.
Photos and letters were exchanged, as well as a copy of Hannah’s family tree. Hannah began to feel a family connection.
Her Family Finding team worked hard to ensure that this would be a safe, nurturing situation for Hannah. Eventually, plans were set to fly the aunt, uncle and a cousin out to meet Hannah. While they were in town, a meeting was set up with a social worker to discuss the possibility of Hannah being adopted by her new-found relatives.
Hannah spent four days with her aunt, uncle and cousin, sightseeing and having great fun together. When it was time for her family to fly back home, Hannah had a hard time letting go, but they invited her to visit them in the future. As they all said goodbye, Hannah and her family joined in one big hug that lasted nearly five minutes.
After a great deal of work and partnering with CASA, the court gave permission for Hannah to travel out of state to visit her family, accompanied by her CASA and Family Finding team. During this stay, Hannah met extended family, became familiar with the neighborhood, visited the school and local park, and even met her first friend who lived in the neighborhood. After just two days, Hannah announced that she did indeed want to come live with this family. Hannah beamed as she said, "I’m so happy here!"
"It’s extremely gratifying to find family for a kid who’s had a difficult, in many cases hopeless, life," said Linda Librizzi, program coordinator for Family Finding. "But it’s nothing compared to the joy we see in a child who finally feels ‘at home’ - possibly for the first time in her life."
Since the trip, Hannah’s Family Finding team continued to visit her often and encourage her while she waited to see if the adoption would go through. They took her out for dinner on her birthday and called her family so they could all wish her a happy birthday. Various family members sent cards, money and notes telling Hannah how much they miss her and how they can’t wait until she is in their home.
The family has quickly completed their home study and they have learned that they can, indeed, adopt Hannah. The final step was just completed, which means Hannah is now living permanently with her new, big extended family - just in time for the holidays.